“Fox & Friends” Hosts Not Liable for Repeating Parody
The Internet is an amazing source for both information and misinformation. One of the most telling examples was the case of Sarah Palin. A fictional question and answer session was written and published, with Palin purportedly making the comment that dinosaurs had roamed the earth just 5000 years ago. Many failed to realize (or chose not to recognize) the story was satire, and reported the dinosaur story as true. (Leading to an almost tearful Matt Damon proclaiming during an interview that she was not fit to serve because of her dinosaur beliefs.)
So-called traditional news sources cannot ignore what is posted on the Internet because it often is a breaking source for news; the commercial airline landing in the Hudson river being a recent example. But when parody is mistaken for truth, defamation can occur.
The cable show “Fox & Friends” reported a parody about a school principal as true. The real story was that a middle school student had left some ham on a table frequented by Muslim students. He was disciplined for his insensitivity. The parody took the story to an extreme, claiming that the school principal had instituted an “anti-ham response plan,” designed to teach the children that “ham is not a toy.” The hosts of Fox & Friends reported the parody as truth, and derided the principal for his overreaction. The principal sued for defamation in Levesque v. Doocy.
Fox & Friends was saved by New York Times v. Sullivan, the 1964 Supreme Court decision that created the “actual malice” standard for defamation against a public figure (also referred to as “New York Times actual malice”). But for the fact that the plaintiff was deemed to be a public figure, Fox would have been liable.