In Defense of MSNBC Host Rachel Maddow in Her Defamation Case

Rohit Chhabra
7 min readDec 30, 2019
Source: MSNBC, (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)

May 23, 2020: Case update below.

Rachel Maddow has found herself in the midst of a legal battle in California for allegedly defaming a conservative news network, One America News (OAN) Network, by stating that the network, “really, literally is paid Russian propaganda.” While some have opined that Maddow has shown “a pattern of misleading and dishonest asymmetry” in her reporting — an indicia of poor journalistic skills — this is an interesting case since it highlights the limitations of defamation law. She will most likely have the case tossed out.

However, in court filed documents, Maddow’s attorney referred to her statement as “rhetorical hyperbole,” that is, a ridiculous overstatement — an exaggeration — that cannot be taken literally.

“In this case, the most obsequiously pro-Trump right wing news outlet in America really literally is paid Russian propaganda.”

Is It Rhetorical Hyperbole?

In determining whether a statement is rhetorical hyperbole, California courts usually consider the ‘totality of the circumstances’. This includes determining how the average viewer would have understood the statement. To make such a determination, the court would most likely have to consider the context in which the statement was made.

In MSNBC’s nightly program The Rachel Maddow Show, Maddow begins by discussing a news article:

… [R]eporter Kevin Paulson at “The Daily Beast” [] has sussed out that Trump`s favorite …[TV] network has a full time on air reporter who covers U.S. politics who is simultaneously on the payroll of the Kremlin. What?

Because at the same time he works for Trump`s favorite One America News team, he is also being paid by the Russian government to produce government-funded pro-Putin propaganda for a Russian government funded propaganda outfit called Sputnik. Sputnik, of course, had a key role in the Russian government`s intervention in the 2016 election to help Trump, according to the intelligence committee`s assessment of that attack.

Sputnik has also formally registered with the U.S. Justice Department as an

Rohit Chhabra