Ex-head of DHS disinformation governance board sues Fox News for defamation

Nina Jankowicz was the executive director of the short-lived board.

May 11, 2023, 6:48 PM

The former executive director of the Department of Homeland Security's short-lived disinformation board is suing Fox News for defamation, in the same court where the network just settled its suit with Dominion Voting Systems.

Nina Jankowicz was tapped to lead the Disinformation Governance Board, which was created last spring by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to "protect Americans from disinformation that threatens the homeland" -- but the board immediately found detractors in the GOP and some leading civil liberties groups over concerns that Jankowicz and the board would be acting as "truth police."

Jankowicz, a former Wilson Center fellow who had publicly criticized former President Donald Trump, resigned from the board only a month into her tenure, after the DHS shut down the board pending a review. A DHS panel later concluded that there was no need for the board.

Jankowicz's lawsuit, filed in Delaware state court, alleges that Fox defamed Jankowicz by telling viewers that the board was out to censor the American public, causing Jankowicz to be "doxed, threatened, harassed relentlessly, and even cyberstalked."

"Fox's coverage of Jankowicz was neither news nor political commentary; it was cheap, easy entertainment untethered from the facts, designed to make consumers believe that Jankowicz could and would suppress their speech," the suit says. "Fox chose to lie about Jankowicz deliberately. Its statements were false and calculated to cause harm, and they did."

The lawsuit alleges that Fox made those statements despite knowing that the Disinformation Governance Board "had no ability to intervene, respond to, or prevent the spread of disinformation. Nor did it have any power or purpose to silence speech or surveil citizens."

The network has filed papers to have the Jankowicz case moved from Delaware superior court to the Delaware federal court. A Fox spokesperson, when asked for comment, referred ABC News to their legal filing.

A view of Fox News headquarters in New York, Feb. 17, 2020.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Jankowicz's suit says that over the course of eight months, Fox talked about Jankowicz 300 times. When the board was first announced, says the suit, "70% of Fox's one-hour segments mentioned Jankowicz or the board, always in inaccurate, melodramatic, and venomous terms."

"None of Fox's false claims about Jankowicz were the product of honest mistakes in its reporting," the lawsuit says. "Rather, Fox intentionally trafficked in malicious falsehoods to pad its profits at the expense of Jankowicz's safety, reputation, and well-being."

Jankowicz was subjected to death threats as a result of Fox News' coverage, the lawsuit says.

The suit names current and former Fox personalities including Jesse Waters, Judge Jeanine Pirro and Tucker Carlson, among others.

The lawsuit comes three weeks after Fox settled a $1.6 billion lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting System over accusations that the network knowingly pushed false conspiracy theories that the voting machine company rigged the 2020 presidential election in Joe Biden's favor.

Fox agreed to pay Dominion $787.5 million and acknowledged "the Court's rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false."