Fox to pay Dominion $787.5 million as settlement reached over false election claims

Parties avert trial in defamation lawsuit with out-of-court settlement after Dominion had demanded $1.6 billion from the popular news channel for alleging its equipment switched votes from Trump to Biden


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Published: Wed 19 Apr 2023, 1:13 AM

Last updated: Wed 19 Apr 2023, 1:31 AM

Fox and Dominion Voting Systems reached a settlement on Tuesday in the voting machine company’s defamation lawsuit, averting a trial in a case in which the top-rated network was accused of damaging Dominion's reputation by helping peddle phony conspiracy theories.

An attorney for Dominion said the settlement was for $787.5 million.

“The truth matters. Lies have consequences,” said Dominion lawyer Justin Nelson in a news conference outside the courthouse after the announcement. Dominion had asked for $1.6 billion in arguing that Fox had lied about its equipment switching votes from former US President Donald Trump to Democrat Joe Biden. Fox said the amount greatly overstated the value of the Colorado-based company.

The resolution announced in Delaware Superior Court follows a recent summary judgment ruling by Judge Eric Davis in which he allowed the case to go to trial while emphasising it was “CRYSTAL clear” that none of the allegations about Dominion aired on Fox by Trump allies were true.

In a statement issued shortly after the announcement, Fox News said the network acknowledged “the court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false”. It did not respond to an inquiry asking for elaboration.

Inquiries to Dominion and Fox Corp. were not immediately returned.

Records released as part of the lawsuit showed how Fox hosts and executives did not believe the claims by Trump’s allies but aired them anyway, in part to win back viewers who were fleeing the network after it correctly called hotly contested Arizona for Democrat Joe Biden on election night.

The settlement, if formally accepted by the judge, will end a case that has proven a major embarrassment for Fox News. If the case had gone to trial, it also would have presented one of the sternest tests to a libel standard that has protected media organisations for more than half a century.

Several First Amendment experts had said Dominion’s case was among the strongest they had ever seen. Still, there was real doubt about whether Dominion would be able to prove to a jury that people in a decision-making capacity at Fox could be held responsible for the network’s airing of the falsehoods.

Dominion accused Fox of defaming it by repeatedly airing, in the weeks after the 2020 presidential election, false allegations by Trump allies that its machines and the software they used had flipped votes to Biden — even as many at the network doubted the claims and disparaged those who were making them.

The company sued both Fox News and its parent, Fox Corp., and said its business had been significantly damaged.

During a deposition, Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, who founded the network, testified that he believed the 2020 election was fair and had not been stolen from Trump.

In his March 31 summary judgement ruling, judge Davis pointedly called out the news organisation for airing falsehoods while noting how the bogus election claims persist, 2.5 years after Trump lost his bid for re-election.

“The statements at issue were dramatically different than the truth,” Davis said in that ruling. “In fact, although it cannot be attributed directly to Fox’s statements, it is noteworthy that some Americans still believe the election was rigged.”

In its defence, Fox said it was obligated to report on the most newsworthy of stories — a president claiming that he had been cheated out of re-election.

“We never reported those to be true,” Fox lawyer Erin Murphy said. “All we ever did was provide viewers the true fact that these were allegations that were being made.”

Fox said Dominion had argued that the network was obligated to suppress the allegations or denounce them as false.

“Freedom of speech and of the press would be illusory if the prevailing side in a public controversy could sue the press for giving a forum to the losing side,” Fox said in court papers.

In a 1964 case involving The New York Times, the US Supreme Court limited the ability of public figures to sue for defamation. The court ruled that plaintiffs needed to prove that news outlets published or aired false material with “actual malice” — knowing such material was false or acting with a “reckless disregard” for whether or not it was true.

That has provided news organisations with stout protection against libel judgements. Yet the nearly six-decade legal standard has come under attack by some conservatives in recent years, including Trump and Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, who have argued for making it easier to win a libel case.

Two Republican-nominated Supreme Court justices, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, have publicly expressed interest in revisiting the protection.


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