Fox, Dominion reach $787M settlement over election claims

Fox and Dominion Voting Systems reached a $787 million settlement Tuesday in a defamation lawsuit by the voting machine company, avoiding a case over revelations about how the most-watched network went after viewers by promoting lies about the 2020 presidential election. trial.

“The truth matters. Lies have consequences,” Dominion attorney Justin Nelson said at a news conference outside the courthouse after the judge announced the deal.

Dominion is asking for $1.6 billion, citing damage to Fox’s reputation by helping to peddle a false conspiracy theory that its equipment swung votes from former President Donald Trump to Democrat Joe Biden. Fox said that amount significantly overestimated the Colorado-based company’s value.

The Delaware Superior Court’s decision follows a recent ruling by Judge Eric Davis, in which he allowed the case to go to trial while emphasizing it was “very clear” that Trump allies were broadcast on Fox. None of the allegations against Dominion are true.

In a statement issued shortly after the announcement, Fox News said the network acknowledged that “a court has ruled that certain claims about Dominion are false.” It did not respond to a query seeking elaboration.

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

Transcripts released as part of the lawsuit show how Fox hosts and executives didn’t believe the claims of Trump allies but aired them anyway, in part to win back viewers who fled the network because It correctly called the closely contested Arizona a Democrat Joe Biden night in the election.

The settlement, if formally accepted by the judge, would end a case that is deeply embarrassing for Fox News. If the case goes to trial, it would also present one of the toughest tests of the defamation standard that has protected media organizations for more than half a century.

Several First Amendment experts have said Dominion’s case is one of the strongest they have ever seen. Still, there are real questions about whether Dominion will be able to prove to jurors that Fox executives could be responsible for spreading disinformation about the network.

Dominion accused Fox of defaming it, and in the weeks following the 2020 presidential election, Trump allies repeatedly accused its machines and the software they used to vote for Biden — though many at the network doubted those claims And belittle those claims who is making them.

The company is suing Fox News and its parent company, The Fox Corporation, arguing that its business has been severely harmed.

In testimony, Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of Fox and the network’s founder, testified that he believed the 2020 election was fair and did not steal from Trump.

“Fox knew the truth,” Dominion argued in court documents. “It knew the allegations against Dominion were ‘weird,’ ‘crazy,’ ‘ridiculous,’ and ‘crazy.'” However, it used the power and reach of its platform to promote the false story. “

In his March 31 summary judgment ruling, Davis pointedly accused news organizations of spreading lies while noting how false electoral claims persisted 2.5 years after Trump’s reelection defeat.

“The statements at issue are far from the truth,” Davis said in the ruling. “Indeed, while not directly attributable to Fox’s remarks, it is worth noting that some Americans still believe the election was rigged.”

In its defense, Fox said it was obligated to report the most newsworthy story — a president who claims he was cheated out of re-election.

“We never reported that those were true,” said Fox attorney Erin Murphy. “All we’re doing is presenting the audience with the real facts that these are the allegations that are being made.”

Dominion argued that the network had an obligation to suppress the allegations or denounce them as false, Fox said.

“Free speech and a free press would be illusory if the prevailing party in a public controversy could sue the media for providing a forum for the losing party,” Fox said in court filings.

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 would need to prove that news outlets published or aired false material with “genuine malice” — knowing that such material was false, or “recklessly disregarding” its truthfulness.

This provides news organizations with strong protection from defamation judgments. However, the nearly six-decade legal standard has come under attack in recent years from some conservatives, including Trump and Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who advocate for making defamation cases easier to win.

Two Republican nominees to the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, have publicly expressed interest in revisiting the protections.

Lawyers for Dominion argued that Fox made a deliberate decision to repeatedly air false claims to lure viewers. They allowed guests to falsely claim that the company rigged the election, cast a large number of votes for Biden through a secret algorithm, was owned by a company established in Venezuela that rigged the election for the late President Hugo Chavez, and bribed government officials .

“What they did to keep the audience coming back was to start this new narrative that the election was stolen and Dominion was a thief,” Dominion’s attorney, Rodney Smolla, said at a hearing in March. “

The mountain of evidence — released in the form of deposition transcripts, internal memos and emails at the time — has done Fox a disservice, even if some of it has nothing to do with the libel argument.

Dominion noted that Fox insiders dismissed the vote-rigging claims in text messages and emails, sometimes publicly mocking them. A Fox Corp. vice president called them “crazy lunatics.”

Numerous sources showed that the network actually spooked viewers after it was announced on election night that Biden had won Arizona. The campaign call angered Trump and many of his supporters.

One of Fox’s top news anchors, Brett Beyer, took note of the audience’s outrage and suggested that the call be withdrawn, or even award the country to Trump.

“We do not want to further anger Trump,” Murdoch said in a Nov. 16 memo.

Biden narrowly won Arizona, but the two executives responsible for accurate election night conference calls lost their jobs two months later. In an internal memo, Murdoch talked about firing them in mid-November.

Fox executives and anchors discussed how not to alienate viewers, many of whom believed Trump’s fraud allegations despite unsupported evidence. Fox’s Tucker Carlson suggested firing a journalist for tweeting out a fact check that debunked allegations of fraud.

Some exhibits are downright embarrassing, like a behind-the-scenes dismissive view of Trump, whose supporters form the core of the network’s audience. In text exchanges disclosed as part of the lawsuit, Carlson declared, “I hate him so much,” and said “we’re very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights.”

—David Bauder, Randall Chase and Geoff Mulvihill for The Associated Press

Legal and Judicial Media Industry USA

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