In Week 1, the Fox NFL pregame show aired a segment where it flashed three fictitious headlines about Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. The headlines seemed so real, it even fooled Fox analyst Daryl Johnston who described the headlines as "actual headlines" on air. This past Sunday, Fox pregame show host Curt Menefee apologized for the Jay Cutler headlines.
But is this apology too late, and does Cutler have legal recourse?
In the NFC Championship game against the Packers last year, Cutler had a pretty bad showing before deciding to take most of the second half off citing a knee injury. Cutler was destroyed by the media and even by fellow players who called into question his heart and courage.
As this season began, Fox decided to reopen the controversy by flashing three fake headlines -- "Cutler Leaves With Injury," "Cutler Lacks Courage," and "Cutler's No Leader," reports the Chicago Tribune. These were described as actual headlines from the local papers of Chicago, by Johnston.
The Bears quarterback probably won't sue for this mixup. It could damage his image far more to sue Fox, than anything he would gain from a defamation lawsuit. But it's interesting to think about it, especially whether Cutler would have a claim.
To bring a defamation lawsuit, one normally has to show that a false statement was published that caused injury. In Jay Cutler's case, a false statement was admittedly made and it was published (aired) before millions.
However, Jay Cutler is no ordinary citizen. He's one of the most recognizable (and talked about) figures in Chicago. Defamation law treats figures in the public eye differently than others, and to prevail on a lawsuit, Cutler would have to show "actual malice" -- that Fox intended to hurt him with the fake headlines. Whether Fox intended to be funny, or hurtful, or both is up to debate.
The Fox Jay Cutler headlines are not likely to lead to a lawsuit. But because he is a public figure, even if Cutler were to sue, it's not certain he would win despite there being a false statement clearly published before millions.