Fox News settlement part of flurry of lawsuits over U.S. election lies

Fox News nearly $800 million settlement A defamation lawsuit by a voting machine company marks the first milestone in a larger legal strategy to combat the nearly three years of false allegations and conspiracy theories about elections that have gripped the United States.

Several similar lawsuits have been filed against those who spread election lies, including another against Fox.Plaintiffs include A Different Voting Technology Company arrive Georgia Election Workers Who was falsely accused of tampering with the state’s vote count. The defendants include close advisers to former President Donald Trump and a conservative group that last year financed a film alleging widespread voter fraud during Democrat Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election.

Lawyers involved in the work described it as an attempt to fight back against those lies about fraud exist that election help inspire Attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 and continue to circulate in conservative circles.

“Lies like this, which do serious harm to our democracy, come at no cost,” said Rachel Goodman, an attorney for Defend Democracy, which represents Georgia election workers and others in defamation lawsuits against election conspiracy theorists. plaintiff. “This lawsuit creates accountability and makes clear that the reckless or willful dissemination of fiction for political or personal gain is costly.”

Yet even as legal challenges continue to yield jaw-dropping settlements or damages, it’s unclear whether they’ll change behavior or fight back about democracy.

“I personally don’t think defamation lawsuits are a good mechanism for addressing the disinformation problem,” said Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota. “I’ve been concerned that we’re trying to put a square peg in a round hole here.”

this litigation Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation charge against Fox News and its parent company, Fox Corp., is one of the first that Trump and his allies have spent weeks making lie The 2020 election was stolen. One of their first conspiracy theories was that the Denver-based voting machine company was part of an international cabal pushing the election to Biden.

Dominion Sues Trump Adviser and Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, trump lawyer Sydney PowellFounder of MyPillow Mike Lindell and others who help spread false theories. Dominion is also suing right-leaning news networks that have repeatedly emphasized the theory in their reporting — two rebellious, pro-Trump channels, Newsmax and One America News Network, and Fox, the nation’s most-watched cable news network.

The Fox News case has drawn the most attention.That’s because the lawsuit moves faster than others, and because it unearths a large number of internal documents It suggested that Fox executives and prominent figures privately dismissed Trump’s electoral claims but aired them hosts such as Tucker Carlson He also expressed disdain for Trump in text messages with colleagues.

Shortly after Delaware jury was selected to hear case On Tuesday, Fox and Dominion agreed to settle the lawsuit for $787.5 million, more than half of Fox’s reported profit last year.

The settlement did not require Fox to admit to spreading inaccurate information. The network itself briefly mentioned that “the court has ruled certain claims about Dominion to be false,” but offered no apology or other hints of remorse in its statement. “This settlement reflects FOX’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards,” the statement added.

Some Fox critics were upset that the settlement did not include an acknowledgment of wrongdoing by the network.

Andy Kroll, the journalist who wrote a conservative conspiracy theory book about the 2017 killing of a Democratic National Committee worker, whose parents Andy Kroll “The most frustrating thing about this outcome — which is downright infuriating — is how little accountability it holds Fox News,” tweeted. Sue Fox.

Kathy Boockvar, the former top polling official in Pennsylvania, recalled crying when she testified in the Dominion-Fox case as she recounted her struggles during the 2020 election in an interview hours after the settlement was reached. received death threats.She said the threats surged after the Fox clip zoomed in False accusations of massive fraud.

Boockvar said she was pleased with the settlement, even if it did not include an admission of wrongdoing.

“Ideally, part of the settlement would include acknowledging the lies they knowingly spread,” Boockvar said. “However, this settlement is very substantial and the judge’s strong language last week speaks for itself, which I believe will help prevent future blatant disregard for truths of this gravity.”

In his ruling allowing the lawsuit to go to trial, Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis said it was “Crystal Clear” None of the allegations about Dominion aired on Fox are true. Dominion CEO John Poulos said that while the settlement does not require an apology from Fox, the company believes the court system is forcing the network to take responsibility.

“For us, it was never about Fox itself. It was about telling the truth and the media telling the truth,” Poulos told ABC’s “Good Morning America” ​​on Wednesday. “And I think it’s important for us that when people lie recklessly and knowingly with such devastating consequences, they take responsibility for it.”

Dominion’s lead attorney, Justin A. Nelson, said the size of the settlement matters.

“It’s a long way to go to get my clients right,” Nielsen said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We still have six suits to go out. But as I said, it’s just a big win. When they pay almost $800 million, three-quarters of a billion dollars, it shows.”

Still, Fox continues to air misleading clips about the 2020 election and the threat electoral lies pose to democracy, even as the Dominion case draws to a close. last month, carlson aired a segment Downplaying the seriousness of the Jan. 6 attack even drew condemnation from some Republican senators.

Fox faces additional legal risks over similar defamation claims brought by voting firm Smartmatic, which briefly conflated with Dominion during lies spread by Trump allies after the 2020 election. Other lawsuits target other players in the conservative media world: Georgia election workers filed claims against Gateway Pundit, a popular right-wing website that has spread numerous conspiracy theories about 2020.

Goodman and Protect Democracy also sued the conservative group True The Vote on behalf of a Georgia man for including video images in their film “2000 Mules” This shows that the man legally voted in 2020. That movie falsely accused widespread fraud of people filling drop boxes illegally.

However, Kirtley noted that some of the other targets may not have the same internal documents and standards as Fox, which retains a steady stream of reporters and positions itself as a straightforward, objective news organization.

Speaking of some of the other defendants in the defamation suit, Kirtley said, “They didn’t even become a semblance of a news enterprise.”

She also said she doubts the lawsuits, even with their huge settlements, will convince those who have fallen Trump’s election lies That the whole narrative is wrong.

“It will take more than a secret settlement to convince their loyal audience that they are a reliable news source,” Kirtley said of Fox.

—Nicolas Riccardi, Associated Press

Legal and Judicial Media Industry USA

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