One America News Network and its owner Herring Networks Inc. must pay $250,000 in attorneys’ fees to Rachel Maddow and MSNBC and its owner Comcast Corp. to cover the cost of defending a defamation suit over Maddow’s statement that the news outlet is “paid Russian propaganda,” the Southern District of California ruled.
Maddow won dismissal of OAN’s suit in May under California’s Anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (Anti-SLAPP) law, after the court found the contested statement is “opinion and rhetorical hyperbole protected under the First Amendment.”
Anti-SLAPP laws are meant to assist parties who are sued after speaking out about matters of public concern by providing a mechanism for accelerated dismissal.
The event that triggered the underlying defamation suit was a segment on Maddow’s show broadcast on July 22, 2019, in which she referred to a story published by the Daily Beast called “Trump’s New Favorite Channel Employs Kremlin-Paid Journalist.”
Maddow said the article reports that OAN, which is “Trump’s favorite, more Trump-ier than Fox TV network[,]…has a full-time on-air reporter who covers U.S. politics, who is also simultaneously on the payroll of the Kremlin.”
She went on to say that OAN is “literally paid Russia propaganda,” adding that OAN’s “on-air U.S. politics reporter is paid by the Russian government to produce propaganda for that government.”
The Court on May 22 found 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.”
“This ruling reflects that One America News’ lawsuit is totally baseless, and we expect to continue to prevail on appeal,” an MSNBC spokesperson told Bloomberg Law.
Under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, an award of attorneys’ fees to a prevailing defendant is mandatory.
The defendants sought $347,000 in attorneys’ fees, while OAN countered that they should be trimmed to $85,000.
Magistrate Judge Allison H. Goddard issued the order.
Miller Barondess LLP represents Herring.
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP represents MSNBC, Comcast, and Maddow.
The case is Herring Networks Inc. v. Maddow, S.D. Cal., No. 19-cv-01713, 2/5/21.