Fox News hamms make excellent judicial stew

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Fox News hamms make excellent judicial stew

Mon Mar 23, 2009 @ 07:21PM PST
By Eriq Gardner

Amd_foxnewscrew In Aesop's famous fable "The Fox and the Grapes," the fox feigns disdain at grapes that are unreachably high on a vine. "The grapes are sour anyway!" says the Fox.

In the latter day version, morning hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade of "Fox & Friends" take turns feigning disdain at the superintendent of a high school who research showed had reprimanded some students for tossing a slab of leftover Easter ham onto a table surrounded by Somali Muslim youngsters. Doocy and Kilmeade made merciless fun of the superintendent, Leon Levesque. They ridiculed him for labeling the incident a "hate crime" and attributed quotes to Levesque from a locally published article.

Many of the quotes turned out to be phony, and Fox never reached Levesque for comment.

Last we left the case of the Fox Hams, a district court had tossed Levesque's subsequent defamation lawsuit against Fox like a brick of spam at a Monty Python concert for failure to show actual malice. But not before the judge stamped Fox's gullibility into the public record once and for all.

We naturally assumed that would be the end of this case. But never underestimate the feelings of a bruised school official. Levesque appealed the case and on Friday, the First Circuit Court of Appeals got its own chance to turn grapes into wine with a cutting opinion that attacks Fox News' journalistic integrity. The opinion opens: "Rare is there an opportunity to interrupt today's twenty-four-hour news cycle, fueled by cable television's incessant need for content...This appeal offers such a moment..."

Of course, the latest opinion doesn't change the District Court's conclusion that defamation can't be shown without any proof of actual malice. But the First Circuit gets its chance to affirm Fox' negligent gullibility and adds insensitivity, tastelessness, and lack of professionalism to the sins of this Fox.

Unfortunately for plaintiff Levesque, shoddy journalism isn't enough to propel a defamation lawsuit forward in this day and age. He's certainly welcome to test out the U.S. Supreme Court for a third look at this matter. We can't imagine what Justice Antonin Scalia might say on the topic.

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The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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