11 September 2023

The Series

6ixtynin9: The Series

Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s 6ixtynin9: The Series (เรื่องตลก 69 เดอะซีรีส์) was released on Netflix on 6th September (6/9). Pen-ek has remade his 1999 thriller 6ixtynin9 (เรื่องตลก 69) as a six-episode series with a new cast. In an interview with the Bangkok Post two days before the release date, he denied that the project was a straightforward remake: “I wouldn’t call it a remake because that wasn’t what I intended to do... I think this is a new version of the story and not a remake. There are more storylines, new characters and locations.”

The plot has certainly been expanded, though the events of the original film are all repeated. (Even the 1990s technology has barely been updated: the characters now have smartphones, but landlines and cassettes are still significant to the plot.) As in the film version, a young woman (Toom) loses her job and finds ฿1 million in a box outside her door. Like the similar setup in Shallow Grave, this unexpected windfall soon leads to unwanted visitors and bodies piling up. Alfred Hitchcock is another clear influence, especially Rope (bodies in chests) and Psycho (the swamp). Pen-ek even has a Hitchcockian cameo in the series, as an advertising executive.

While Toom’s plotline sticks closely to the film version, there’s a new subplot involving a police drugs raid (which takes up most of the final episode), and a mysterious woman in white who greets the deceased at the pearly gates. (This female Saint Peter is played by Veeraporn Nitiprapha, author of The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth/ไส้เดือนตาบอดในเขาวงกต). The heavenly sequences take the series into Magical Realist territory, when two dead characters are—literally—given a new lease of life. This initially seems like a reprieve for one man, though he dies again when a joke from the film version is actually carried out in the series (in a reference to In the Realm of the Senses/愛のコリーダ).

6ixtynin9: The Series

The series is more graphic than the film, as the film was made before Thailand’s movie rating system was introduced. (The sex scenes are framed similarly to those in Pen-ek’s Ploy/พลอย.) In an interview for Thai Cinema Uncensored, Pen-ek described how the censors instructed him to add a caption reassuring cinema audiences that Toom had been successfully apprehended by the police: “we were asked by the police to put the rolling credit saying that she was caught and went to jail.” Their justification wasn’t the usual crime-doesn’t-pay moral lesson; instead, it was a face-saving measure by the police: “if the girl could do this, the police look bad.”

The film was made, and set, in the aftermath of Thailand’s 1997 economic collapse (known here as the ‘tom yum goong crisis’). The new series was filmed shortly after the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused similar economic damage. Toom’s company goes bankrupt and—like real-life businesses such as Kaplan Thailand—its management tries to avoid giving its staff the severance pay they’re legally entitled to.

The show also has a political message: news reports of pro-reform student protests are seen on TV sets throughout the series, starting with footage from 16th October 2020. Similarly, Snap (แค่... ได้คิดถึง), The Island Funeral (มหาสมุทรและสุสาน), Tang Wong (ตั้งวง), and Pen-ek’s short film Two Little Soldiers (สาวสะเมิน) are also punctuated by news reports of political violence. The series ends with an ominous written epilogue speculating on another state crackdown: “THE WIND OF CHANGE HAS BLOWN AWAY... TEAR GAS A YEAR LATER. BUT HOW LONG WILL IT LAST? ONLY TIME WILL TELL.”

The film version of 6ixtynin9 was shown at Bangkok Screening Room in 2017. As part of a Pen-ek retrospective in 2018, it was screened on DVD at the Jam Factory and in 35mm at House RCA, and it was also shown at Alliançe Francaise as part of another Pen-ek retrospective that year. Pen-ek’s other films include Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย), Invisible Waves (คำพิพากษาของมหาสมุทร), Nymph (นางไม้, screened in two versions), Headshot (ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า), and Samui Song (ไม่มีสมุยสำหรับเธอ).

Front Page —

Front Page - Headline

Last week, the Museum of Popular History organised an exhibition of vintage newspapers at the offices of iLaw in Bangkok. Front Page — Headline (บันทึกไว้บนหน้าหนึ่ง) was open from 3rd–8th September, and featured front pages covering historic political events such as the 14th October 1973 protest, the 2010 massacre, the 2006 and 2014 coups, Move Forward’s election victory, and the return of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

A reproduction of the infamous 6th October 1976 Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) front page was also included. For many years, there was an unspoken taboo against reprinting the page in its complete form: it was removed before the opening of Thammasat University’s exhibition commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the 1976 massacre, and did not reappear until the 2020 exhibition. Although the headline appears in พลกแผนด นประวตการเมองไทย 24 มย 2475 ถง 14 ตค 2516 (‘overturning the history of Thai politics from 23rd June 1932 to 14th October 1973’), the photograph was blacked out.

