Apologies apparently don’t mean much to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who is threatening to sue Fox News over its “no-go zone” reporting about Paris even though the network has expressed a number of regrets and corrections over the episode. “When we’re insulted, and when we’ve had an image, then I think we’ll have to sue, I think we’ll have to go to court, in order to have these words removed,” said Hidalgo to Christiane Amanpour of CNN. “The image of Paris has been prejudiced, and the honor of Paris has been prejudiced.”
Yes, this is insane. After all the aspersions, insults, vitriol, sniping, jeering and just general nastiness directed at Paris and at France over the years not only from Fox News but from many other U.S. precincts, THIS is what triggers a libel claim from the city of Paris?
To recap the offense, Fox News hosts and guests and commentators seized on the Charlie Hebdo massacre to make a number of dubious statements about how Paris — and Europe more generally — is pockmarked with “no-go zones” in which Muslims dominated, Sharia law reigned and the police feared to do their work. “There are broad swaths and pockets, as we know, of these ‘no-go zones’ that have Sharia law and they’re only going to get larger because of the fear to acknowledge it and fight it with policies that will stop these immigration tactics,” said Fox News host Andrea Tantaros, for example.
Given its reach via television and its Web site, Fox News can be sued in many places. Jeffrey Pyle, a partner at Prince Lobel Tye LLP in Boston, finds it unlikely that the city of Paris would choose to file a claim in the United States, given the hurdles it would face. “I’ve never heard of a municipality bringing a libel claim before,” says Pyle. “It strikes me that it would run afoul of the rule that the statement has to be about an identifiable person or group or corporation.”
Right: Libeling cities is one of the great perks of living in a free society. “If a city could bring a libel claim, we would be in a lot of trouble indeed in this country,” says Pyle. “One city libels another all the time, especially when they’re facing each other in the Super Bowl.”
An evaluation of the suit’s prospects under French law lies outside of the ambit of Le Blog d’Erik Wemple. This primer, however, says that a defendant in a defamation case can mount a defense based on the following factors:
*The statement is based on a serious
investigation (Fox News fails on this one),
*The statement concerns a matter of public
importance (Fox News prevails),
*The tone and balance of the statement is
measured and objective (Fox News fails because of Sean Hannity), and
*There is no trace of personal hostility in
the statement (Fox News fails — Hannity strikes again)
Even if Hidalgo and the city of Paris somehow prevailed in a suit against Fox News, it’s questionable whether they’d ever get a penny from the company. In 2010, President Obama signed the SPEECH Act (Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act), which disallows U.S. courts from enforcing overseas judgments that are inconsistent with First Amendment protections. And just to be clear: Any judgment in favor of Paris over Fox News’s loose talk about “no-go zones” would malign the First Amendment. In its famous New York Times v. Sullivan decision, after all, the Supreme Court (of the United States, that is) declared, “For good reason, no court of last resort in this country has ever held, or even suggested, that prosecutions for libel on government have any place in the American system of jurisprudence.”
Were she serious about Paris’s reputation, Hidalgo would shut up about this silly litigation.