Fox News is again on the defensive, this time against a defamation lawsuit brought forth by Ray Epps, who claims the network falsely labeled him as a culprit for the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Having recently resolved two other high-profile legal suits costing about $800 million, the network now has to deal with another potentially damaging case.
Epps, who attended the pro-Trump demonstrations in Washington D.C. in January 2021 but did not participate in the Capitol breach, accuses Fox News of suggesting he was a government informant, a concept vehemently denied by both him and the FBI. This claim was specifically promoted by then-host Tucker Carlson, leading Epps to allege a prolonged smear campaign by the network that significantly affected his life.
The lawsuit, filed in Delaware, asserts that Fox News and Carlson knew Epps was unlikely a federal agent, but ignored this knowledge, constituting actual malice, a critical requirement for winning a defamation lawsuit against a public entity. It further accuses Fox of purposefully ignoring contradictory information and refusing to retract or correct its accusations against Epps even after acknowledging their falsehood.
Epps’s attorney, Michael Teter, warned Fox News of potential litigation in a March 23 letter, asking for retraction of the false claims and setting a deadline for March 31. Teter received no response, leading to the lawsuit’s filing.
Epps, who made headlines due to videos of him urging Trump supporters to enter the Capitol, now lives in a motorhome with his wife due to threats instigated by the false claims, according to the lawsuit. This lawsuit adds to Fox News’s growing list of legal challenges, following its recent settlement of defamation and discrimination lawsuits brought forth by Dominion Voting Systems and Abby Grossberg respectively, with another defamation suit by Smartmatic still pending.
RonNell Andersen Jones, a media law professor at the University of Utah, emphasized that Epps’s case hinges on whether he can prove defamation occurred. While Carlson never explicitly stated Epps was a federal agent, a defamatory meaning could be derived from the overall narrative, which could form a significant part of Epps’s case.