Doh! Murdoch's Fox News in a spin over 'The Simpsons' lawsuit

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Serious news is no laughing matter. Especially at Fox News Channel. That, at least, is the allegation of The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, who has accused Rupert Murdoch's "fair and balanced" news channel of threatening legal action after a particularly pointed episode poked fun at Fox.

The episode in question featured a "Fox News Crawl" at the bottom of the screen, which parodied some of the more unlikely items featured by the right-wing news channel.

The cartoon ticker read: "Pointless news crawls up 37 per cent ... Do Democrats cause cancer? Find out at foxnews.com ... Rupert Murdoch: Terrific dancer ... Dow down 5000 points ... Study: 92 per cent of Democrats are gay ... JFK posthumously joins Republican Party ... Oil slicks found to keep seals young, supple ..."

Mr Groening told National Public Radio that, after the cartoon was broadcast last year on Fox Entertainment Channel, he was threatened with legal action by the news channel.

He said: "We did the crawl along the bottom of the screen. Fox said they would sue the show. And we called their bluff because we didn't think Rupert Murdoch would pay for Fox to sue itself. We got away with it.

"But now Fox has a new rule that we can't do those little fake news crawls on the bottom of the screen in a cartoon because it might confuse the viewers into thinking it's real news."

Yesterday, Robert Zimmerman, a spokesman for Fox News Channel, denied that the news channel had ever threatened a lawsuit.

"We are scratching our heads over here," he said. "We liked the cartoon. We thought it was great." Earlier this year, Fox tried to sue the comedian Al Franken over his book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them . The suit was thrown out of court and the publicity helped Mr Franken's book become a bestseller.

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