The complete Dao Siam front page was first reproduced in Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine (vol. 28, no. 238), though it was not included in the online version of the article. In the past few years, it has appeared in four books: Prism of Photography (ปริซึมของภาพถ่าย), 45 ปี 6 ตุลาฯ (‘45 years of 6th Oct.’), Moments of Silence, and สงครามเย็น (ใน)ระหว่าง โบว์ขาว (‘the Cold War (in)between the white bow’). Exceptionally, it was displayed on the street outside Kinjai Contemporary gallery in Bangkok last year.

03 September 2023

TinyTV Mini

TinyTV Mini

The TinyTV Mini, released this year, is the world’s smallest video player, with a 64x64 pixel OLED screen. It’s designed and manufactured in Ohio by TinyCircuits, the same company that created the Thumby, the world’s smallest games console.

The TinyTV Mini is styled to look like a vintage CRT television set. The Cube 2 and Cube 3 video players from MobiBLU, released more than fifteen years ago, had the same 0.6" screen as the new TinyTV Mini, but their overall dimensions were slightly larger.

26 August 2023

Sondhi Limthongkul:
“I will definitely sue…”


Media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul has filed defamation charges against the online news organisation Prachatai. The lawsuit, issued on 22nd August, claims that Prachatai misrepresented Sondhi’s opinion and falsely implied that he supports another coup. Addressing Prachatai via Manager (ผู้จัดการรายวัน), the newspaper he owns, he said: “I will definitely sue... be prepared to receive a summons”.

In a Facebook post on 31st July, Sondhi had speculated on the future of Thai politics, listing thirteen potential scenarios, the last of which was a coup, which he described as “ไร้ความชอบธรรม” (‘illigitimate’). Later that day, Prachatai reported Sondhi’s comments on its website, though its headline omitted the word ‘illigitimate’.

Prachatai’s headline arguably did misrepresent Sondhi’s comments. But the first sentence of the article rectified this by quoting his reference to an ‘illigitimate coup’. The article also went on to quote Sondhi’s list of thirteen scenarios in full.

In the past, other news organisations have quoted Sondhi appearing to endorse coups. In an interview with the Bangkok Post (26th August 2008, p. 3), he said that “soldiers today are cowards”, implying that they were not brave enough to launch another coup. The New York Times quoted him saying: “I see a coup as not a bad thing,” and reported that “Sondhi publicly called for yet another military intervention” (3rd November 2020, p. 10; reprinted in the next day’s international edition, p. 3).

Sondhi’s PAD campaign paved the way for the 2006 coup, either intentionally or otherwise. At that time, Sondhi also sued another news outlet for defamation, claiming that Kom Chad Luek (คมชัดลึก) had misrepresented his comments about King Rama IX. In that case, the editor resigned and the newspaper suspended publication for five days.

16 August 2023

The 100 Best Movies of the Past Ten Decades

The 100 Best Movies of the Past Ten Decades

The latest issue of Time magazine (vol. 202, no. 5), dated 14th August, features a list of the 100 greatest films of the past century. Stephanie Zacharek, one of Time’s film critics, compiled The 100 Best Movies of the Past Ten Decades: ten films from each decade, from the 1920s to the 2010s, in chronological order.

As Zacharek readily admits, the list is “marked by what some will see as glaring omissions,” such as Tokyo Story (東京物語), Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and The Godfather. Stanley Kubrick’s films are nowhere to be found. In fact, when compared to Dateline Bangkok’s list of the 100 greatest films, only a quarter of the entries are common to both lists.

Time published its first greatest-films list in 2005, compiled by Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel. From that selection of 100 titles, Corliss and Schickel chose Nine Great Movies from Nine Decades—none of which are included in Zacharek’s list.

29 July 2023

Donald Trump v. CNN:
“Bad rhetoric is not defamation…”

State of the Union

Donald Trump’s defamation lawsuit against CNN has been dismissed by a judge whom Trump appointed during his presidency. Trump sued CNN for $475 million last year, accusing the network of maliciously comparing him to Hitler by describing his false statements about the 2020 presidential election result as ‘the big lie’, a phrase used by Hitler in his autobiography Mein Kampf (‘my struggle’).

