By Mayank Chhaya-
A combination of factors, including the ignominy of its mendacious star anchors having to testify, has compelled Fox News to reach a massive out-of-court settlement with Dominion Voting Systems.
Under the settlement, Fox News will pay Dominion $787.5 million dollars. “The truth matters. Lies have consequences,” Dominion lawyer Justin Nelson said in a news conference outside the courthouse.
In a statement, Fox News acknowledged that “the court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.”
Fox News ran the real risk of losing the defamation suit filed by Dominion in early 2021 over the broadcaster’s repeated and manifestly false claims that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” through voting machine manipulation and other kinds of fraud.
The landmark case was expected to enter the trial phase yesterday but the judge in the case, Judge Eric M. Davis of the Superior Court of the State of Delaware delayed it in anticipation of the out-of-court settlement in the $1.6 billion defamation case.
There was a distinct possibility that had Fox News chosen to go through the trial, it would have not just lost a great deal of money threatening its very existence but exposed its star anchors such as Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Maria Bartiromo as well Fox Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch to some withering questioning by Dominion’s attorneys.
Among the major factors that likely compelled Murdoch and Fox to settle was the fact that the judge had ruled that election fraud claims made by the broadcaster against Dominion were false. That ruling preempted any defense strategy to argue that the broadcast of such false information was on the grounds that it was newsworthy. Effectively, the judge ended any possible defense behind the fig leaf of the freedom of speech under the First Amendment that Fox News attorneys might have contemplated.
The two-year-long case had all the makings of a blockbuster trial, especially when private messages of the star anchors and other Fox officials clearly struck a tone precisely contrary to their on-air protestations, fulminations and absurd claims about the 2020 election. Their testimonies during a trial had the potential to seriously erode whatever remains of their credibility.
Attached to that is whether Dominion has asked for a public apology from Fox, a possibility not altogether non-existent considering the company would want to restore its reputation publicly since it was damaged so publicly.
The case is seen as one of the most important for the media in America and how it might deal with news stories emanating from a deeply tribalistic political landscape since the rise of Donald Trump as president.
The repeated falsehoods aired by Fox News now stand thoroughly exposed even though that in itself may not significantly arrest the trend of rampaging deliberate disinformation dished out by partisan media. However, what it does do is that it establishes the First Amendment is no absolute guarantee of immunity against broadcasting falsehoods and then claiming its protection in the face of such defamation suits.
One of the key points of a trial in this case would have been whether Fox had acted with “actual malice”, which amounts to knowingly broadcast lies, or had chosen to disregard the evidence contrary to their repeated claims for a larger political purpose. Going by what has been extensively reported, Fox News was on shaky ground in either case.
On its part Dominion has steadfastly maintained that “Baseless claims about Dominion Voting Systems have been fully debunked by election authorities, subject matter experts, and third-party fact-checkers.”
“On November 9, 2022, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (“CISA”) addressed disinformation about the 2022 midterms, stating the agency has “seen no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised in any race in the country,” the company’s website says.
It also says, “The U.S. government has confirmed through multiple reports that no vote flipping, voting machine manipulation, or foreign government interference took place in the 2020 elections.”
The company points out that “Thousands of 2020 election audits and recounts have validated the accuracy and reliability of results and confirmed the integrity of Dominion’s technology.”