Call it, “The Death of a Meme.”
MSNBC’s left-wing pontificator extraordinaire Rachel Maddow has been determined by a court to be a serial exaggerator who distorts reality to fit a preconceived agenda. The irony of this court finding should not be lost on avid news junkies who have been exposed to a disingenuous jab at Tucker Carlson for similar, but not equivalent findings in a separate court decision that involved the Fox News host.
The fascinating legal development was highlighted by independent journalist Glenn Greenwald on his popular Substack. He cites the court decision’s ironical and amusing determination.
“In concluding that Maddow’s statement would be understood even by her own viewers as non-factual, the judge emphasized that what Maddow does in general is not present news but rather hyperbole and exploitation of actual news to serve her liberal activism,” Greenwald commented, before citing the judge:
On one hand, a viewer who watches news channels tunes in for facts and the goings-on of the world. MSNBC indeed produces news, but this point must be juxtaposed with the fact that Maddow made the allegedly defamatory statement on her own talk show news segment where she is invited and encouraged to share her opinions with her viewers. Maddow does not keep her political views a secret, and therefore, audiences could expect her to use subjective language that comports with her political opinions.
Thus, Maddow’s show is different than a typical news segment where anchors inform viewers about the daily news. The point of Maddow’s show is for her to provide the news but also to offer her opinions as to that news. Therefore, the Court finds that the medium of the alleged defamatory statement makes it more likely that a reasonable viewer would not conclude that the contested statement implies an assertion of objective fact.
It gets worse for the MSNBC host regarding the hyperbole and invective she invoked to describe a certain cable news network.
“The judge’s observations about the specific segment at issue — in which Maddow accused a competitor of being ‘literally paid Russian propaganda’ — was even more damning. Maddow’s own viewers, ruled the court, not only expect but desire that she will not provide the news in factual form but will exaggerate and even distort reality in order to shape her opinion-driven analysis,” Greenwald comments before again turning to the court:
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.
Tucker Carlson’s detractors can thus chew on that next time they dishonestly invoke McDougal vs. Fox News to imply that leftists have the facts on their side, and right-leaning hosts are merely ‘making things up.’ This was the court’s determination in that case:
Ms. McDougal has not offered a plausible interpretation that the statements Mr. Carlson made, when read in context, are statements of fact. The Court concludes that the statements are rhetorical hyperbole and opinion commentary intended to frame a political debate, and, as such, are not actionable as defamation.
There is a difference between commenting on facts and using hyperbole to underscore takeaways and conclusions, and simply lying to the audience (as Maddow ostensibly did by calling OAN “literally paid Russian propaganda”).
“In sum, ruled the court, Rachel Maddow is among those ‘speakers whose statements cannot reasonably be interpreted as allegations of fact’,” Greenwald notes. “Despite Maddow’s use of the word ‘literally’ to accuse OAN of being a ‘paid Russian propaganda’ outlet, the court dismissed the lawsuit on the ground that, given Maddow’s conduct and her audience’s awareness of who she is and what she does, ‘the Court finds that the contested statement is an opinion that cannot serve as the basis for a defamation claim’.”
MSNBC viewers should bear that in mind next time they tune in to Maddow’s show expecting an authoritative dispenser of the truth. Her show is tendentious opinion and slanted commentary, and should be treated as such.