A defamation lawsuit filed in May by former Biden administration official Nina Jankowicz against Fox News is drawing parallels to a previous case that resulted in a $787 million settlement. Jankowicz alleges that Fox stars and commentators defamed her by repeatedly mischaracterizing her brief tenure leading the federal Disinformation Governance Board. She claims that false claims about her role and actions hounded her out of public service.
The new lawsuit is likely to test the robust protections for free political speech about public officials, especially opinion, even if it is distortive or untrue. Fox News has relied on these free speech protections to argue for the dismissal of the case. To hold Fox liable for defamation, Jankowicz must prove that the statements made about her were false and damaging, and that Fox either knew they were false or had reason to know so.
Jankowicz’s legal team draws inspiration from a similar defamation lawsuit that Fox settled earlier. They argue that Fox’s stars and commentators lied about her even after being informed of the truth. The suit points to statements made by Fox personalities like Tucker Carlson, who falsely claimed that Jankowicz would send men with guns to individuals’ homes for expressing opinions she disagreed with.
The case also highlights the ongoing tensions between Washington and Fox News regarding misinformation and disinformation. Jankowicz’s brief tenure at the Disinformation Governance Board faced attacks and criticism from right-wing commentators, which she believes were mischaracterized and fueled false claims about her.
The lawsuit has the potential to test the boundaries between political hyperbole and factual statements about public officials. If allowed to proceed to discovery, it may explore whether heated coverage crosses the line into false statements with significant consequences for those involved.