Fox on the run after Dominion’s $1.2 billion defamation settlement

Fox Corp and Fox News have agreed to pay Dominion Voting Systems $US787.5 million ($1.2 billion) to settle a defamation lawsuit concerning 2020 US election vote-rigging claims made on the news network.

Experts say this resolution will affect Fox News’ operations in the United States and have broader implications for the company’s operations and standing globally.

One expert told The New Daily the settlement could influence a defamation case involving the Australian media outlet Crikey.

A turning point

The last-minute settlement marks a significant moment in the media industry, as one of the world’s leading media companies is held accountable for its role in spreading baseless election fraud claims.

The pattern of settling in adverse circumstances is a recurring strategy for Fox, as seen by their handling of phone hacking, sexual misconduct, and gender discrimination scandals.

The New York Times reports that the payout to Dominion appears to be one of the largest settlements in a defamation case in US history.

Dominion sued Fox Corp and Fox News, contending that its business was ruined by the false claims aired by Fox relating to former president Donald Trump’s accusations about the 2020 election being stolen.

The trial was to have tested whether Fox’s coverage crossed the line between ethical journalism and the pursuit of ratings, as Dominion alleged and Fox denied.

Speaking outside the courthouse, Justin Nelson, a lawyer for Dominion, said: “The truth matters. Lies have consequences.

“Over two years ago, a torrent of lies swept Dominion and election officials across America into an alternative universe of conspiracy theories causing grievous harm to Dominion and the country.”

Dominion CEO John Poulos called the settlement “historic”.

“Fox has admitted to telling lies about Dominion that caused enormous damage to my company, our employees and our customers,” Mr Poulos said.

“Truthful reporting in the media is essential to our democracy.”

Davida Brook, Justin Nelson and Stephen Shackelford, attorneys for Dominion Voting Systems, after the settlement of the defamation lawsuit against Fox News. Photo: AAP

Associate Professor Andrew Dodd is director of the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne, and he told TND the settlement had “wiped off half of one year’s profits for Fox”.

“I guess I’d be naive, though, if I thought this would lead to some soul searching inside the company and a rethink about the rubbish it pumps out each day and serves up to its audience,” he said.

“If Fox had just practised good journalism, it would be a billion dollars richer today.”

Credibility issues

Experts say the settlement has dealt a considerable blow to Fox News’ credibility and has been a source of embarrassment.

In the lead-up to the trial, the disclosure of hundreds of thousands of documents provided unprecedented insight into the inner workings of a media company typically resistant to external scrutiny.

Embarrassing revelations were aired, including host Tucker Carlson seeming to privately express a desire for President Trump to vanish from the national stage despite supporting him publicly, telling a colleague: “I hate him passionately.”

Additionally, exposed correspondence revealed Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch questioned if anchors Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham had overstepped the mark in entertaining Mr Trump’s election fraud claims.

In a January 21, 2021, email, weeks after the Capitol riot, Mr Murdoch wrote: “Still getting mud thrown at us! Maybe Sean and Laura went too far.”

If the trial had gone ahead, the expected witness list would have included Fox executives, Rupert Murdoch and high-profile hosts such as Carlson, Hannity and Maria Bartiromo.

Speaking to Politico, RonNell Andersen Jones, a law professor and First Amendment expert at the University of Utah, said the last-minute settlement ensured a light was shone on the network’s misconduct.

Dominion “wanted compensation for the harm done to it, but it also wanted an extra measure of accountability for the harm it thought was done to the country, and part of that accountability came from the exposure that this late settlement provided,” Professor Jones said.

“If they’d settled in February, the country wouldn’t know the things that Fox said internally about Trump, and its own audience, and about the sources it was platforming. And that’s significant.”

However, while this is all very embarrassing for Fox, it is reported that under the terms of the settlement, it will not have to apologise or admit to spreading false claims on network programming.

Dominion lawyers declined to answer questions about whether Fox News would apologise publicly or make changes.

Fox anchor Neil Cavuto reported the settlement on his news show Your World.

A statement by Fox was read on air: “We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems,” the statement said.

“We acknowledge the court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false. This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.”

Dominion Fox

Protesters outside the Fox News headquarters. Photo: AAP

Future cases

Fox’s legal woes are far from over. It faces an even bigger lawsuit from another US voting technology company, Smartmatic.

Smartmatic is seeking $US2.7 billion ($4 billion) in damages after Fox News linked the company to Dominion and alleged that it was party to voter fraud.

“Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign,” an attorney for Smartmatic said on Tuesday.

“Smartmatic will expose the rest.”

The size of the compensation awarded in the Dominion lawsuit could increase the stakes in the forthcoming case.

Fox may also face challenges from shareholders who could bring lawsuits against the network for decisions that negatively impact their investments.

According to the Washington Post, a shareholder recently filed a lawsuit, and others have requested access to company records.

The Crikey case

One expert said the Dominion settlement will have repercussions beyond the US. They said it could influence the case involving Australian media outlet Crikey.

In the lawsuit, Lachlan Murdoch, the executive chair and chief executive officer of Fox Corporation, is suing Private Media, the publisher of online news site Crikey, over an article written by political editor Bernard Keane.

This case is set to test Australia’s defamation laws, which allow Crikey to rely on a new public interest defence.

Professor Dodd, who has reported at The Australian and Crikey, speculated about implications for the Crikey defamation case.

“News Corp has failed in the most liberal defamation jurisdiction to sustain the argument that it didn’t misinform its viewers while knowing it was doing so.

“That demonstrates to any reasonable observer that News Corp was acting in a way that supported Trump’s bid to retain power.

“The ruling undermines News Corp’s credibility considerably and further demonstrates that it favours certain candidates at elections and actively undermines those it opposes.

“The Australian public already knows this, but this case brings it into even clearer focus for all to see.”

with AAP

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