Fox News libel settlement with Dominion may be a ‘bargaining chip’ for other litigants

Fox News has settled its defamation case with Dominion Voting Systems, but the trouble for Rupert Murdoch and his company may be far from over.

Earlier this week, Fox Corp and Fox News agreed to pay Dominion $US787.5 million ($1.2 billion) to settle the defamation suit brought against the news organisation.

It’s not the first time Rupert Murdoch’s empire has settled a case, and it might not be the last, with another case ongoing.

In the past, Murdoch’s tabloid newspaper empire settled a phone hacking scandal in the UK, and Fox settled a sexual harassment suit against one of its hosts, Bill O’Reilly.

By settling with Dominion, Fox’s executive and hosts didn’t have to take the stand, but one legal expert told Axios, the settlement did reveal one interesting detail: How much Fox could be willing to make other lawsuits disappear.

Shanlon Wu, a former federal prosecutor and legal analyst, said he thinks the settlement “sets Fox up to pay their way out”.

“As it seems unlikely they will want to take other cases to trial,” he said, flagging that Fox has to be “concerned” with discovery issues and what the company tried to withhold.

Another defamation suit

Fox isn’t out of the woods just yet, another US voting technology company, Smartmatic, is pursuing its own defamation lawsuit seeking $US2.7 billion ($4 billion) in damages in a New York state court.

Former Fox producer Abby Grossberg has also filed legal action against the company, claiming lawyers coerced her into providing misleading testimony in a lawsuit filed in March.

Stuart Brotman, a journalism professor at the University of Tennessee, told Axios both Smartmatic and Ms Grossberg could use the Dominion settlement as a “bargaining chip” in their own cases.

On Monday, Reuters reported that Fox Corp shareholders are demanding documents that would show whether the network’s coverage of the 2020 election, and events that followed, were correctly overseen by directors and executives.

This could mean shareholders might build a case against the leaders of the company and for individuals to be held personally liable for the cost of two defamation cases.

On Friday, Lachlan Murdoch, Fox Corporation chief executive and Rupert’s son, dropped his defamation case against the Australian publishers of news outlet Crikey, along with several editors and executives.

Crikey took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, daring Lachlan Murdoch to sue them – so he did.

After several rounds of legal fisticuffs involving inflammatory billboards, titillating texts and crowdfunding, the case was marked “discontinued/withdrawn” on the Federal Court website on Friday.

Mr Murdoch maintained through his lawyer there was no truth to the allegations made by Crikey.

In a joint statement, Private Media chief executive Will Hayward and chairman Eric Beecher called the withdrawal a “substantial victory” and reaffirmed their confidence in their journalism and legal defence.

No apology necessary

The settlement wasn’t a huge financial burden for Fox and it’s significantly less than what Dominion was seeking.

Fox Corp CEO Lachlan Murdoch told Wall Street analysts in February the company had about $US4 billion ($A5.9 billion) cash on hand.

What some people found most disappointing was that the network doesn’t need to take accountability on air.

CNN’s senior media reporter Oliver Darcy said he was told part of the settlement meant Fox News did not have to publicly acknowledge the lies it promoted about Dominion on-air.

Fox anchor Neil Cavuto did read a statement from Fox regarding the settlement, saying the company was “pleased” about the outcome.

“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,” Cavuto read.

“We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues.”

While Fox might “acknowledge” the court’s findings, it’s not expected that hosts who were complicit in spreading the lies about the 2020 election will take accountability on-air.

Journalist Andy Kroll noted by not having Fox News hosts read apologies or make corrections on-air, it was a “huge loss for truth — and a setback in the fight against misinformation”.

Kroll noted that the lawsuit brought by Dominion exposed how Fox News operated, and we now know that some of the hosts didn’t even like Donald Trump, or believe the lies about the 2020 election.

However, Fox’s viewers might not know that, or that the settlement was even reached between the two parties.

But it’s hard to see how this result — without real public accountability — changes Fox’s behaviour,” Kroll said.

“Without an on-air retraction, correction, or apology, some Fox viewers probably don’t know the settlement happened!”

– with AAP

Topics: Fox News
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