In his dismissal, issued yesterday, District Judge Raag Singhal criticised CNN’s inflammatory rhetoric, though he ruled that it was not libellous: “The Court finds Nazi references in the political discourse (made by whichever ‘side’) to be odious and repugnant. But bad rhetoric is not defamation when it does not include false statements of fact.” Singhal, appointed by Trump in 2019, concluded that “CNN’s statements while repugnant, were not, as a matter of law, defamatory.”

13 July 2023

“Fox repeatedly published defamatory falsehoods...”

Tucker Carlson Tonight

One of the rioters who took part in the attempted insurrection at the US Capitol on 6th January 2021 is suing Fox News for defamation. In a lawsuit filed yesterday, Ray Epps claims that former Fox host Tucker Carlson falsely implied that he was an undercover FBI agent involved in orchestrating the insurrection.

According to the lawsuit, “Fox repeatedly published defamatory falsehoods about Epps, including by broadcasting and rebroadcasting defamatory statements by Tucker Carlson”. It singles out the 6th January 2023 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight for “communicating as a fact that Epps was a federal agent planted to encourage supporters of Donald Trump to go into the Capitol building on January 6—the core false and defamatory allegation upon which this Complaint by Epps against Fox is predicated.”

In its defence against a previous libel action relating to Carlson, Fox argued that his comments “cannot reasonably be interpreted as facts”, and that his show should be viewed with “an appropriate amount of skepticism”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Carlson was dismissed by the network earlier this year.

02 July 2023


A Turkish journalist has been charged with encouraging terrorist organisations to target counterterrorism officials, and faces up to three years in jail if convicted. The charge stems from a complaint by Akın Gürlek, a government minister and former judge, who was mentioned in a newspaper article by Ayça Söylemez.

The article, which had the ironic headline “Yetenekli hâkim bey” (‘the talented judge’), was published by BirGün on 18th February 2020. In a statement to police after her arrest, Söylemez explained that she was merely giving background details on the judicial cases Gürlek presided over, “which are already publicly available information. Therefore, it cannot be said that I made Akın Gürlek a target of any organization.”

29 June 2023

E. Jean Carroll:
“Oh yes, you did. That’s my response...”


Donald Trump and E. Jean Carroll are suing each other for defamation, based on interviews they each gave to CNN on the same day. Carroll was awarded $5 million in damages on 9th May after Trump was found guilty in a civil trial of sexually assaulting her, though the jury cleared him of rape. Carroll and Trump were interviewed on separate CNN shows on the day after the verdict.

Appearing on CNN’s This Morning, Carroll said of her rape allegation: “Oh yes, you did. Oh yes, you did. That’s my response.” (Her answer has been widely misquoted as “Oh yes, he did.”) According to Trump’s lawsuit, filed on 27th June, “these false statements were clearly contrary to the jury verdict”.

Carroll is also suing Trump for remarks he made on the same day. Reacting to the sexual assault verdict in a CNN interview, Trump said of Carroll: “I don’t know her, I never met her, I have no idea who she is.”

23 June 2023


Daily Mirror

Next month marks the 30th anniversary of the ‘bastardgate’ scandal, when former UK prime minister John Major was recorded calling three of his cabinet ministers “bastards”. Major was speaking to ITN political editor Michael Brunson in an off-the-record conversation in Downing Street on 23rd July 1993, after they had taped a television interview. The exchange was not broadcast, but the cameras were still rolling.

Discussing current and former ministers who were briefing journalists against his policies on Europe, Major told Brunson: “You and I can both think of ex-ministers who are going around causing all sorts of trouble. Do we want three more of the bastards out there?” This was widely regarded as a reference to the Eurosceptic cabinet ministers Michael Portillo, Peter Lilley, and Michael Howard.

The Observer newspaper published lengthy quotes from the “remarkably frank” conversation two days after it was recorded. Two days after that, the Daily Mirror printed the entire transcript (headlined “THE ‘BASTARDS’ TAPE IN FULL”). The tabloid also gave away free bastardgate cassettes to readers who sent in coupons. (The tapes began with an introduction by then-editor David Banks, who said: “this tape signifies our stand against the establishment’s attempts to gag this great newspaper.”)

