Fox News agreed to pay Dominion Voting Systems $787.5 Million to settle a defamation lawsuit filed against the network for spreading misinformation regarding the 2020 elections. This agreement was made on Tuesday, just before a full courtroom sat down to hear opening statements.
The settlement was one of the biggest ever in defamation cases. It was the latest twist in an extraordinary case that had been filled with remarkable revelations that revealed the inner workings and most powerful voice of conservative news.
Fox News also had to admit that "certain claims" it made against Dominion in its statement were false.
The truth is important. Justin Nelson, an attorney for Dominion said Tuesday outside Delaware Superior Court that lies have consequences.
The news of an agreement reached at the eleventh hour stunned the entire courtroom in Wilmington where the case was heard. The air was filled with gasps when the judge, Eric M. Davis, told the jury just before 4 pm that the parties had settled the case. Both sides were preparing to address the jury, with microphones attached to their jackets.
The settlement saves Fox from a lengthy trial, which would have lasted for several weeks and brought many of its most prominent personalities to the witness stand -- including Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul and hosts such as Maria Bartiromo and Tucker Carlson.
This case could potentially expose damaging information about the way the network lied to its audience, claiming that there was fraud and interference with the 2020 presidential elections. Many of the network's executives and personalities on screen did not buy into this story. Lawyers involved in the case claim that the network did not have to apologize, a concession sought by Dominion attorneys.
Dominion filed a lawsuit two years ago after Fox broadcasted false stories that claimed Dominion's machines were vulnerable to hacking, and that they had flipped votes away from Donald J. Trump in favor of Joseph R. Biden Jr. Dominion sued for $1.6 billion in damages, which is almost twice the amount of the settlement. However, by settling, they avoided years of court appeals, which could have reduced or eliminated any payment.
Nelson stated that 'two years ago a torrent lies had swept Dominion officials and election officials in America into a conspiracy universe, causing grave harm to Dominion as well as the country.' The $787.5-million settlement reached today represents vindication and accountability.
The case and the anticipated trial were important because they raised the possibility of an elusive judgement in the post Trump era. Very few allies have been held accountable for their role in spreading falsehoods which undermined confidence in our democratic process and portrayed Mr. Biden’s victory as unlegitimate. According to polls, a large number of Republicans believe that the 2020 elections are tainted.
Experts said that the size of the settlement seems to be unique. RonNell Andersen Jones is a professor at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah. She said that she thought it was the largest settlement ever in a defamation lawsuit.
Ms. Andersen Jones stated that this was the strongest defamation suit she had ever seen brought against a media company. She said that the case was more unique because media companies usually settle before damaging information about internal workings of their company is revealed.
After months of hardly any serious discussions between the two parties, a deal was reached at the last minute. Dominion revealed extraordinary details as the case progressed about the doubts Fox employees privately expressed about claims of voter fraud, even though they took a different tone in the air.
Andersen Jones stated that a settlement before the evidence was made public would have been in Fox’s best interests. Waiting until trial day, when the nation could focus on what Fox had said about Trump, their sources, and their own viewers, was the best way to give Dominion that extra layer of accountability.
Defamation cases rarely reach trial. This is partly because plaintiffs have to prove 'actual malice,' which is the standard of proof that the defendant knew that what they said was a falsehood or had a reckless disregard to the truth. Rarer still is a case that features the amount of evidence Dominion had gathered against Fox.
Dominion released internal communications between Fox executives, producers and hosts in the lead-up to the trial. These revealed how Fox, the most watched cable news network in the United States, set into motion a plan to win viewers back who had abandoned the channel after Donald Trump's defeat. The messages reveal a frenetic scramble within Fox when it began losing viewers to rivals, such as Newsmax, who were more willing and able to report and endorse false allegations about a Dominion plot to steal Mr. Trump's election.
The producers referred to pro Trump guests such as Sidney Powell or Rudolph W. Giuliani, as "gold" for ratings. They also acknowledged that audiences didn't care about topics like a peaceful transition between a Trump and Biden administration.
These communications show how Fox employees expressed doubts and at times were mocking of Mr. Trump, his allies, and their lies about voter fraud and questioned the legitimacy of Mr. Biden’s election. Fox employees mocked Donald Trump and his attorneys as being 'crazy,' and under influence of drugs such as LSD. Magic mushrooms.
Some Fox hosts have privately called their colleagues'reckless,' for promoting Mr. Trump’s false claims. They also acknowledged that there is 'no proof' to support them. Fox has continued to promote election deniers despite their doubts. Dominion challenged multiple statements on multiple shows on multiple nights. Defamation suits usually involve a single statement that is disputed.
The trial would have made for a spectacular show. This week, Mr. Murdoch was scheduled to be Dominion’s first witness. His family owns the Fox media empire. Other witnesses, including Sean Hannity and Mr. Carlson as well as Ms. Bartiromo are likely to be called.
Even the most famous media trials in recent history -- Ariel Sharon's lawsuit against Time, and Gen. William C. Westmoreland against CBS in the 1980s -- did not have the explosive elements in this case. It raised serious questions about First Amendment protections for the media, and whether the conservative political force that is most influential would be held accountable for spreading misinformation.
Both cases were also settled outside of court.
Fox has raised concerns in recent days about Dominion’s claims for damages. It disputed Dominion’s value on Monday by pointing out a recent court filing where the company reduced part of its compensation request. Fox lawyers also questioned the damage that Dominion suffered. They said that the company had acknowledged that it made a profit over the past few years.
Fox was aware of the dangers that could arise from a trial. Dominion's depositions revealed some damaging revelations about a possible trial. Murdoch admitted during his deposition, that Fox had "endorsed" Mr. Trump's falsehoods. This admission undermined Fox's claim that they were merely reporting the claims of the former president and not amplifying them.
Viet Dinh tried to assure Mr. Murdoch, after the deposition ended, that he did well.
I'm going to say that. Dinh replied that they didn't touch you.
A person who was present at the exchange said that Mr. Murdoch did not agree. He pointed at Mr. Nelson, the lawyer who questioned him on behalf of Dominion and said: 'I believe he would strongly oppose that.'
Nelson responded, "I do indeed."