Fox to pay $787.5 million in Dominion defamation trial settlement

The high-stakes defamation lawsuit between Rupert Murdoch's Fox News and Dominion Voting systems has come to an abrupt end. Dan Rivers has the latest

Fox has reached a $787.5 million (£633.6m) settlement in a defamation lawsuit with voting machine company Dominion.

Dominion Voting Systems had asked for $1.6 billion (£1.3bn) in arguing that Fox had damaged its reputation by helping peddle false conspiracy theories about its equipment switching votes from former President Donald Trump to Democrat Joe Biden.

Fox said the amount greatly overstated the value of the Colorado-based company.

An attorney for Dominion confirmed the multimillion-dollar settlement figure on Tuesday.

“The truth matters. Lies have consequences,” Dominion lawyer Justin Nelson said in a news conference outside the courthouse after the announcement.

The judge overseeing the lawsuit earlier announced that the parties “have resolved their case” and dismissed the jury, just as the trial was to begin.

Fox will end up paying "10 times the value of Dominion as an entire company," in the settlement.

CNN legal analyist, Elie Honig said: "I didn't think there was any way they would get $1.6 billion – even when they proved their case, even if they proved it overwhelmingly to a jury. Let's remember, by its own estimation, Dominion valued the entire company at somewhere between $30 and $80 million.

"This settlement is 10 times the value of Dominion as an entire company. That's how strong a statement this is with this number."

The announcement averts a prolonged trial in a case that exposed how the top-rated network, owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, chased viewers by spreading false claims about the 2020 presidential election.

The sudden announcement came after jurors had been seated and attorneys were preparing to make opening statements for a trial that had been expected to last six week.

A statement from Fox said the settlement reflected the network's "continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.

"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.”

Records released in the lawsuit showed that Fox hosts and executives did not believe the claims made by Trump's allies but aired them anyway.

Artist sketch depicts Dominion V Fox. Credit: AP

During a statement, Fox Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch, who founded the news network, testified that he believed the 2020 election was fair and had not been stolen from the former president.

“Fox knew the truth,” Dominion argued in court papers. “It knew the allegations against Dominion were ‘outlandish’ and ‘crazy’ and ‘ludicrous’ and ‘nuts.’ Yet it used the power and influence of its platform to promote that false story.”

Judge Eric Davis called out the news organisation for airing false claims while noting how the bogus election claims persist, two and a half years after Trump lost his bid for re-election.

“The statements at issue were dramatically different than the truth,” Davis said in his summary judgment ruling. “In fact, although it cannot be attributed directly to Fox’s statements, it is noteworthy that some Americans still believe the election was rigged.”

In its defence, Fox said it was obligated to report on the most newsworthy of stories - a president claiming that he had been cheated out of re-election.

“We never reported those to be true,” Fox lawyer Erin Murphy said. “All we ever did was provide viewers the true fact that these were allegations that were being made.”

Fox said Dominion had argued that the network was obligated to suppress the allegations or denounce them as false.

Dominion Voting ballot-counting machines. Credit: AP

“Freedom of speech and of the press would be illusory if the prevailing side in a public controversy could sue the press for giving a forum to the losing side,” Fox said in court papers.

A mountain of evidence - released in the form of deposition transcripts, internal memos and emails from the time - was damaging to Fox even if some of the material was only tangentially related to the libel argument.

Much of the material showed a network scared of its audience after its election night declaration that Biden had won Arizona.

The race call infuriated Trump and many viewers who supported him.

One of Fox’s top news anchors, Bret Baier, noted the audience’s anger and suggested rescinding the call, even awarding the state to Trump.

“We don’t want to antagonise Trump further,” Murdoch said in a November 16 memo.

Biden narrowly won Arizona, but two executives responsible for the accurate election night call lost their jobs because of it two months later. In an internal memo, Murdoch talked in mid-November about firing them.

Fox executives and anchors discussed how not to alienate the audience, many of whom believed Trump’s claims of fraud despite no evidence to back them up. Fox’s Tucker Carlson suggested a news reporter be fired for tweeting a fact check debunking the fraud claims.

Some of the exhibits were simply embarrassing, such as scornful behind-the-scenes opinions about Trump, including a Carlson text message that said, “I hate him passionately.”

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