Major devoted a chapter of his memoir John Major: The Autobiography to the controversy, admitting that he had been “careless... to have spoken to Brunson so freely”. At a lunch for Westminster journalists in 2013, he said that the “bastards” comment was “unforgivable”, then paused for effect and added: “My only excuse is that it was true.”

The Mirror’s bastardgate splash was followed a day later by the leaking of a different off-the-record conversation between Major and another journalist, Jonathan Dimbleby. This second recording was obtained by the Mirror’s tabloid rival The Sun, which dubbed it ‘Majorgate’. Speaking in 1992, Major could be heard complaining to Dimbleby that Conservative voters often refuse to take part in exit polls, which he described as “a high fuck-up factor among Tories.”

Bastardgate and Majorgate came shortly after two royal ‘-gate’ scandals, ‘Dianagate’ and ‘Camillagate’, which also involved illicitly recorded conversations. The ‘-gate’ suffix, most recently applied to ‘partygate’, originated with the Watergate scandal in the US.

20 June 2023

“Johnson committed a serious contempt...”

Boris Johnson

The UK parliament voted overwhelmingly yesterday to endorse an excoriating committee report into former prime minister Boris Johnson’s role in covering up the ‘partygate’ scandal. 354 MPs voted in favour of the report’s findings, and only seven voted against. Johnson resigned as an MP on 12th June, after receiving an advance copy of the report; in an unrepentant written statement, he denounced the committee as “the very definition of a kangaroo court.” (The partygate scandal was also one of the factors leading to Johnson’s resignation as prime minister last year.)

The House of Commons Committee of Privileges ruled that Johnson lied to parliament on multiple occasions. Their report states: “We conclude that in deliberately misleading the House Mr Johnson committed a serious contempt.” It goes on to say: “The contempt was all the more serious because it was committed by the Prime Minister, the most senior member of the government... He misled the House on an issue of the greatest importance to the House and to the public, and did so repeatedly.”

On 1st December 2021, the Daily Mirror published Pippa Crerar’s initial investigation into staff parties that took place at Downing Street during the coronavirus lockdown. On the same day as the Mirror’s front-page splash appeared, Johnson denied that any lockdown rules had been broken, telling parliament that “all guidance was followed” in Downing Street. A week later, he told parliament: “I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.

Many more details of raucous Downing Street parties later emerged, and more than a hundred attendees (including Johnson) were fined by the police, though Johnson maintained that the gatherings were justifiable work events. The House of Commons committee concluded that Johnson’s claim that he was misinformed by his staff was “no more than an artifice.” Their report also found that he lied under oath when he appeared before the committee: “He misled the Committee in the presentation of his evidence.”

The committee’s report argues that “[t]here is no precedent for a Prime Minister having been found to have deliberately misled the House”, though Johnson’s case is not completely unprecedented: during the Suez crisis, Anthony Eden also lied to parliament. On 20th December 1956, in a final speech before his resignation as PM, Eden told the House of Commons: “I want to say this on the question of foreknowledge, and to say it quite bluntly to the House, that there was not foreknowledge that Israel would attack Egypt—there was not.” It later emerged that the UK had indeed colluded with Israel and France to coordinate their invasion of Egypt.

Cigar Aficionado

Cigar Aficionado

This month’s issue of Cigar Aficionado magazine (vol. 31, no. 4) is dedicated to classic movies, and includes a poll of readers’ favourite films. The magazine surveyed “a random group of readers”—presumably a small sample of subscribers—25% of whom voted for The Godfather. (The other films in the top ten list received less than 10% each.)

Cigar Aficionado has an older, male readership, and the magazine proclaimed The Godfather “the Greatest Film Ever Made” in a cover story last year, so the poll result was fairly predictable. Garrett Rutledge conducted the poll and, as he admits in the magazine, “we can’t say we’re all that surprised.”

Cigar Aficionado readers’ top ten films are as follows:

1. The Godfather
2. Casablanca
3. GoodFellas
4. The Shawshank Redemption / The Sting
6. Gladiator / Tombstone
8. The Godfather Part II / Heat / The Longest Day

08 June 2023

“You becoming the prime minister means nothing to me...”

