Defending Maddow in OAN Lawsuit, Lawyers Claim her Words are Not Facts. If So, How Can Viewers Trust Anything She Says?

 

One America News (OAN) filed a lawsuit against super liberal talk show host Rachel Maddow in September for a defamatory comment she made about the network in July. (Other defendants include Comcast, MSNBC and NBCUniversal Media.) She told her viewers:

In this case, the most obsequiously pro-Trump right wing news outlet in America is really literally is [sic] paid Russian propaganda. Their on-air politics reporter (Kristian Rouz) is paid by the Russian government to produce propaganda for that government.

Her lawyers have come up with an interesting defense. In their latest court filing, they wrote:

…the liberal host was clearly offering up her ‘own unique expression’ of her views to capture what she saw as the ‘ridiculous’ nature of the undisputed facts. Her comment, therefore, is a quintessential statement ‘of rhetorical hyperbole, incapable of being proved true or false.

Zerohedge’s Tyler Durden noted the irony of this defense in a recent post. They are essentially “arguing that her opinions are not facts.”

If Maddow and her attorneys are serious about this position, this would require viewers to make judgement calls on whether a statement is an opinion or a fact. Considering that most statements  Maddow makes on the air are either opinions or distorted versions of facts, it would be difficult to tell the difference.

Take a second look at her July statement.

In this case, the most obsequiously pro-Trump right wing news outlet in America is really literally is paid Russian propaganda. Their on-air politics reporter (Kristian Rouz) is paid by the Russian government to produce propaganda for that government.

She begins by defining OAN as “the most obsequiously pro-Trump right wing news outlet in America.” It’s easy to see that’s her opinion of OAN. But, then she says OAN “is really literally is paid Russian propaganda.” To me, and likely to most people listening, it is stated as if it’s a fact.

The second sentence, “Their on-air politics reporter (Kristian Rouz) is paid by the Russian government to produce propaganda for that government,” is stated as if it’s a fact as well.

If the line between opinion and fact is this unclear, the audience would be forced to work pretty hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. And very few viewers are inclined to do so. They assume a political reporter will be (mostly) truthful.

Do her lawyers honestly expect viewers to know Maddow “was clearly offering up her ‘own unique expression’ of her views to capture what she saw as the ‘ridiculous’ nature of the undisputed facts?”

Culttture’s Chris Gregory cites the assessment of UC Santa Barbara linguistics professor Stefan Thomas Gries. Gregory writes that Gries’ “testimony is leading observers to believe Maddow is also now lying in court. After analyzing Maddow’s segment and identifying and analyzing linguistic markers including words, tone, and cadence used by Maddow, Gries found:

It is very unlikely that an average or reasonable/ordinary viewer would consider the sentence in question to be a statement of opinion.

I am the second most widely-cited cognitive linguist and sixth most widely-cited living corpus linguist. The field of cognitive linguistics draws from both linguistics and psychology and studies how language interacts with cognition.

Maddow did not use any typical opinion-markers when she stated that OAN ‘really literally is paid Russian propaganda.’

If Maddow’s lawyers want us to believe their claim, then viewers cannot truly trust anything she has to say.

Elizabeth Vaughn
Writer at RedState
Former financial consultant, options trader
MBA, Mom of three grown children
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