Sean Hannity Hires Charles Harder To Threaten The NY Times And Its Reporters, Because Of Course He Does
from the ah,-that-old-first-amendment,-what-is-it-good-for dept
Last month, Kara Swisher wrote an opinion piece for the NY Times ripping Sean Hannity and Fox News to shreds for convincing her mother that COVID-19 wasn’t going to be too bad back in February and leading into March. It’s notable how she started her piece:
You can relax, Sean Hannity, I?m not going to sue you.
Some people are suggesting that there might be grounds for legal action against the cable network that you pretty much rule ? Fox News ? because you and your colleagues dished out dangerous misinformation about the virus in the early days of the crisis in the United States. Some might allege that they have lost loved ones because of what was broadcast by your news organization.
But lawsuits are a bad idea. Here?s why: I believe in Fox News?s First Amendment right as a press organization, even if some of its on-air talent did not mind being egregiously bad at their jobs when it came to giving out accurate health data.
Apparently, Hannity does not have the same respect for the 1st Amendment, because after throwing a complete shit-fit over Swisher’s piece, he’s now hired lawyer Charles Harder (who, full disclaimer, represented the guy who sued us a few years back, and is now also representing the Trump campaign in an ongoing series of SLAPP suits designed to chill the press) to send a truly ridiculous SLAPP threat letter to the NY Times over Swisher’s piece and a couple of other NY Times pieces that have criticized Hannity or noted accurately the times he played down the threat of the virus.
Anyway, the letter focuses on the claims that Hannity also talked about how serious COVID-19 might be. He did do this, but at the same time, frequently was seen doing his usual boosterism of the President’s “everything’s fine here” messaging, by blaming the “mainstream media” and “the left” for “politicizing” COVID-19 by criticizing the President.
The point that the NY Times was making in its pieces was that in his repeated efforts to play up the President’s (misleading) messages of everything being fine, many people (including Swisher’s mother) didn’t believe the disease was as serious as it really was. That can absolutely be true even if at other times Hannity did say the disease could be serious. You can argue that both sides are cherry-picking here, but that’s hardly defamatory. Notably, the best that Harder and Hannity can do here is say that the NY Times implied false things, not that they actually said false things — which again shows how weak any defamation claim would be:
As detailed herein, the Stories, at the very least, impart the false and defamatory inference that (1) Mr. Hannity?s on-air statements (on March 9, 2020) caused Mr. Joyce to believe it was a safe to take a cruise on March 1, 2020, that apparently led to his death; and (2) Mr. Hannity (allegedly) disseminated ?misinformation? about the pandemic. Both of these implied statements are completely false. Moreover, the language in the April 18, 2020 Story reflects that you intended these false inferences, by how you deliberately manipulated the wording to create the false narrative. The Stories also encourage readers to draw the false conclusion that Mr. Hannity has no concern for the lives of his viewers.
I mean, if we’re going to be suing based on what other people believe you implied, then, uh, Hannity might be opening himself up to lawsuits as well. Except that in most cases, your interpretation of what someone “implied” is the opposite of defamatory, because it’s based on interpretation, not actual statements of fact.
The letter also goes on a long rant claiming that the NY Times ignored the fact that Democratic politicians played down the threat as well, and that the “mainstream media” also played it down as well. This has become a key talking point from Fox News and Trump folks, but as Cathy Young pointed out in an excellent Bulwark piece, many of those complaints are taken way out of context (and Young is not someone who is often found defending mainstream media organizations).
Either way, the letter makes it clear that, unlike Kara Swisher’s respect for the US Constitution and the 1st Amendment, Sean Hannity, with Harder’s help, is ready to sue the NY Times.
Please confirm in writing within twenty-four (24) hours of transmission of this letter that you will retract, correct and apologize for each of the foregoing statements. Failure to do so will leave Mr. Hannity with no alternative but to consider instituting immediate legal proceedings against you. Should that occur, Mr. Hannity would pursue all available causes of action and seek all available legal remedies to the maximum extent permitted by law, including without limitation, actual damages, special damages, punitive damages, and temporary and permanent injunctive relief.
The NY Times, of course, is not usually one to back down from defamation threats, and wasted little time in responding:
?We?ve reported fairly and accurately on Mr. Hannity and there is no basis for a retraction or an apology.?
Once again, right about now, it sure would be nice if New York had a real anti-SLAPP law instead of the heavily limited anti-SLAPP law it currently has. Oh, and also we still need a federal anti-SLAPP law to stop these abusive, censorial threats and lawsuits. But, considering how vocal Sean Hannity is about how much he “loves” free speech, suing the NY Times because it “implied” he played down the threat of COVID-19 suggests otherwise.