Dominion wins $787m from Fox News as election lies lawsuit settled: ‘Lies have consequences’

Dominion wins $787m from Fox News as election lies lawsuit settled: ‘Lies have consequences’

Moments before the opening arguments in one of the biggest defamation trials in recent US history was set to begin, Fox News agreed to settle a lawsuit from a voting machine company that accused the network of spreading false statements about its business in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election.

More than two years after lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems was filed, and after millions of dollars were spent on legal fees for an army of lawyers, Fox has averted a high-profile jury trial in a Delaware courtroom.

Fox settled for $787.5m (£633m), about half of Dominion’s original demand of $1.6bn (£1.3bn), but a total that amounts to the largest-ever settlement in a libel case in American history.

“The parties have resolved their case,” Judge Eric Davis announced on Tuesday, roughly two hours after jurors were already sworn in. They were promptly excused after his announcement.

“Today’s settlement ... represents vindication and accountability,” Dominion lawyer Justin Nelson told reporters outside the courthouse in Wilmington. “Lies have consequences. The truth does not know red or blue.”

A statement from Fox said the organisation is “pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems.”

“We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false,” the company said in a statement shared with The Independent.

“This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards,” the statement added. “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.”

Dominion CEO John Poulos noted Fox’s admission of spreading falsehoods in a statement in an apparent response to the network.

“Fox has admitted to telling lies about Dominion that caused enormous damage to my company, our employees, and our customers,” he said. “Nothing can ever make up for that.”

Dominion’s lawsuit accused the most-watched cable news network and its Fox Corporation leadership of amplifying false and damaging claims about the company in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, when conspiracy theories surrounding the election and its outcome swirled throughout Republican politics, amplified by Donald Trump and his allies, and across right-wing media, including Fox’s far-right competitors.

Before the trial, the judge presiding over the case determined that on-air statements about the company in the wake of the 2020 presidential election were false. Whether the statements made on air about Dominion are false were not up for debate; Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis asserted in a ruling last month that it is “CRYSTAL” clear that “none of the statements relating to Dominion in the 2020 election are true.”

Jurors were not tasked with figuring out if the statements about Dominion are true or not.

Instead, the jury was set to determine whether those claims rise to “actual malice” – in other words, if Fox knowingly presented false claims or did so with reckless disregard for the truth.

Throughout the lawsuit and proceedings, attorneys for Fox argued that the network had a duty to report newsworthy claims, especially ones endorsed by a then-sitting president.

In the days after Mr Trump’s loss in the 2020 election, Trump-connected figures floated conspiracy theories and other baseless claims about Dominion on air, claiming that the company was responsible for “flipping” or manipulating votes, had ties to Hugo Chavez and Venezuela, and provided “kickbacks” to election officials.

Hundreds of pages of court documents from Dominion show that top on-air personalities, producers and Fox Corporation leadership knew those segments were bogus. Those claims were false but were aired uncritically on the network, Judge Eric Davis determined.

Network leadership appeared to agree to provide a platform for “wild claims” that the election was stolen from Mr Trump because “positive impressions of Fox News” among its viewers “dropped precipitously after Election Day to the lowest levels” the network had seen, according to arguments in court filings from Dominion.

Members of the legal team for Fox News leave a Delaware courthouse on 18 April after a settlement with Dominion Voting Systems was announced. (Getty Images)
Members of the legal team for Fox News leave a Delaware courthouse on 18 April after a settlement with Dominion Voting Systems was announced. (Getty Images)

Dominion’s sprawling court filings and arguments have sought to paint a wider picture of the business and its decision making. Documents revealed private admissions among Fox producers, executives and programme hosts questioning or ridiculing the network’s unreliable guests and their dubious arguments about Dominion, while, at the same time, conceding that the network risked alienating Fox viewers if it publicly rejected those claims.

The outcome of the Dominion case is not the end of election-related litigation involving Fox News, Mr Trump and his allies, as courts and prosecutors’ offices across the country investigate the former president and his attempts to reverse his 2020 loss.

Mr Trump, whose pursuit to upend an American election is driving his 2024 ambitions, was criminally charged in New York in a case involving hush money payments to at least two women ahead of his 2016 election, and a prosecutor in Georgia is reportedly considering charges against more than a dozen people connected to his attempt to pressure officials to overturn his loss in the state in 2020.

Fox was also separately sued by a now-former producer who has accused the company’s lawyers of coercing her testimony in the Dominion case.

Smartmatic, an election technology company based in London, also has filed a defamation lawsuit against the network seeking $2.7bn in damages.

“Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign,” Smartmatic attorney J Erik Connolly said in a statement. “Smartmatic will expose the rest.”