A last-minute settlement Tuesday averted a potentially humiliating defamation trial for Fox News. The network, one of the most powerful and profitable in the United States, agreed to a $787.5 million settlement in a lawsuit launched by voting technology company Dominion over its coverage of false rigging claims in the 2020 election that it said hurt its business.
But the media network also suffered a reputational beating that observers said was unlikely to spur it to tame its “disinformation engine.” It has parroted Trump and his more sinister allies’ deceptions about the 2020 election for years, amplifying the conspiracy theories and fostering an environment of paranoia that led to two attacks on Congress in the past 11 days.
Dominion Voting Systems filed the lawsuit against Fox in May, seeking more than USD 1.6 billion in damages for claims about voter fraud that it says Fox broadcast. A Delaware judge ruled in June that the case could proceed.
The voting technology firm claims that Fox hosts Tucker Carlson, Jeanine Pirro, Sean Hannity, and their on-air guests Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and Mike Lindell spread lies about its products that helped to damage its business. It claimed that claims aired by Fox, particularly those made during the presidential campaign, have contributed to losing $2.7 billion in business through 2025.
Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of Fox’s parent company, is also set to be deposed in the case. Dominion’s lawyers hope to find out precisely what Murdoch and other top executives knew about the false claims aired by their hosts.
Fox’s legal team has also argued that the broadcaster is protected under First Amendment rights to speak freely about political matters. However, courts have ruled that public figures are protected from libel claims only when they have acted with actual malice — that is, with reckless disregard for the truth.
But while it might be challenging to prove that the news broadcaster acted with malice, there is no doubt that some of the lies aired by the network’s hosts during the election were recklessly disregarded. That’s why a Delaware judge in May ruled that the case should proceed, even though the media company sought to dismiss it on First Amendment grounds.
In the meantime, a status conference is scheduled for next week. But the jury trial is expected to begin in April.
Ahead of the trial, the network has replaced its outside legal team and hired one of the country’s most prominent trial lawyers — a sign that the company believes it will likely win.
In the meantime, it has been trying to limit how much of its internal communications it has to hand over to Dominion. Among other things, it has been trying to keep behind-the-scenes discussions about voter fraud allegations from appearing publicly. It has also sought to avoid being sued by claiming that the company’s hosts were not endorsing the false narrative they were discussing on air and only airing it for commercial purposes.