A Manhattan court has dismissed a defamation lawsuit against Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil of the Southern District Court in New York ruled on 24th September that comments made by Carlson on his Tucker Carlson Tonight show were “merely rhetorical hyperbole” and thus did not meet the standard of ‘actual malice’ required in defamation cases involving public figures.
The lawsuit was filed by Karen McDougal, who received payment of $150,000 from the National Enquirer to prevent her from publicising her alleged affair with Donald Trump. (This and other so-called ‘catch-and-kill’ payments were made by the supermarket tabloid as part of a business arrangement with Trump.) McDougal sued Carlson after he accused her of extortion in an episode of his show broadcast on 10th December 2018.
Carlson did not refer to McDougal by name, though he stated that two women were paid by Trump. (McDougal and Stormy Daniels are the women in question.) Carlson began his discussion of the case by saying: “Remember the facts of the story. These are undisputed. Two women 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.”
In its defence of Carlson, Fox News argued that his comments “cannot reasonably be interpreted as facts”, and that his show should be viewed with “an appropriate amount of skepticism”. This apparent admission that Carlson should not be taken seriously is all the more surprising given that Carlson characterised his remarks as “the facts of the story.”