LOS ANGELES, CA – Sept. 9, 2019 Herring Networks, Inc., owners of One American News (OAN), has sued Rachel Maddow (Maddow); Comcast Corporation (Comcast); NBCUniversal Media, LLC (NBC); and MSNBC Cable LLC (MSNBC) in a complaint for defamation and damages. They have demanded a jury trial.
The complaint, filed in the United States District Court, Southern District of California, alleges that Maddow defamed OAN on July 22, 2019 when she broadcast a segment on MSNBC titled, “Staffer on Trump-favored network is on propaganda Kremlin payroll.”
The Herring family launched OAN on July 4, 2012 and has become the 4th largest rated national news network. OAN is wholly owned and operated only by the Herring Network. The complaint states that the Herring family is a proud, dedicated, loyal American family.
On July 15, 2019 OAN emailed Gregory Rigden, President of Content Acquisition for Comcast. Comcast owns and operates MSNBC who has refused to carry OAN due to their conservative views that counter the liberal message carried by MSNBC. Their decision was taken despite OAN’s growing audience. In the email, OAN made the case as to why Comcast should carry OAN and stop depriving millions of their subscribers from hearing a different viewpoint from MSNBC. The email also stated their concern that OAN wasn’t being carried because they opposed another conservative voice to counter the liberal narrative.
Per the complaint, on July 22, 2019, the Daily Beast published OAN Trump’s new favorite channel employs kremlin paid journalist, written by Kevin Poulsen. (Poulsen, a convicted felon known as “Dark Dante,” received the longest prison sentence ever for a computer hacker. He plead guilty to seven counts of conspiracy, fraud and intercepting wire communications.) The article detailed how Kristian Rouz, an OAN employee, born in Ukraine, had written for Sputnik News starting in 2014. The complaint acknowledges that Sputnik News is affiliated with the Russian government and that he wrote articles on international finance. He was never employed by Sputnik News.
Maddow’s broadcast history shows that her obsession against Trump is so pronounced that “even other media outlets have called her out for lack of journalistic integrity.” In fact, as the complaint details, on April 21, 2017 the Intercept published MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow Sees a ‘Russia Connection’ Lurking Around Every Corner, which detailed the study they had undertaken. They studied all 28 episodes shown from Feb. 20 to March 21, 2017. Of all Maddow’s broadcasts 53% had a Russia focus, and 16 of the 28 episodes were comprised either mostly on Russia, or entirely on Russia.
Maddow, on July 22, 2019, began her segment stating “President Trump gave OAN a pass for access to the White House grounds and a permanent seat in the White House briefing.” The complaint also notes that Maddow stated “President Trump ‘quot[ed] this little news outlet and frequently t[old] people that they should be watching them.”
Per the complaint, Maddow then reported on Poulsen’s article without mentioning his criminal history. At this point, Maddow made the new, false claim that, “In this case, the most obsequiously pro-Trump right wing news outlet in America really literally is paid Russian propaganda.” This was not in the Poulsen article. This unique statement, per the complaint, is false and intended to harm and malign OAN.
Following this segment, Louis B. Miller, attorney for OAN, wrote to Comcast demanding that they retract the false statement. Comcast refused to “retract or correct their defamatory statement about OAN.”
On August 6, 2019 the counsel for NBC Universal claimed “when Maddow – a graduate of Stanford and Oxford Universities and a Rhodes Scholar – said ‘literally,’ she actually meant, ‘not being literally true.'” The counsel for NBC, in his response, says that Maddow’s statement about OAN is a protected opinion. “In her broadcast, she stated the facts acknowledged in your letter concerning Mr. Rouz’s compensation by Sputnik and Sputnik’s funding by the Russian government. She then expressed her view that the implication of these facts is that OAN ‘really literally is paid Russian propaganda.’ Merriam-Webster defines ‘literally’ to mean ‘in effect’ and states that it is ‘used in an exaggerated way to emphasize a statement or description that is not literally true or possible.” “Ms. Maddow’s comment could not have been reasonably understood to mean that the Russian government made checks payable to OAN; indeed, she specifically noted who was paid by Sputnik. Use of the word ‘literally’ here is the kind of figure of speech that connotes opinion and thus cannot give rise to a defamation claim.”
The complaint lists one cause of action of defamation. Viewers of Maddow’s statement could reasonably understand that the segment was about OAN. Maddow knew the statement was false and that it would cause harm to OAN. It is damaging to OAN’s business and reputation. OAN suffered harm to their business and reputation and has incurred expense to correct.
OAN is suing for compensatory damages in the amount of an excess of $10,000,000, punitive damages, prejudgment interest, attorneys’ fees and the cost of the suit. OAN is also demanding a jury trial.
The full complaint, including the transcript of Maddow’s show and the correspondence between lawyers can be read here.
This story is ongoing and will be updated as it progresses through the court system.