Ray Epps Attorney Speaks Out on Defamation Suit Against Fox News, Coverage of Jan. 6, and Whether They Plan to Sue Joe Rogan


The propagation of the baseless claim the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump erupted in a violent riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when a mob of his supporters beat police and hunted lawmakers in an effort to overturn the results of the election. As rioters ransacked the Capitol, Trump’s more servile allies in the media and in Washington faced a tough question: Who do we blame?

When attempts to downplay to the riot as “non-violent peaceful chaos” or accredit the carnage to Antifa failed, Fox News and, in particular, its top rated host Tucker Carlson, turned to a new conspiracy — that the attack was orchestrated by the federal government, and that some of the rioters were actually “agent provocateurs” there to stir up violence and make Trump look bad.

That’s how a diehard Trump supporter and Fox News viewer named Ray Epps found himself at the center of a wild conspiracy theory alleging that he was a planted FBI agent or informant sent to foment violence at the protests. Nevermind that the theory never had any evidence to support it, or that Epps is set to face criminal charges for his role in the riot. Carlson eagerly promoted the dubious claims on his erstwhile Fox News show, and other conspiracy-minded commentators like Joe Rogan continue to push the theory.

Epps claims he lost his home and business due to the false claims made about him and the death threats those claims inspired. He’s now suing Fox News for defamation.

The suit comes at a vulnerable time for the top-rated network in cable news. Fox just suffered a staggering $787.5 million payout to Dominion Voting System to settle a defamation suit over 2020 election lies, and a pending suit from Smartmatic could cost even more.

Diana Falzone, Mediaite’s new senior reporter, is joining Aidan McLaughlin as co-host of The Interview podcast. For this week’s episode, she spoke with Michael Teter, a lawyer for Epps, to discuss the case, Fox’s coverage of Jan. 6, and the destructive impact of conspiracy theories. (Disclosure: Falzone worked at Fox News from 2012 to 2018. In 2017, she filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the network and settled.)

Teter also addressed Joe Rogan’s commentary about Epps. He said they are “looking at all options” as far as another suit is concerned. Following this interview, Mediaite asked Teter about Rogan’s new comments suggesting Epps worked for the government. Read his response here.

Teter also serves as managing director of The 65 Project, a bi-partisan effort to disbar lawyers who “attempted coup-via-courtroom” in the aftermath of the 2020 election.

Read excerpts from their conversation below. This episode was produced by Payton Selby and Brad Maybe.

On why he took on the Ray Epps case

As a lawyer, I believe in truth. There’s this jaded view of becoming a lawyer, and then there’s the realistic view, which is that lawyers have a sense of justice; they have a sense of wanting to participate in democracy, making sure that government works. And in this instance, Ray Epps had been lied about to the point where it ruined his life. He and his wife began receiving threats, serious death threats, serious matters of people driving past their house and their business with guns; they were finding bullet casings on their property, receiving death threats in the mail, death threats via voicemail, and death threats in email. And all that began because there had been lies told about them. And so there’s an element of justice here that can’t be missed, no matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on. And so I want to take on Ray’s case for that reason alone.

On Tucker Carlson’s motivations

Fox has largely put profits over people. […] There’s an element of just wanting profits, and the angrier their viewers got, the more profits Fox would make. And so targeting Ray Epps and bringing all their viewer’s ire onto one person was good for them in terms of the bottom dollar. It also allowed them to demonstrate that they weren’t culpable for the January 6th riots. If there was really a governmental operation that the FBI had planned, then they couldn’t be responsible despite the fact that they had lured many of their viewers to Washington, DC. They had incited them with falsehoods about a rigged election. And so they were kind of, in some ways, trying to take away their own blame and culpability in that way.

On Fox’s coverage on the day of January 6th

I think what you see on January 6th is Fox struggling to tell a story that makes them less responsible and makes their viewers less responsible. First, it was Antifa, then it was a government-led operation, then it was just people who were peaceful, ‘They were just demonstrators, they were just walking through the Capitol. It was no different than any kind of normal tour.’ These are all absurd notions. The truth of the matter is that Fox and The Big Lie and the Republicans and MAGA Republicans who were responsible for it brought their viewers to the height of anger and disillusioned, brought them to Washington DC, and unleashed them on the Capitol. And that’s what happened. And Fox’s coverage, to some extent, documented that, but the commentary around it demonstrated they didn’t believe they were responsible. They tried to find excuses, and I don’t think they will ultimately be successful in history’s eyes with that.

On the defamation lawsuits Fox News faces

Because of the malice with which Fox acted, I believe that this is a case ripe for punitive damages. There’s a history here of Fox telling lies not just about businesses but about individuals, and Fox knew they were on record knowing that when they spread lies about people, there are deep, dramatic consequences to those they’re spreading lies about. So they were acting not just with malice in the defamation context, but they’re acting with malice that ought to be punished, knowing that their lies would destroy these individuals’ lives.

On the similarities between Epps and the Seth Rich case

It’s another example, unlike the Dominion case, of Fox targeting an individual. Seth Rich of course had deceased so he could not defend himself in any meaningful way. The same is true ultimately for Ray Epps, that there was no mechanism for Ray to counter the lies that Fox was telling. Tucker Carlson spoke about Ray Epps 25-26 times in very short order. Ray couldn’t counter that. So I think that there is a similarity there between the lies that were just, quite frankly, made up and designed to further a political agenda in the Seth Rich case and the Ray Epps case, which is lies made up to further political agenda.

On what the media should take away from the lawsuits against Fox

I think, first and foremost, that truth matters, that there will be accountability in this country going forward for lies that are told by the media, knowing lies, vicious lies, lies that are, again, with malice. People want there to be accountability in the media. They want to look to the media for truth and accuracy, and fair reporting. I think that most in the media do not just strive but actually achieve that. And so I think that holding accountable those operations that don’t aim to be fair, don’t aim to be truthful is an important part of the lesson here for everybody.

Download the full episode here, and subscribe to The Interview on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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