A District Court judge in Maine on Friday dismissed a school superintendent’s slander suit against Fox News, finding no proof the station acted with actual malice when it reported a spoof of the superintendent’s letter to students as true.
In April 2007, Fox News aired a story that quoted Leon Levesque as saying, “All our students should feel welcome in our schools, knowing that they are safe from attacks with ham, bacon, pork chops or any other delicious meat that comes from pigs” after a middle school student put ham on a table where Muslim students were sitting.
Levesque never spoke those words — a Web-based writer made them up for a parody story — but he reported receiving negative e-mails and phone calls. Fox News later aired a retraction.
Judge Brock Hornby concluded that a reasonable jury would not find enough evidence that Fox News acted with actual malice when it reported the incident. To win a slander suit, a public official must prove that the defendant acted with actual malice.
"The First Amendment protects journalists even when they are gullible," Judge Hornby wrote in the decision, but the ham report "should provide grist for journalism classes teaching research and professionalism standards in the Internet age."