BBC Thai

Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the Move Forward Party and potential Thai prime minister after his victory in last month’s election, has been accused of lèse-majesté by several royalist pressure groups who filed a complaint against him yesterday. The complainants accused him of disrespecting the monarchy in a BBC News interview published online on 29th May. (An extended version, with Thai subtitles, has been viewed more than a million times.)

Reforming the lèse-majesté law was a key part of Move Forward’s manifesto, and in the interview Pita told reporter Jonathan Head: “I don’t want the monarchy to be used as a political weapon”. Pita also told the BBC: “if I get a chance to sit down and talk to... people who actually want to increase the penalty of royal defamation, I think we’d be able to find a common ground”. (That comment seemed idealistic, as ultra-royalists have generally been unwilling to compromise on their campaign to punish those who question the monarchy.)

After making the police report, Songchai Niamhom, leader of the King Protection Group, denied that his complaint was politically motivated. Addressing Pita directly, he said: “you becoming the prime minister means nothing to me... but any day you harm or have ideas against the main institution of the nation, I will continue to file complaints against you”. Despite his denial, the lèse-majesté charge does appear to be a political threat, as Songchai has previously used the same tactic against another Move Forward MP, Amarat Chokepamitkul. (He has also filed lèse-majesté charges against the rapper P9D.)

Head himself has also previously been charged with lèse-majesté, in relation to eleven articles published on the BBC News website. (His byline did not appear on some of the articles in question, and the charges related to elements for which he had no responsibility, such as the layout of photographs of King Rama IX.) He also faced a defamation charge after his 2015 investigative report into legal malpractice in Phuket.

02 June 2023

‘The trial of the century’

The Sydney Morning Herald

Ben Roberts-Smith—a Victoria Cross recipient and former SAS soldier—has lost his libel suit against three Australian newspapers that had accused him of war crimes. The case has been dubbed ‘the trial of the century’ by the Australian media, as Roberts-Smith is the country’s most-decorated living soldier and the newspapers had accused him of murdering unarmed prisoners of war in Afghanistan.

The allegations against Roberts-Smith were first published by The Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times, and The Age. He was not named in the initial reports, in June 2018, though his identity was revealed two months later. Australian police launched an investigation into the claims, though no criminal charges were brought, and Roberts-Smith sued for defamation.

Yesterday, judge Anthony Besanko ruled in the publishers’ favour, finding that most of the allegations against Roberts-Smith were true. The verdict in this civil defamation case has destroyed the reputation of an Australian national hero, and it may lead to calls for a reopening of the criminal investigation into Roberts-Smith’s war crimes.

25 May 2023

ไทยถลอก (ปอกเปิก)

Somchai Katanyutanan Thai Rath

Yingluck Shinawatra became prime minister after winning the 2011 Thai general election, and was removed from office by the Constitutional Court in 2014. The events of her premiership were fodder for veteran political cartoonist Chai Rachawat (the pen name of Somchai Katanyutanan), whose work appears in the country’s most popular newspaper, Thai Rath (ไทยรัฐ). (Chai also illustrated The Story of Tongdaeng/เรื่อง ทองแดง, King Rama IX’s biography of his pet dog.) Chai’s cartoons from 2011 to 2014 are collected in ไทยถลอก (ปอกเปิก) (‘Thailand is badly bruised’), published in 2014.

Yingluck sued Chai for defamation in 2013, after he called her a “อีโง่” in a Facebook post. (The term roughly translates as ‘stupid bitch’.) A book from the same period by cartoonists Buncha/Kamin describes Yingluck using equally offensive language, though it was the viral nature of Chai’s Facebook comment that prompted the lawsuit. Chai occupies the opposite end of the political spectrum to his fellow Thai Rath cartoonist, Sia, who has also published books of his cartoons.


Arun Watcharasawad

อรุณตวัดการเมือง (‘political Arun’), a collection of political cartoons by Arun Watcharasawad, was published in 2012. Arun is a cartoonist for the liberal Matichon (มติชน) newspaper and Matichon Weekly (มติชนสุดสัปดาห์) magazine, and the book features his work from 2010 to 2012. It also includes การ์ตูน-การเมือง-ไทย (‘cartoons-politics-Thailand’), a fascinating chapter on the history of Thai political cartoons by Parnbua Boonparn.

Matichon Weekly

Typically, Matichon Weekly devotes almost a full page to each of Arun’s cartoons, and it’s easy to see why: these are impressive works of satirical art. Like most political cartoonists, Arun employs recurring visual metaphors—shark-infested waters seem to be one of his favourites—though his work also references classical mythology and artists such as Hokusai.

