Cautionary Tale: Fox Settles Dominion Lawsuit for $787 Million
In a blockbuster settlement announced Tuesday, Fox News agreed to pay Dominion Voting Systems $787.5 million. Dominion sued Fox News in 2021 for $1.6 billion in March 2021, alleging that the cable news giant in 2020 “gave life to a manufactured story line about election fraud that cast a then-little-known voting machine company called Dominion as the villain.” The trial was scheduled to begin Tuesday in Delaware, where both companies are incorporated, and jurors were already selected when the settlement was announced.
After two years of motions, disclosures, and delays, presiding Judge Eric Davis finally set a date for the trial in a 130-page ruling on pre-trial motions for summary judgment from both parties. Davis denied Fox News’s motion for summary judgment on damages and “certain defenses like the neutral report and fair report privileges or the privilege for opinion” because “the evidence does not support that [Fox News] conducted good-faith, disinterested reporting.”
The judge partially denied Dominion’s motion for summary judgment but granted it on four points that Fox News either did not contest at all or made little effort to contest.
For instance, Dominion requested summary judgment that certain statements made on Fox News were “substantially false,” an essential part of proving defamation. “The Statements claimed that Dominion committed election fraud; manipulated vote counts through its software and algorithms; is owned by a company founded in Venezuela to rig elections for dictator Hugo Chavez; and paid kickbacks to government officials who used its machines in the Election,” wrote the judge. Surprisingly, “Fox dedicates little to its argument on falsity,” attempting to argue for a “nuanced view” but not contesting the underlying falsehood of the statements.
The judge reviewed 20 examples provided by Dominion — including context provided by Fox — which he ruled constituted false statements of fact, not opinion. In nine broadcast examples, former Fox Business host Lou Dobbs appeared to endorse false statements of fact made by Trump attorneys Sidney Powell (six times) and Rudy Giuliani (twice) or made false statements himself (once). Three examples referenced false information by Fox or Dobbs posted to Dobbs’s Twitter account. In three broadcast examples, Fox News host Maria Bartiromo failed to push back against, endorsed, or repeated false claims made by Giuliani and Powell. On two broadcasts, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro made false statements of fact or appeared to endorse Powell’s false claims. The final three examples come from Powell on “Hannity,” Giuliani on “Fox & Friends,” and Mike Lindell on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
Some of the examples run for pages, but one succinct example can give the general flavor. Powell said November 30, 2020 on “Hannity,” “The machine ran an algorithm that shaved votes from Trump and awarded them to Biden. They used the machines to trash large batches of votes that should have been awarded to President Trump. And they used a machine to inject and add massive quantities of votes for Mr. Biden.” Of this claim, Davis remarked, “The Statement uses precise and readily understood language to assert facts which are capable of being proven true or false, and the context in which the Statement is presented creates an inference to a reasonable viewer that it is factual.” This statement is so utterly false that Fox’s legal team, with millions of dollars on the line, could not even argue that it wasn’t.
Because Dominion met its burden to prove falsity and Fox failed to meet its “burden to show an issue [dispute] of material fact existed,” the judge ruled, “The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that is CRYSTAL clear that none of the Statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true” (emphasis in the original). Judicial rulings rarely employ italics or bold text for emphasis.
On top of that, Davis noted in his ruling, internal communications at Fox revealed that virtually everyone involved, including top hosts and owner Rupert Murdoch, knew the claims about Dominion by Powell and Giuliani were false when they chose to give them a friendly platform. In their complaint, Dominion argues that Fox chose to advance claims they knew to be false out of fear of losing market share to other platforms and under pressure from President Trump.
Dominion attorney Stephen Shackleford responded to the verdict, “Money is accountability and we got that today from Fox.” Fox News released a statement saying in part, “We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.” Dominion CEO John Poulos responded to Fox’s acknowledgment, “Fox has admitted to telling lies about Dominion that caused enormous damage to my company, our employees, and the customers that we serve. Nothing can ever make up for that.”
Fox’s decision to settle the case was “deeply disappointing” to mainstream media, who hoped to witness the trouncing Fox would likely receive if the case actually went to trial. However, The Wall Street Journal editors noted that the media probably benefited by the settlement, as the trial would likely have led to an appeals process which may have culminated in the Supreme Court reviewing its press-friendly 1964 libel precedent in New York Times v. Sullivan.
Still, the $787 million Fox must pay Dominion is more than its net income for fiscal year 2022, which was a record $760 million. “It is a blow which Fox can survive financially, but which is devastating nonetheless and reflects the commensurately devastating facts,” wrote National Review contributor Jeffrey Blehar.
The Lever reported that Fox could recoup up to $213 million as a tax write-off. Fox Corporation’s CCO Brian Nick told The Lever, “I can confirm tax deductibility but not the amount.”
Fox still faces another defamation lawsuit resulting from the 2020 election from another voting machine company, Smartmatic, which is seeking $2.7 billion in damages in a New York court. “Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign. Smartmatic will expose the rest,” said Smartmatic attorney J. Erik Connolly.
The Fox-Dominion settlement is not just a story about the 2020 election, which saw many concerning election irregularities unrelated to the conspiracy theories about Dominion’s voting machines. It’s also a story about truth. Sadly, Fox hosts cooperated with figures such as Powell and Giuliani in deliberately misleading their audiences. Their audience, in turn, uncritically ate up the falsehoods because they wanted them to be true. “The revelations about what Fox News personalities say and think privately, versus the cheap slop they ladle out to audiences they clearly have contempt for — that’s not going away,” wrote Blehar.
Media organizations, including The Washington Stand, have a duty to present the objective truth. Sure, we have a perspective — a biblical worldview — but so does every organization, and if we denied having a perspective, then we would be lying. I hope The Washington Stand does present the truth in every piece we publish. For the media who abandon truth in pursuit of ratings, personal loyalty, or political motives, Proverbs 19:5 warns that “a false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will not escape.” In the final judgment, unrepentant liars will be thrown into the lake of fire right alongside murderers, adulterers, and sorcerers (Revelation 21:8).
Media consumers, including you, have a duty to critically evaluate the information presented to you. Paul warns of a time “when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Conversely, the Bible also describes people “who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not” (Ezekiel 12:2) — people who refuse to acknowledge unwelcome truth, even when it confronts them.
So, practice reading (or listening to, or watching) the news actively. Ask yourself what evidence or reasoning backs up the claims that you’re hearing. And then regard those claims with the level of credibility they merit, based upon the answer to that question.
The moral of the story is straightforward: don’t lie, and don’t believe lies.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.