Fox News Channel’s Jeanine Pirro notched a legal victory against Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson in a New York City courtroom late last week.
McKesson sued Pirro in December 2017 for several on-air statements she made during an episode of Fox & Friends which more or less accused Mckesson of inciting violence during a protest in Minnesota that resulted in a police officer being struck in the face by a rock.
The officer in question sued Mckesson and Black Lives Matter, but his lawsuit eventually got tossed for various reasons–including a finding that Mckesson did not incite violence but was simply using his First Amendment right to engage in protected speech. Pirro and her co-hosts were complaining about the disposition when she said:
And in this particular case, DeRay Mckesson, the organizer, actually was directing people, was directing the violence…but guess what, the judge said, you know what he was engaging in [is] protected free speech…You’ve got a police officer who was injured, he was injured at the direction of DeRay Mckesson. DeRay Mckesson walks away with a hundred thousand dollars, for an organization that is amorphous, we got a problem in this country.
Mckesson sued in turn and things looked to be going well for his own lawsuit as New York Supreme Court Judge Robert Kalish upbraided Pirro for the inaccuracy of her statements delivered to millions of people on television.
But in a 22-page dismissal released March 21, Judge Kalish thoroughly deconstructed each of Mckesson’s defamation claims against Pirro.
The Fox News host, whose TV program has been in doubt since she was condemned by the network for her remarks about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), had argued that her statements were privileged–and therefore not defamatory–because she was simply reciting language that was contained in the allegedly injured police officer’s original lawsuit against Mckesson. And the court agreed with Pirro here.
“Looking and listening to the televised segment as a whole in reference to the [original lawsuit and resulting dismissal], this Court finds that Pirro’s statement’s describing the [lawsuit] qualify as a substantially accurate report of a judicial proceeding,” the court explained, “and therefore are absolutely privileged from liability for defamation.”
The opinion continued [emphasis in original]:
Pirro’s first allegedly defamatory statement that Mckesson was “directing the violence” was part of a larger sentence that began “[a]nd the the plaintiff in this case said,” making clear that this was the plaintiff-officer’s allegations. While a source attribution for the second allegedly defamatory statement that the plaintiff-officer “was injured at the direction of Deray Mckesson” is not within that particular sentence, the reasonable viewer, viewing the segment as a whole, would recall the prior source attribution and understand that this was an allegation made by the plaintiff-officer.
Importantly, the judge found that Pirro was simply expressing her opinion about that officer’s lawsuit–and therefore not making statements intended to be understood as facts.
“Moreover, although the statement that the plaintiff-officer ‘was injured at the direction of DeRay Mckesson’ may case a reader to believe such if it is read in isolation, viewing the entire video sequence as a whole it is clear that Pirro is expressing her opinion that the plaintiff-officer should be allowed to pursue his civil complain against Mckesson on the theory that Mckesson may be held liable for the violent events that occurred during a demonstration that he allegedly led considering the allegations of the plaintiff-officer,” the judge noted.
Law&Crime reached out to representatives for Fox News, but they declined to comment–suggesting the dismissal spoke for itself. Law&Crime also reached out to Mckesson for comment on this story, but no response was forthcoming at the time of publication.
To read the entire order see below:
[image via EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images]