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Tucker Carlson’s critics obsessively cite a federal judge who in 2020 found that Carlson’s commentary consists of opinion and exaggeration. Check any of Carlson’s recent viral monologues, the blue checks have it posted atop or below the links. You can’t miss it.
In a similar story, one that the media is reluctant to share, federal judge Cynthia Bashant recently ruled that viewers should not take the commentary found on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC program too literally either.
As Glenn Greenwald uncovered, Bashant dismissed OAN’s defamation lawsuit against Maddow. In 2019, OAN sued Maddow, MSNBC, and Comcast after Maddow said the right-wing network is “literally paid Russian propaganda.”
Viewers expect her to do so, as it is indeed her show, and viewers watch the segment with the understanding that it will contain Maddow’s “personal and subjective views” about the news. See id. Thus, the Court finds that as a part of the totality of the circumstances, the broad context weighs in favor of a finding that the alleged defamatory statement is Maddow’s opinion and exaggeration of the Daily Beast article, and that reasonable viewers would not take the statement as factual. . . .
Here, Maddow had inserted her own colorful commentary into and throughout the segment, laughing, expressing her dismay (i.e., saying “I mean, what?”) and calling the segment a “sparkly story” and one we must “take in stride.” For her to exaggerate the facts and call OAN Russian propaganda was consistent with her tone up to that point, and the Court finds a reasonable viewer would not take the statement as factual given this context. The context of Maddow’s statement shows reasonable viewers would consider the contested statement to be her opinion. A reasonable viewer would not actually think OAN is paid Russian propaganda, instead, he or she would follow the facts of the Daily Beast article; that OAN and Sputnik share a reporter and both pay this reporter to write articles. Anything beyond this is Maddow’s opinion or her exaggeration of the facts.
In short, Bashant said the Court found that “the contested statement is an opinion that cannot serve as the basis for a defamation claim.”
How is that any different than the reason Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil dismissed a lawsuit filed against Tucker Carlson?
Maddow and Carlson are alike in many ways. They both have strong beliefs and a distinctive on-air presence. They are the two most watched hosts in cable news because of — wait for it — their personalities.
The difference is that Carlson’s opinions are often unique. Found nowhere else on TV. Maddow’s stances, by contrast, echo the opinion of most mainstream journalists and hosts.
Of course, TV hosts and journalists won’t mention Bashant’s ruling. Maddow is on their team. She calls people racist and spreads lies about Donald Trump. If the media discredit Maddow, they discredit themselves.
Maddow benefits from privilege. Not white privilege — as she claims so many do — the privilege of her political beliefs.
As per usual, the subject of the story is less interesting than the media’s silence about it. That’s the fight Rush Limbaugh fought for decades.