A lawyer representing the Fox News Channel in a defamation lawsuit filed by a former Playboy model has told a federal judge that the news channel should not have an obligation to report factual information on its most-popular prime-time commentary show.
The comments came on Wednesday as court proceedings in a case brought by model Karen McDougal heads for a possible trial.
McDougal brought the suit following a segment in which Fox News host Tucker Carlson accused her and another model of attempting to extort President Donald Trump.
During a broadcast on December 10, Carlson said McDougal and another former model had extorted President Donald Trump by threatening to go public with salacious accusations unless Trump paid them off.
Carlson said he was paraphrasing a New York Times article that had been published earlier in the week, adding that the “facts of the story” were “undisputed.”
McDougal had actually received money from the National Enquirer tabloid to keep her silence about an alleged affair involving Trump. She did not threaten to extort Trump, but she was able to go public with her story after the non-disclosure agreement she signed with the tabloid fell apart after the owner of the Enquirer’s parent company, American Media, acknowledged he had made illegal campaign contributions that benefited Trump.
McDougal sued Carlson and the network for slander late last year.
In a court hearing on Wednesday, a lawyer for the network said there was no legal obligation for Fox News to force Carlson to present factual information, and that viewers of his program don’t assume that what he says is grounded in fact or truth.
“What we’re talking about here is not the front page of the New York Times,” Erin Murphy, an attorney representing Fox News, said during the hearing, adding that Tucker Carlson Tonight was “a commentary show.”
But McDougal’s lawyer said Carlson’s emphasis that his viewers “remember the facts” crossed the line between opinion and reporting.
“You can even see it on his face,” attorney Eric Bernstein said. “He gets serious. He’s not being dramatic.”
Responding to the original lawsuit, a Fox News spokesperson said the network intends to “vigorously defend Tucker Carlson against these meritless claims.”
The Fox News Channel is owned by Fox Corporation.