A previously obscure Washington State nonprofit corporation has filed a lawsuit against Fox News over the conservative network's coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by The Times of San Diego, which first reported the lawsuit on April 2. The suit accuses the network of deliberately "falsely and deceptively disseminating" claims that the coronavirus was a "hoax," and not a danger to "public safety."
The network "engaged in a campaign of deception and omission" in its reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit was filed in Washington's King County Superior Court on the same day that a group of 74 professional journalists and journalism professors sent a letter to the network's corporate bosses, billionaire media magnate Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan. The group accused Fox News of regularly broadcasting "misinformation" about the pandemic and making "false statements downplaying the prevalence" of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.
The lawsuit was filed by a three-year-old organization known as the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics, or WASHLITE. The organization's founder, Arthur West, told The Times of San Diego that in his view, Fox News coverage had obstructed efforts by the government to promote "social distancing," the practice that can slow the spread of the potentially deadly virus.
"That's the real evil of this type of programming," West told the paper, alleging that Fox News "delayed and interfered with a prompt and adequate response" to the coronavirus outbreak in the state of Washington.
The site Now This has compiled a video of brief excerpts from Fox News' coronavirus coverage, seen below.On January 21, Washington state became the site of the United States' first confirmed case of coronavirus infection, as well as the first death from COVID-19, on March 1. According to the state's Department of Health, as of Saturday, Washington had 7,591 confirmed coronavirus cases, resulting in 310 deaths — a death rate of 4.1 percent.
The state had performed 87,918 tests for the virus, with individuals testing positive at a rate of 8.6 percent, according to the Washington DOH data.
The 10-page lawsuit, posted online by The Times of San Diego, singles out Fox News primetime host Sean Hannity, as well as former Fox Business host Trish Regan, for allegedly acting "in bad faith to willfully and maliciously disseminate false information" about the pandemic.
On March 9, Regan said on air that the pandemic was an "impeachment scam" intended to "demonize and destroy" Donald Trump.
The lawsuit alleges that Hannity has dismissed the coronavirus as a "hoax," though Hannity has since claimed that he referred only to the Democratic Congressional response to the pandemic as a "hoax."
WASHLITE seeks a court injunction to stop Fox News from airing further "false" information about the coronavirus pandemic. But Fox News general counsel Lily Fu Claffee told the San Diego paper that the group's lawsuit was "wrong on the facts, frivolous on the law," and that the network would seek sanctions against the nonprofit group for filing the legal action.