A federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed against Rachel Maddow, finding she did not defame One America News when she said it was “Russian propaganda.”
Herring Networks, the parent company of OAN, claimed that Maddow had defamed the company in July 2019, when she discussed a Daily Beast article reporting that an OAN contributor was also on the payroll of Sputnik, a Kremlin-backed news site.
Maddow said OAN “really literally is paid Russian propaganda.” Herring Networks alleged that she made a false statement, in that OAN is not paid by the Russian government.
In dismissing the suit on Friday, U.S. Judge Cynthia Bashant ruled that Maddow was giving her opinion based on an accurate summation of the article.
“A reasonable viewer would not actually think OAN is paid Russian propaganda, instead, he or she would follow the facts of the Daily Beast article; that OAN and Sputnik share a reporter and both pay this reporter to write articles,” Bashant wrote. “Anything beyond this is Maddow’s opinion or her exaggeration of the facts.”
Attorney Theodore Boutrous, who handled the case for Maddow, NBC and parent company Comcast, urged the judge in a hearing on Wednesday to look at the remark in its full context.
Bashant noted that Maddow’s tone “could be described as surprise and glee at the unexpectedness of the story,” and said that weighed in favor of dismissing the suit.
“For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that the contested statement is an opinion that cannot serve as the basis for a defamation,” the judge concluded.
The suit was dismissed under the California anti-SLAPP statute, which protects speech on matters of public interest from frivolous suits. As the victor, Maddow will now have the opportunity to seek attorneys’ fees from OAN.
Update: Herring Networks says it plans to appeal the decision to the 9th Circuit.
“The Herrings and OAN do not receive any money from the Russian government, OAN does not get paid by Russia, and OAN has absolutely no relationship with Russia,” the company said in a statement. “The court’s finding that no reasonable person could conclude that Maddow’s statement was one of fact is incorrect.”