One America News (OAN) has lost another legal battle in the $10 million defamation lawsuit the conservative TV channel pursued against MSNBC host Rachel Maddow for referring to it as Russian propaganda.
A federal appeals court in California affirmed dismissal of the defamation suit Tuesday, clearing the way for OAN to owe MSNBC a quarter of a million dollars in legal fees stemming from its litigation.
OAN’s parent company, Herring Networks, had sued for defamation over a segment “The Rachel Maddow Show” had broadcast about it in July 2019 in which its host discussed a new report in The Daily Beast.
The report, published online earlier in the day, noted that an OAN correspondent was simultaneously working for Sputnik, a Russian state media outlet used by Moscow to amplify pro-Kremlin narratives.
Discussing the report about OAN during a 3.5-minute segment that evening, Ms. Maddow said “the most obsequiously pro-Trump right-wing news outlet in America really, literally is paid Russian propaganda.”
Herring sued Ms. Maddow and MSNBC and its parent companies in San Diego federal court in late 2019, seeking $10 million in damages for allegedly defaming the network with her “Russian propaganda” remark.
Defendants responded by filing a special motion to strike the case under California’s Anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (Anti-SLAPP) law and asked to recover court and legal costs.
U.S. District Court Judge Cynthia Bashant, an Obama appointee, dismissed OAN’s suit in 2020 upon determining a reasonable “Maddow” viewer would be able to tell its host was presenting her opinion.
Herring subsequently challenged the district judge’s ruling in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where a panel issued the unanimous 3-0 decision this week affirming the dismissal of the defamation suit.
“Maddow’s statement was well within the bounds of what qualified as protected speech under the First Amendment,” the appeals court panel wrote in part of the 24-page ruling affirming the dismissal.
“The challenged statement was an obvious exaggeration, cushioned within an undisputed news story,” continued the appeals court. “The statement could not reasonably be understood to imply an assertion of objective fact, and therefore, did not amount to defamation.”
A federal magistrate previously ordered Herring to pay MSNBC roughly $250,000 in legal costs after the district court dismissed its defamation suit, although the case was still being appealed at the time.
Herring did not immediately respond to a message seeking its reaction to losing the appeal and inquiring about the owed payment.
Launched in 2013, OAN unabashedly supported former President Donald Trump during his four years in office and refused to recognize his loss to President Biden until well after the 2020 election had ended.
OAN subsequently promoted debunked conspiracy theories about Mr. Biden’s win, including claims about a voting machine company that resulted in the latter filing a multi-billion dollar lawsuit this month.