Manhattan: Fox News asked a judge to toss a former Playboy model’s defamation suit claiming the network falsely accused her of trying to extort money from Donald Trump, with whom she says she had an affair before he became president.
Karen McDougal sued Fox in December over a statement host Tucker Carlson made on his Dec. 10, 2018, show. “Two women approached Donald Trump and threatened to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn’t give them money,” he said. “Now that sounds like a classic case of extortion.”
In a telephone hearing Wednesday in federal court in Manhattan on Fox’s motion to dismiss, Erin Murphy, a lawyer for the network called Carlson’s language “hyperbolic” but said the host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” was merely expressing an opinion protected by the First Amendment.
“There’s no statement that a reasonable viewer would understand in this context to state something provably false,” Murphy told U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil.
Carlson’s comments came ahead of the Dec. 12, 2018, sentencing of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen on campaign finance and other charges related to his coordination of hush-money payments to McDougal and adult film star Stormy Daniels, who also claims she had sex with Trump before he became president.
Trump has denied having sex with either woman.
Though Carlson didn’t mention McDougal by name, her picture was flashed on the screen while he spoke, she claimed in court papers. Carlson isn’t named as a defendant in the case.
Murphy also argued that McDougal’s case lacked sufficient support to claim Fox acted with “actual malice,” the standard for proving defamation of a public figure, such as McDougal.
McDougal’s lawyer, Eric Bernstein, countered that Carlson’s statement was made in an “absolute, journalistic way” and said the conservative host was “trying to destroy the character and reputation of Karen McDougal” in order to help the president.
Trump and Carlson share “a symbiotic, supportive relationship,” Bernstein said.
Vyskosil didn’t say when she will rule on Fox’s motion to dismiss the case.
Cohen, who was sentenced to three years in prison, said in court that he paid $130,000 to Clifford on Trump’s behalf and also helped arrange a $150,000 payment to McDougal from National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc., whose chairman David Pecker is a friend of the president. Both payments were made shortly before the 2016 presidential election.
The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering a case over subpoenas of Trump’s financial records issued by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. as part of an investigation into whether they were falsified to hide the nature of the payments to McDougal and Daniels. A decision in the case may come by next month.
The case is McDougal v. Fox News Network LLC, 19-cv-11161, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).- Bloomberg