Fox News won a legal victory on Thursday after a federal judge dismissed a defamation suit brought against its host Tucker Carlson by a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Donald J. Trump before he was president.
The suit, filed last year, stemmed from a 2018 episode of Mr. Carlson’s show in which he accused the model, Karen McDougal, of extorting Mr. Trump. She sold the rights to her story of an affair to The National Enquirer in 2016, which did not publish the story, a transaction that involved Mr. Trump’s former longtime lawyer, Michael D. Cohen.
Ms. McDougal said Mr. Carlson’s remarks harmed her reputation, but Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil, of United States District Court in Manhattan, said the host’s comments were protected by the First Amendment.
“The statements are rhetorical hyperbole and opinion commentary intended to frame a political debate, and, as such, are not actionable as defamation,” she wrote.
In reaching her decision, Judge Vyskocil relied in part on an argument made by Fox News lawyers: that the “general tenor” of Mr. Carlson’s program signals to viewers that the host is “engaging in ‘exaggeration’ and ‘nonliteral commentary.’” The judge added: “Given Mr. Carlson’s reputation, any reasonable viewer ‘arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism’” about the host’s on-air comments.
In other words, Mr. Carlson’s viewers may not necessarily believe everything they hear.
A lawyer for Ms. McDougal, Eric R. Bernstein, said in an email on Thursday that the decision was “unfortunate” and that he and Ms. McDougal were considering their options.
Fox News said in a statement: “Karen McDougal’s lawsuit attempted to silence spirited opinion commentary on matters of public concern. The court today held that the First Amendment plainly prohibits such efforts to stifle free speech.”