24 May 2023

รวมการ์ตูนการเมือง แหลเพื่อพี่


Buncha and Kamin are political cartoonists for the right-wing Manager (ผู้จัดการรายวัน) newspaper. Their book รวมการ์ตูนการเมือง แหลเพื่อพี่ (‘cartoon collection for everyone’), released in 2013, is an anthology of cartoons satirising former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government. Manager is published by Sondhi Limthongkul, who has friends and enemies in high places: he narrowly survived an assassination attempt in 2009, and he received a royal pardon in 2019 after being sentenced to a twenty-year jail term for bank fraud.

Sondhi co-founded the People’s Alliance for Democracy movement against Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin. So it comes as no surprise that Buncha and Kamin’s cartoons are scathing in their criticism. In their commentary for the book, they don’t mince words, describing Yingluck as stupid and her administration as evil. Their cartoons also stray beyond satire into downright insult, such as a macabre fantasy sketch showing Thaksin being murdered.

Buncha/Kamin Buncha/Kamin

The cartoons mocking Yingluck’s supporters are even more problematic: they are portrayed as a herd of buffalo. Kwai (‘buffalo’) was a term of abuse adopted by the PAD, who dismissed the red-shirts as an uneducated mob undeserving of the right to vote. (Research in After the Coup confirms the prevalence of this patronising attitude.) Tepwut Buatoom’s picture book Buffaloes Dream of Being Human (ควายอยากเป็นคน) subverts the ‘buffalo’ stereotype, and the term has been reappropriated in a t-shirt design.

“Trump’s defamatory statements post-verdict show the depth of his malice toward Carroll...”


Writer E. Jean Carroll is seeking further damages from Donald Trump following his appearance on CNN’s Republican Presidential Town Hall earlier this month. Carroll was awarded $5 million in damages on 9th May after Trump was found guilty in a civil trial of sexually assaulting and defaming her. The jury concluded that Trump had assaulted Carroll in a dressing room at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in New York around thirty years ago, and that he had libelled her by denying the allegation in posts on his Truth Social website.

The day after the verdict, Trump was interviewed by Kaitlan Collins on CNN and again denied assaulting Carroll: “I don’t know her, I never met her, I have no idea who she is.” To applause from the Republican-leaning studio audience, he said: “I swear on my children, which I never do: I have no idea who this woman—this is a fake story, made-up story.” He also described Carroll as “a whack job.”

Carroll is now seeking an additional $5 million in punitive damages for libel. Her lawsuit, filed on 22nd May, claims: “Trump’s defamatory statements post-verdict show the depth of his malice toward Carroll since it is hard to imagine defamatory conduct that could possibly be more motivated by hatred, ill will, or spite.” Earlier this year, Trump was indicted on criminal charges related to his alleged concealment of hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels.

11 May 2023

“Fox intentionally trafficked in malicious falsehoods…”

Fox News

The former head of a US government advisory board is suing Fox News for defamation. Nina Jankowicz was executive director of the Disinformation Governance Board, which was created last year to provide guidance on disinformation to the Department of Homeland Security. Following extensive criticism—the board was described as Orwellian by both liberals and conservatives—Jankowicz resigned and the board ceased operations after less than a month. A libel lawsuit filed yesterday claims that “Fox intentionally trafficked in malicious falsehoods to pad its profits at the expense of Jankowicz’s safety, reputation, and well-being.”

The lawsuit alleges that Fox hosts made more than 300 potentially defamatory references to Jankowicz over a period of eight months last year, citing three central false allegations broadcast by the network: that Jankowicz and her board intended to restrict free speech, that she sought to edit Twitter users’ tweets, and that she was fired from her position as executive director. Fox hosts are also accused of using “ugly language that could have no other purpose than to denigrate Jankowicz’s character and professional reputation” (though this is not covered by defamation law).

US defamation law has a high burden of proof, requiring evidence that any false statements were made intentionally. (The legal term is ‘with actual malice’.) Of the three allegations Jankowicz highlights, only the third approaches this threshold. To substantiate the claim of ‘actual malice’—that Fox “deliberately and knowingly lied that Jankowicz had been terminated from her post”—the lawsuit cites two contradictory comments by Primetime host Jesse Watters. On 18th May 2022, he stated that “Nina Jankowicz resigned” though two days later, he said: “She got booted this week.”

This lawsuit comes a few weeks after Fox settled a defamation case brought by Dominion Voting Systems and sacked its most popular host, Tucker Carlson. (Carlson was abruptly fired on 24th April. In response to a previous defamation charge, Fox had claimed that that his show, Tucker Carlson Tonight, should be viewed with “an appropriate amount of skepticism”.) The network is also currently being sued for defamation by another voting technology company, Smartmatic.

18 April 2023

Dominion v. Fox News:
“Lies have consequences...”

Fox News

US cable TV channel Fox News and election technology company Dominion Voting Systems have reached a settlement in their defamation case, with Fox agreeing to pay Dominion $787.5 million. The Wall Street Journal reported at the weekend that a settlement was being discussed, and judge Eric Davis unexpectedly delayed the start of the trial, in a possible attempt to encourage settlement negotiations, though jurors were sworn in yesterday and the settlement was announced only at the last minute.

Dominion sued Fox in 2021, accusing the network of broadcasting “a series of verifiably false yet devastating lies” and “outlandish, defamatory, and far-fetched fictions” in the aftermath of the 2020 US presidential election: “Fox recklessly disregarded the truth. Indeed, Fox knew these statements about Dominion were lies.” The lawsuit cited false conspiracy theories that Dominion had rigged the election, claims spread by Donald Trump and his lawyers in the final months of his presidency and endorsed on Fox News shows.

Dominion had sought $1.6 billion in damages, which was widely considered unrealistic, even given the egregious nature of the Fox News broadcasts under dispute. Thus, the $787.5 million settlement, which represents almost half of the total damages originally sought, is extremely high. (As a company, Dominion is valued at less than $100 million.) The settlement implies either that Fox feared losing the defamation case and potentially paying more in damages, or—more likely—that the network sought to avoid the embarrassment of a public trial.

The trial was due to take place in Wilmington, Delaware, a city with a largely Democrat population. (Wilmingtonians voted 2:1 in favour of the Democrats in the 2020 presidential election, and President Joe Biden has a house in the city.) This suggests that the jurors were unlikely to be sympathetic to Fox News and its pro-Republican content. Also, in his pretrial ruling last month, the judge wrote that it “is CRYSTAL clear that none of the Statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true”: an emphatic rejection of the Fox News defence of fair comment.

Once the settlement had been reached yesterday, Fox said in a statement: “We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.” This acceptance of the pretrial ruling, albeit in vague terms, is an unusual concession, as out-of-court settlements do not routinely include admissions of liability. This, coupled with the enormity of the settlement, suggests that Fox was keen to avoid potentially damaging witness testimony from its executives and prime-time hosts.

Fox’s defence had already been undermined by the release of hundreds of emails and text messages, submitted in evidence before the trial began. Crucially, these messages demonstrate that the hosts gave airtime to the conspiracy theories about Dominion software despite personally disbelieving them, which could demonstrate actual malice (the legal term for knowingly making false and defamatory statements). In a text message on 9th November 2020, for example, Tucker Carlson wrote: “The software shit is absurd.” Conversely, on his show later that day, he said: “We don’t know anything about the software that many say was rigged.” (Fox defended itself in a previous defamation case by arguing that Carlson’s show should be viewed with “an appropriate amount of skepticism”.)

In a statement outside court yesterday, Dominion’s lawyer Justin Nelson said: “The truth matters. Lies have consequences. Over two years ago, a torrent of lies swept Dominion and election officials across America into an alternative universe of conspiracy theories, causing grevious harm to Dominion and the country.” Dominion is also suing another right-wing cable channel, OAN, for $1.6 billion, though OAN lacks the funds to offer a Fox-style settlement. Another election technology company, Smartmatic, is suing Fox for $2.7 billion.

The $787.5 million settlement makes this the largest media defamation case in US legal history. The previous record was the $222.7 million awarded in damages to Money Management Analytical Research in 1997, after The Wall Street Journal accused the company of fraud in a 21st October 1993 article by Laura Jereski (headlined “Regulators Study Texas Securities Firm and Its Louisiana Pension Fund Trades”). In that case, however, the damages were reduced on appeal to $22.7 million. (In the UK, libel damages were at their highest in the 1980s, though the amounts were paltry in comparison to the US.)