FOX asserted that there are no written rules against distorting news in the media. They argued that, under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on public airwaves.
December 1996, Jane Akre and her husband, Steve Wilson, were hired by FOX
as a part of the Fox “Investigators” team at WTVT in Tampa Bay, Florida.to investigat bovine growth hormone (BGH), a controversial substance manufactured by Monsanto Corporation.
Fox executives and their attorneys wanted the reporters to use statements from Monsanto representatives that the reporters knew were false and to make other revisions to the story that were in direct conflict with the facts. Fox editors then tried to force Akre and Wilson to continue to produce the distorted story.
Akre and Wilson refused and threatened to report Fox's actions to the FCC, they were both fired.
August 18, 2000, a unanimous Florida jury found that Akre was wrongfully fired by Fox Television when she refused to broadcast (in the jury's words) “a false, distorted or slanted story” The jury awarded her $425,000 in damages.
FOX appealed the case, and on February 14, 2003 the Florida Second District Court of Appeals overturned the settlement awarded to Akre.
In a stunningly narrow interpretation of FCC rules, the Florida Appeals court claimed that the FCC policy against falsification of the news does not rise to the level of a "law, rule, or regulation," it was simply a "policy." Therefore, it is up to the station whether or not it wants to report honestly.
During their appeal, FOX asserted that there are no written rules against distorting news in the media. They argued that, under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on public airwaves. Fox attorneys did not dispute Akre’s claim that they pressured her to broadcast a false story, they simply maintained that it was their right to do so.
Fox then filed a series of motions seeking more than $1.7 million in trial fees and costs from both Akre and Wilson.