OAN loses appeal in defamation lawsuit against Rachel Maddow

A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld a San Diego federal judge’s decision last year to dismiss One America News’s (OAN) defamation lawsuit against Rachel Maddow, arguing that the MSNBC host’s statement that the far-right network was “paid Russian propaganda” was “an obvious exaggeration,” rather than an asserted fact. 

In a 3-0 decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said that Maddow’s statement “was well within the bounds of what qualified as protected speech under the First Amendment.” 

“The challenged statement was an obvious exaggeration, cushioned within an undisputed news story,” Judge Milan D. Smith Jr. wrote in the opinion

The statement could not reasonably be understood to imply an assertion of objective fact, and therefore, did not amount to defamation,” the judge added. 

The ruling against OAN, which was largely expected, stemmed from a lawsuit initially filed in 2019 in which the right-wing network argued that Maddow made “utterly and completely false” statements about OAN being “paid Russian propaganda” because the network “is wholly financed by the Herrings, an American family, [and] has never been paid or received a penny from Russia or the Russian government.”

The network specifically mentioned a Daily Beast article that Maddow cited on her show, which said that OAN employed “a Kremlin-paid journalist.”

However, Judge Cynthia Bashant ruled in May 2020 that anyone who watches Maddow’s show “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,” the judge wrote at the time. 

“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,’ ” Bashant added. 

Ted Boutrous, who represented Maddow, NBCUniversal, MSNBC and other defendants in the case, said in an appeals hearing late last month that OAN parent company Herring Networks improperly isolated a few words of Maddow’s commentary about OAN, adding that restrictions on words “stripped out of context” would “destroy the breathing space for lively and informative debate about public issues that the First Amendment protects.”

“We can’t have speech police parsing the words they way Herring is doing,” the attorney continued. “It would really chill valuable speech.”

The Hill has reached out to OAN for comment on Tuesday’s ruling.

Tags appeals court civil lawsuit Defamation defamation lawsuit MSNBC MSNBC One America News Network Rachel Maddow Rachel Maddow San Diego

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