Fox settles Dominion defamation lawsuit over election fraud claims
Fox News agreed to settle a voting machine maker’s defamation lawsuit alleging the network defamed it by airing bogus claims that it rigged the 2020 presidential election against Donald Trump.
The network, part of billionaire Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, reached the settlement with Dominion Voting Systems Inc shortly after a jury for the trial in Wilmington, Delaware, was selected on Tuesday and just before opening statements.
According to the 2021 suit, current and former Fox hosts including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro gave guests such as lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell a platform to repeat defamatory statements that Dominion used computer algorithms to shift votes away from Trump to Joe Biden.
Fox argued it was simply reporting on issues of national importance and that its broadcasts were protected as free speech under the US Constitution’s First Amendment.
For Fox, the settlement averts a potentially embarrassing trial forcing Murdoch — the 92-year-old chairman of the network’s parent — and his son Lachlan to testify about their oversight of the network’s news presentations. Carlson, who privately scoffed at the conspiracy theory, and other prominent Fox hosts were on Dominion’s witness list as well.
One incentive for Fox to settle was the potential for courtroom humiliation as Dominion lawyers grilled the Murdochs and the Fox hosts. Evidence uncovered in the case shows that Murdoch and other Fox executives and TV hosts knew the claims about Dominion were bogus even as the network amplified them for weeks after Trump lost the election.
Dominion claimed Fox willfully ignored the obvious falsity of the “stop the steal” campaign it was rapidly spreading, to could keep Trump fans from changing channels to competitors like Newsmax.
Evidence in the case showed the network and its parent company, Fox Corp, feared Trump’s wrath after Fox called the swing state of Arizona for Biden. Focusing on the stolen election claim was seen as a way to mitigate the damage with Trump’s base.
“Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience?” Carlson warned his producer in a text. “We’re playing with fire, for real … an alternative like Newsmax could be devastating to us.”
Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M Davis had already ruled that the constitutional right to free speech doesn’t automatically protect the spreading of falsehoods, especially unfounded allegations of criminal conduct.
“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,” he wrote, with all the typographic bells and whistles.
As part of the litigation, Dominion turned up internal Fox communications showing the Murdochs doubted the voting fraud allegations against the company but made no effort to stop hosts and guests from promoting them.
In a text shown in court, Carlson said Powell’s fraud claims were “obviously untrue” and “unbelievably offensive”. Hannity, one of Fox’s biggest stars, sent a text calling Powell, the architect of the conspiracy theory, an “F’ing lunatic”, Dominion said.
During a hearing in March, the judge noted that emails and tweets from Fox’s Lou Dobbs, uncovered by Dominion in the case’s pretrial exchange of information, could weaken the network’s defence.
“There seems to be a Dobbs problem,” he said.
The case is Dominion Voting Systems v Fox News Network, N21C-03-257, Delaware Superior Court (Wilmington).