Friday, April 17, 2020

No, Fox News, the First Amendment does not protect false speech

Salon reports:
Fox News has moved to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a Washington state group accusing the network of "deceptive" coronavirus coverage by arguing that the First Amendment protects "false" and "outrageous" speech.
Fox News is, as usual, wrong.  It is well established that the First Amendment does not confer an unlimited right to say whatever you want whenever you want to.  Libel, for example, is still a thing, the First Amendment notwithstanding.

The most canonical example of speech that is not protected by the First Amendment is shouting fire in a crowded theater.  And yet, you obviously do have the right to shout fire in a crowded theater in at least one circumstance, namely, if the theater is in fact on fire.  You are allowed to shout fire in a crowded theater.  What you are not allowed to do is deliberately lie about it.

Which is exactly what Fox News is doing.

Actually, what Fox News is doing is more akin to shouting, "There is no fire, everyone stay in your seats" in a theater that is actually burning, but the principle here is the same: they are spreading information that they know to be false for the express purpose of coercing people into dangerous, potentially fatal behavior.  The First Amendment should not protect them from liability when people die as a result.

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