Things Get Ugly as MSNBC's Maddow Forced To Defend Russia Collusion Lies in Court
When MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow uses the word “literally,” she doesn’t really mean “literally.” That’s especially true when she’s accusing conservative news outlets of colluding with the Kremlin. Got that?
That’s at least her defense for saying that conservative cable network One America News was “literally … paid Russian propaganda” after a Daily Beast report claimed one of OAN’s reporters worked for Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik.
The whole thing began with a July 22 Daily Beast report titled, “Trump’s New Favorite Channel Employs Kremlin-Paid Journalist.”
That article noted that Kristian Brunovich Rouz, who reported on U.S. politics for the channel — a favorite of President Trump’s — also worked for Sputnik at the same time.
This is not, of course, an endorsement of OAN’s editorial decision in the matter, which seems problematic.
I’m not saying working for Sputnik should permanently disqualify you from work in American media, but you shouldn’t be working for any American publication at the same time you’re writing for what’s ostensibly a Russian disinformation outlet.
I wasn’t there when that employment decision was made, so I can’t speak to whether it was the correct one — but I can tell you what my take on Rouz’s employment would have been.
That being said, employing one journalist who works for a Russian disinformation outlet doesn’t make you a Russian disinformation outlet. I would think this is pretty much common sense. In fact, claiming otherwise would probably qualify you for a defamation suit.
So, you can probably guess why Maddow is now in court dealing with a $10 million legal action from OAN.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, on the same day that The Daily Beast published its piece, this is what Maddow had to say on the air: “We literally learned today that that outlet the president is promoting shares staff with the Kremlin.”
”In this case, the most obsequiously pro-Trump right-wing news outlet in America really literally is paid Russian propaganda. The on-air U.S. politics reporter is paid by the Russian government to produce propaganda for that government.”
The network sued, saying that there wasn’t any evidence to back up that statement. No such link exists in The Daily Beast’s article, although there are plenty of wink-wink intimations backed up by a grand total of zero evidence.
The jump to “literally … paid Russian propaganda” was all Maddow’s own.
“Maddow’s statement is utterly and completely false,” One America News’ complaint, filed in September, read.
“OAN is wholly owned and financed by the Herrings, an American family. OAN has never been paid or received a penny from Russia or the Russian government. Defendants made this false claim to smear OAN’s reputation in retaliation for Plaintiff’s insistence that Defendants treat OAN fairly and offer the OAN news channel to Comcast subscribers.”
Comcast, in addition to being a massive cable provider, also owns MSNBC. OAN maintains the comments were made after OAN president Charles Herring accused Comcast of censorship, according to CBS News. The court papers describe the family-owned right-wing cable channel as being “as American as apple pie.”
Maddow’s attorneys, meanwhile, argued that OAN “utterly ignores the context of Ms. Maddow’s comment, which is nothing more than a vivid, hyperbolic turn of phrase sandwiched between precise factual recitations that indisputably and accurately state the facts from the Daily Beast article.”
They also said the “comment is fully protected opinion because (a) it was based on disclosed facts; and (b) it does not imply any additional objective facts such that it is capable of being proven false.”
However, according to left-leaning community publication the Times of San Diego, a University of California Santa Barbara linguistics professor said in a Monday court filing that argument doesn’t hold water.
“The professor, Stefan Thomas Gries, argues in a long analysis of Maddow’s on-air speech patterns that when she says ‘literally,’ she means ‘in fact,’” the paper reported.
Independent reporter Mark Ames noted the irony, likening it to the defenses used by Alex Jones in his multifarious trials:
Maddow sued for defamation after falsely accusing rightwing network of “really literally paid Russian propaganda.” Maddow’s defense: she doesn’t mean what she says on MSNBC & her gullible viewers should know better. It’s the Alex Jones defense. Amazing.https://t.co/1fcslzGaHp pic.twitter.com/tUA8ibjbkr
— Mark Ames (@MarkAmesExiled) December 3, 2019
Gries said that “it is very unlikely that an average or reasonable/ordinary viewer would consider the sentence in question to be a statement of opinion.”
In addition, one of Herring’s lawyers said “Maddow did not use any typical opinion-markers when she stated that OAN ‘really literally is paid Russian propaganda.’”
Furthermore, he went on to note Maddow “is a graduate of Stanford and Oxford Universities and a Rhodes Scholar.”
“In fact, on the show, Maddow regularly uses ‘literally’ in its primary meaning,” he said, citing several examples.
It’s probably not a great thing when you’re arguing what the meaning of the word “literally” is, particularly when the target is being called an asset of the Kremlin. That’s usually not going to qualify as a joke to most people.
The next court date in the case is Dec. 16. At that point, we might know a bit more about whether Maddow literally has something to worry about.
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