Former White House Disinformation Czar Sues Fox News for Defamation: Report

Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
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A well-known researcher in the field of disinformation filed a defamation lawsuit against Fox News on Wednesday, alleging the network broadcast falsehoods that whipped up of a firestorm of public and online harassment against her—which put her in harm’s way and damaged her career.

Last year, Nina Jankowicz, 34, was tapped to lead the Biden administration’s Disinformation Governance Board, a new unit within the Department of Homeland Security that aimed to “coordinate countering misinformation related to homeland security.” It had no real authority to compel action or make operational decisions.

But the board, and Jankowicz’s position on it as “disinformation czar,” were almost immediately misconstrued by conservatives and right-wing trolls as an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth.” Within a few weeks, the avalanche of criticism led to the “pausing” of the board, and Jankowicz’s resignation.

According to Jankowicz’s lawsuit, the hate campaign, which she says has not abated in the months since, was kicked off by Fox News.

“It shouldn’t be something we just accept—that the most powerful cable network in the world can attack individuals willy-nilly and not face any consequences after they ruin their lives,” Jankowicz told The New York Times, which first reported the lawsuit’s filing on Wednesday.

In March, Jankowicz launched a GoFundMe to “Help Nina Hold Fox News Accountable for Its Lies.” On the campaign page, she wrote, “To put it simply: my life has been irrevocably altered because Fox News repeatedly force-fed lies about me to tens of millions of their viewers. Tens of thousands have harassed me online. Hundreds have violently threatened me.”

(It was not immediately clear if the campaign, which raised $54,000 of a stated $100,000 goal, had been or would be used to cover her legal fees.)

Tucker Carlson’s Rogues Gallery of Right-Wing Celebs Attacking Fox News

In her suit, the researcher alleges that the network’s stars—including Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, and Sean Hannity—and guests talked about her more than 300 times over the course of eight months.

On air, she was labeled a “conspiracy theorist,” a “useful idiot,” and “insane,” according to a Politico profile from earlier this year. Her lawsuit adds that she was called “janko-half-wicz” and “the wicked witch.”

Even after Jankowicz stepped down, the network’s pundits continued to smear her, saying she’d been fired from the board. Meanwhile, strangers online had buried her in messages crammed with virulent misogyny, antisemitism, and violent imagery. Others tried to dox her.

“I didn’t intend for my entire career to be lit on fire before my eyes by taking this job,” she told Politico.

Her suit is seeking unspecified damages, according to the Times.

“None of Fox’s false claims about Jankowicz were the product of honest mistakes in its reporting,” Wednesday’s filing contends. “Rather, Fox intentionally trafficked in malicious falsehoods to pad its profits at the expense of Jankowicz’s safety, reputation, and well-being.”

To win in court, Jankowicz will have to prove Fox News had “actual malice” when it broadcast its lies about her, meaning that the network either knew that its statements were false or acted with “reckless disregard” for the statements’ falsity.

“Actual malice,” historically a difficult standard of proof for a plaintiff to meet, was at the center of the high-profile lawsuit filed against Fox by Dominion Voting Systems, which was halted in a last-minute settlement for $787.5 million last month.

Dominion Vows to Get ‘Accountability’ From Other Media Outlets After Fox Suit

But despite the settlement, Dominion may have paved the way for other would-be defamation plaintiffs against the network, including Jankowicz. As a result of the discovery process in the case, Dominion’s lawyers were able to make public a treasure trove of communications that proved Fox’s executives and marquee names knew that they were lying.

What Dominion uncovered is referenced in Jankowicz’s complaint as evidence of a pattern of behavior by the network.

A lawyer for the researcher, Rylee Sommers-Flanagan, told the Times, “Dominion shows us how egregious the internal conversations that are happening at Fox are; it shows us that Fox News has an absolute disregard for truth when it is related to their ratings.”

As a part of that alleged “absolute disregard for truth,” Fox is currently staring down a number of other significant legal threats, including a $2.7 billion lawsuit from Smartmatic, another voting software company, and two shareholder lawsuits related to the Dominion case.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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