Wednesday, August 27, 2003

A "Fair and Balanced" Ruling

Once again, Calvin Trillin’s (Harry) Golden rule is proven. For those of you who are not familiar with Trillin's work, the (Harry) Golden Rule is as follows:

"In modern America, anyone who attempts to write satirically about the events of the day finds it difficult to concoct a situation so bizarre that it may not actually come to pass while his article is still on the presses."

This past Friday, U.S. District Judge Denny Chin denied Fox News’ request for an injunction against comedian Al Franken and his publisher to halt the release of his new book, “Lies and the Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.” Judge Chin dismissed the network’s argument with a bit of humor himself; “There are hard cases and there are easy cases. This is an easy case. The case is wholly without merit both factually and legally…It is ironic that a media company that should seek to protect the First Amendment is instead seeking to undermine it.”
The crux of the case rests on what Fox News Network describes as a violation of their trademark “Fair and Balanced”. Fox’s lawyers contend that the public could be confused about Franken’s relationship with the network and that he is deliberately exploiting that confusion in order to make money.

According to Michelle Goldburg writing for Fox also contends that the network’s brand, which they say they have spent $61 million promoting would be “tarnished”. In an exchange between Fox attorney Dori Ann Hanswirth and Chin, Chin was shown to have little patience with their logic:

"Is it really likely someone is going to be confused as to whether Fox News or Bill O'Reilly is endorsing this book?" asked the judge.

"It is likely consumers could believe that," replied Hanswirth. Later she added, "There's no real message that this is a book of humor or political satire. It's a deadly serious cover and it's using the Fox News trademark" to sell itself.
In response, the judge pointed out that one of O'Reilly's own books is titled "The O'Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad, and the Completely Ridiculous in American Life." "Is that not a play on "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly?'" Chin asked, noting that the movie title is also trademarked.

"I don't know," replied Hanswirth.

"You don't know?" asked the judge.

"I don't know," she repeated, before arguing, once again, that Franken is "intending to use the trademark to sell the product."

Hanswirth went on to argue that Franken has diluted Fox's trademark by using it "to ridicule Fox's No. 1 talent, Mr. O'Reilly." She then suggested that, because Coulter is on the cover, "somebody looking at this could determine Ms. Coulter has some kind of official relationship with Fox."

"The president and vice president are also on the cover, are they not?" asked Chin. "Are consumers likely to believe they are associated with Fox News?"

Can we say hubris, boys and girls?


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