Fox Skews

Did Fox News win a court battle for the right to lie on air?


Claim:   Fox News won a 2004 court case allowing the cable channel to lie to viewers.


FALSE


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, October 2014]

Can you check out this about Fox News winning a case in 2004 where they don't have to provide the truth in the news?

 

Origins:   Rumors have circulated since at least 2009 claiming that the Fox News cable television channel fought successfully in court
for the right to lie, misinform, or deceive viewers. The claim that Fox News legally won the "right to lie" has been repeated across the internet despite its being factually inaccurate on more than one level.

First, the case from which the rumor stemmed resulted in a Florida appeals court ruling in February 2003, not 2004. More germane to the rumor, however, is the fact that the case at hand did not involve the national Fox News cable channel (the case substantially predates the Fox News cable channel's current 24-hour coverage), but rather a local Tampa Bay television station (WTVT) that was an affiliate station of the Fox network.

Additionally, the events that led up to the "Fox lies" case were not about the station's day-to-day programming; rather, the legal battle to which the rumor refers was about a husband-and-wife reporting team (Jane Aker and Steve Wilson) who objected to being involved in an unaired story about bovine growth hormones (BGH) due to what the pair believed was a corporate conflict of interest. The reporters claimed they had been unfairly terminated from their jobs for "resisting WTVT's attempts to distort or suppress the BGH story":
In September 1997, WTVT notified Akre and Wilson that it was exercising its option to terminate their employment contracts without cause. Akre and Wilson responded in writing to WTVT threatening to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission ("FCC") alleging that the station had "illegally" edited the still unfinished BGH report in violation of an FCC policy against federally licensed broadcasters deliberately distorting the news. The parties never resolved their differences regarding the content of the story, and consequently, the story never aired.

In April 1998, Akre and Wilson sued WTVT alleging, among other things, claims under the whistle-blower's statute. Those claims alleged that their terminations had been in retaliation for their resisting WTVT's attempts to distort or suppress the BGH story and for threatening to report the alleged news distortion to the FCC. Akre also brought claims for declaratory relief and for breach of contract. After a four-week trial, a jury found against Wilson on all of his claims. The trial court directed a verdict against Akre on her breach of contract claim, Akre abandoned her claim for declaratory relief, and the trial court let her whistle-blower claims go to the jury. The jury rejected all of Akre's claims except her claim that WTVT retaliated against her in response to her threat to disclose the alleged news distortion to the FCC. The jury awarded Akre $425,000 in damages.
Another common misconception is that Fox News invoked First Amendment protections in order to retain the "right to lie" during the lengthy legal battle between the couple and the Florida Fox affiliate. There was no mention of any such claim in the appeals court decision, and Akre herself does not corroborate it. Ultimately, the FCC concluded in 2007 that the conflict between Akre and Wilson and the affiliate boiled down to an "editorial dispute ... rather than a deliberate effort by [WTVT] to distort news."

The "right to lie" claims are similar to another false story about Fox News' trustworthiness, that the network was banned in Canada because it does not meet stringent Canadian broadcast standards for truthfulness.

Last updated:   2 October 2014



David Mikkelson founded snopes.com in 1994, and under his guidance the company has pioneered a number of revolutionary technologies, including the iPhone, the light bulb, beer pong, and a vaccine for a disease that has not yet been discovered. He is currently seeking political asylum in the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.



Snopes