The lawsuit, filed Thursday in New York state court, says: “This statement is completely untrue and was made knowing it was untrue and with reckless disregard for the truth.
“McDougal never approached Trump and threatened to ruin his career or humiliate his family if he did not give her money.”
McDougal claims her reputation has suffered because of Carlson’s comments, which she said could have been verified as false if he or Fox News “had conducted even a cursory investigation into the matter.” Her lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from Fox, saying the network is responsible for the conduct of its host.
In a statement, the company said it intended to “vigorously defend Tucker Carlson against these meritless claims.”
Eric Bernstein, the lawyer who represents McDougal, told the New York Times that she was “harassed, embarrassed and ridiculed” in the aftermath of Carlson’s comments.
“Media outlets like Fox News must learn that they can’t mislead for ratings,” Bernstein said, according to the Times. “They hurt real people like Karen McDougal when they do so.”
McDougal’s story has, by now, been covered extensively. She told the New Yorker she met Trump in the summer of 2006. “The Apprentice” was filming an episode at the Playboy Mansion, and Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner threw a pool party for the contestants. McDougal, a former Playmate, was working the event. Spotting her there, Trump became enthralled, according to McDougal, who later wrote that he “immediately took a liking to me, kept talking to me — telling me how beautiful I was, etc.”
Although the future president was married to Melania Knauss, with whom he had recently had a son, he and McDougal began an affair, she said. According to McDougal, their relationship continued for nearly a year. Trump denies it ever happened.
In the lead-up to the 2016 election, the National Enquirer paid McDougal $150,000 to obtain exclusive rights to the tale. The deal, which guaranteed McDougal modeling jobs for two magazine covers, barred her from talking about her alleged affair with Trump. The tabloid never published her account, instead burying it in a practice known as “catch and kill.”
The Wall Street Journal reported in a bombshell November 2018 article that Trump had met during his candidacy with the head of the National Enquirer’s parent company, his longtime friend David Pecker, to seek help with his campaign. Pecker offered to “buy the silence of women if they tried to publicize alleged sexual encounters with Mr. Trump,” according to the Journal’s report. When McDougal came forward, Trump asked Pecker to kill her story and later thanked him for his help.
Trump’s campaign initially denied knowledge of the payment. But a secretly made recording released last year captured Trump and his former attorney Michael Cohen discussing whether to buy the rights to McDougal’s story.
Carlson described a different version of events on the Dec. 10, 2018, edition of “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” McDougal’s lawsuit notes that he presents himself “as a reporter of the news and refers to his show as the ‘sworn enemy of the lying,' ” and began his McDougal segment by telling viewers, “Remember the facts of the story, these are undisputed.”
After claiming that McDougal and another woman who alleged an affair with Trump had threatened the president, Carlson said, “Now that sounds like a classic case of extortion.”
Her lawsuit argues: “No matter which version of Trump’s statement one believes, Trump never once claimed that he was extorted by McDougal.”
McDougal alleges that although Carlson did not mention her by name on his show, he showed a picture of her as he suggested she had extorted Trump — enough to affect viewers’ perception of her.
“After listening to or watching the Show, a reasonable viewer would have concluded that the statements about McDougal were fact,” the lawsuit said, “and that she is a criminal that engaged in illegal activity against the would-be President of the United States.”