Judge, Fox Lawyers Agree: No 'Reasonable Person' Would Believe Tucker Carlson
Tucker Carlson lies about people with great regularity on his show. He makes up all kinds of bizarre motives for everything anyone on the Left does, which I would imagine has nothing at all to do with the days he has surely spent wondering why his mommy left him to go become a bohemian artist far, far away. But on one day, in December of 2018, he accused former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal of attempting to extort poor Donald Trump, which would have been an actual crime, if true.
McDougal was one of the women who, at great cost to her own reputation, attempted to come forward about having had an affair with Donald Trump back before the 2016 election. As with Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels), Michael Cohen and the parent company of the National Enquirer, American Media Inc., paid her $150,000 for "exclusive rights" to her story, which they then never published anything about because it was actually a "catch and kill" scheme to keep her quiet in order to help Trump's campaign.
In Tucker Carlson's interpretation of things, it was an "undisputed" fact that Clifford and McDougal approached Trump and said they would humiliate him and his whole family and just ruin his life if he didn't give them money — and then he arranged to have these total strangers paid off, out of the goodness of his heart or something.
Remember the facts of the story, these are undisputed. Two women [one of whom was McDougal] approached Donald Trump and threatened to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn't give them money. Now that sounds like a classic case of extortion.
Yet for whatever reason, Trump caves to it, and he directs Michael Cohen to pay the ransom. Now, more than two years later, Trump is a felon for doing this. It doesn't seem to make any sense. Oh, but you're not a federal prosecutor on a political mission.
If you were a federal prosecutor on a political mission, you would construe those extortion payments as campaign contributions.
McDougal sued his ass. Or, rather, she sued Fox. Because he accused her of a crime and also of a ridiculous thing like coming to Donald Trump and saying she was going to "ruin his career and humiliate his family" if he didn't give her money, which she says she absolutely did not do and which makes it not, in fact, "an undisputed fact" so much as it is something that happened in Tucker Carlson's dreams.
Alas, US District Court Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil — why yes, she is a Trump appointee — has thrown the suit out, because no "reasonable viewer" would believe anything coming out of Carlson's mouth — a point that was actually argued by the lawyers representing Fox.
Fox persuasively argues [...] that given Mr. Carlson's reputation, any reasonable viewer "arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism" about the statements he makes.
Whether the Court frames Mr. Carlson's statements as "exaggeration," "non-literal commentary," or simply bloviating for his audience, the conclusion remains the same—the statements are not actionable. This interpretation of the segment is bolstered by the disclaimer Mr. Carlson made at the outset of his monologue. [...]
Fox News has convincingly argued that Mr. Carlson was motivated to speak about a timely political cause and that, in this context, it is clear that his charge of "extortion" should not be interpreted as an accusation of an actual crime. Plaintiff's interpretation of Mr. Carlson's accusations is strained and, the Court finds, not reasonable when the entire segment is viewed in context. It is true that Mr. Carlson added color to his unsubstantiated rhetorical claim of extortion when he narrated that Ms. McDougal "approached" Mr. Trump and threatened his career and family. But this overheated rhetoric is precisely the kind of pitched commentary that one expects when tuning in to talk shows like Tucker Carlson Tonight, with pundits debating the latest political controversies.
First of all, there are no reasonable viewers of Tucker Carlson's show. Certainly, there are none "with an appropriate amount of skepticism" about what he says. If he says it, it is gospel and the only person allowed to override him is Trump. Second, as McDougal pointed out in her response, "I believe reporting something you know is a lie as 'news' or 'undisputed facts' is the very definition of malicious."
I'm not really clear on how claiming that McDougal and Clifford personally approached and threatened Trump is simply adding "color," particularly when one claims it is an "undisputed fact." Is Judge Vyskocil suggesting that because Tucker Carlson is given to "overheated rhetoric" and "pitched commentary" and "non-literal commentary" he can say anything is an "undisputed fact" and it's fine? Does that mean I can say anything is a fact and it's fine? I feel like it should not!
For the record, I also do not believe that I should be able to say that it is an "undisputed fact" that Tucker Carlson is a serial killer with a whole room full of dolls made from parts of people he murdered. Or that he is a double agent trying to get conservatives to be as excruciatingly terrible as possible so as to grease the wheels for a socialist revolution, historical materialism-style? I don't think I should get to say that anything is an undisputed fact unless no one is disputing it, particularly when it's something that could hurt another person.
But hey, I guess that's why Fox has yet to give me my own nightly television program.
Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. In addition to her work at Wonkette, she also has a biweekly column at Dame. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse