Scott D. Pierce: Fox lawyers admit Tucker Carlson doesn’t always tell the truth
(Richard Drew | AP file photo) In this March 2, 2017, file photo, Tucker Carlson, host of "Tucker Carlson Tonight," poses for photos in a Fox News Channel studio, in New York.
The drivel that Tucker Carlson spouts on Fox News isn’t factual, and the people who watch him not only know it’s false, but they don’t expect him to tell them the truth.
Don’t get mad at me for that statement. It comes straight from lawyers who represent Fox News.
What those lawyers made clear is that not only do Carlson and Fox News have contempt for the truth, they also have contempt for their own viewers.
The Fox News legal team is defending against a slander lawsuit by claiming that (a) what Carlson says isn’t news; (b) he doesn’t necessarily do any research; and (c) what he says isn’t necessarily true.
“Would a reasonable viewer be coming here [to ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’] and thinking, ‘This is where I’m going to be hearing the news of the day’?” Fox News attorney Erin Murphy asked in a hearing-via-telephone on Wednesday, according to reporter Frank G. Runyeons’s story at Law360.com
Did you get that? If you watch Carlson’s show and think it has anything to do with news, according to Murphy, you’re just not that bright.
And in an earlier court filing, Murphy referred to “Tucker Carlson Tonight” as “hyperbolic opinion commentary,” not “sober factual reporting.” That’s not exactly a surprise — the only surprise is that Fox’s lawyers openly admitted that.
What prompted this admission? Well, Fox News is being sued by former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Shortly before the 2016 election, the National Enquirer paid her $150,000 for her story about how she allegedly had an affair with Donald Trump that began in 2006 — the year after he married his third wife, Melania, and the same year his youngest son, Barron, was born. (Trump denies it and we’re still referring to the affair as “alleged,” although there’s proof that the $150,000 payment was real.)
David Pecker, the CEO of the National Enquirer’s parent company and a friend/ardent supporter of Trump, bought the story with no intention of publishing it. He was later granted immunity for his testimony about the plan to keep the story from getting out and hurting Trump’s candidacy.
McDougal is suing Fox because Carlson said this on his show: “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.” He led up to that by saying, “Remember the facts of the story; these are undisputed.”
McDougal contends he accused her of a crime. And, yes, extortion is a crime. She also contends that Carlson got his facts wrong.
Fox News contends that it doesn’t matter if Carlson accused her of a crime and got his facts wrong because “Tucker Carlson Tonight” isn’t about facts. When the judge asked Fox’s attorneys, “Does somebody in Mr. Carlson’s position have a duty of inquiry?” — the answer was no.
In other words, Carlson has no responsibility to check the facts before he starts talking on TV.
Fox’s attorneys also argued that McDougal has to prove actual malice because she’s a public figure. That’s tough to do, even though Carlson spews malice five nights a week on his show. The man oozes malice. His behavior is insulting, sexist and racist.
(I’ve only had one personal encounter with Carlson, and it was more than 15 years ago when he was still working at CNN. He was obnoxious and arrogant then, and it appears nothing has changed.)
Advertisers have been fleeing his show. Carlson’s recent statement about Black Lives Matter sparked the latest mass defection: “This may be a lot of things, this moment we are living through, but it is definitely not about black lives, and remember that when they come for you. And at this rate, they will.”
And yet some 4 million viewers still tune in. They think he’s feeding them facts. They believe what he tells them.
Remember — Fox News thinks those people are not “reasonable.”