The Guardian: LONDON, England, By Sam Levine & Kira Lerner In DELAWARE – Fox and the voting equipment company Dominion reached a US$787.5m settlement in a closely watched defamation lawsuit, ending a dispute over whether the network and its parent company knowingly broadcast false and outlandish allegations that Dominion was involved in a plot to steal the 2020 election.
The settlement came before scheduled opening statements and after an unexpected lengthy delay Tuesday afternoon just after the jury was sworn in. Neither party immediately disclosed the terms of the settlement other than the dollar amount, and attorneys for Dominion declined to answer questions about whether it requires Fox to issue a retraction or a formal apology.
Members of the Fox legal team walk back to their offices on Tuesday after a settlement with Dominion Voting Systems – Saquan Stimpson/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock
“The parties have resolved their case,” judge Eric Davis told jurors on Tuesday afternoon before excusing them from the courtroom.
In a press conference outside the courthouse, Dominion attorney Justin Nelson said the more than $787m represented “vindication and accountability”. The settlement amount is less than half of the $1.6bn Dominion demanded in its lawsuit.
“Truth matters,” he said. “Lies have consequences. The truth does not know red or blue,” he continued. “People across the political spectrum can and should disagree on issues, even of the most profound importance. But for our democracy to endure another 250 years and hopefully much longer, we must share a commitment to facts.”
In a statement, Fox said the settlement reflects its “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,” the statement said.
Opening statements were scheduled to start on Tuesday after a lunch break, but the judge and jurors did not return to the room until close to 4pm. During the more than two-hour delay, attorneys huddled and left the courtroom to convene in adjacent meeting rooms.
After returning to the courtroom, Davis thanked the jurors for their service, and called the efforts by the lawyers on both sides “the best lawyering I’ve had, ever” in his career on the bench since 2010.
The anticipated six-week jury trial was originally set to begin on Monday, but Davis, the judge overseeing the case, postponed the start of trial by a day as the sides worked to reach a settlement agreement.
The trial in Wilmington, Delaware, was set to be a blockbuster media trial. Rupert Murdoch, the 92-year-old chief executive of Fox, was called to testify in the case, along with top Fox talent including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro and Maria Bartiromo.
The lawsuit was seen as one of the most aggressive efforts to hold Fox, or any actor, accountable for spreading the lie that the 2020 election was stolen. It was a lie that led to threats against election officials across the country, and ultimately helped fuel the violent attack on the US Capitol on 6 January. Nine deaths have been linked to the event.
Though the case was settled, Dominion had unearthed a stunning trove of internal communications from Fox laying bare how top talent and hosts knew the outlandish claims about Dominion and a stolen election were false. The extensive messages offered a remarkable insight into how some of the most powerful hosts in America did not buy the allegations they were broadcasting to their audience each night.
Dominion, a relatively obscure company until the 2020 election, sought $1.6bn in damages in the case. It challenged repeated claims made on Fox’s air after the general election that Dominion switched votes, paid government kickbacks, and was founded in Venezuela to rig elections for Hugo Chávez.
In the press conference Tuesday, Dominion CEO John Poulos called the settlement historic because of Fox’s admission that it was telling lies.
“Throughout this process, we have sought accountability,” he said. “We believe the evidence brought to light through this case underscores the consequences of spreading lies. Truthful reporting in the media is essential to our democracy.”
Even before trial, Davis had already concluded that Fox’s claims about Dominion were false. “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 in a ruling earlier this month.
The question that would have been before the jury was whether Fox committed “actual malice” in airing the claims. That required Dominion to show whether key decision makers were aware the claims were false or acted with reckless disregard for the truth.
Fox still faces several legal battles related to its decision to broadcast false claims. Smartmatic, another voting equipment company, is suing the company for $2.7bn. Abby Grossberg, a former Fox employee who worked for Bartiromo and Carlson, is also suing the company, alleging she was coerced into giving misleading testimony.
The network also faces a separate lawsuit from a shareholder who is seeking damages and argues that executives breached their fiduciary duty to the company by causing false claims about the election to be broadcast.
During the press conference, Stephen Shackelford, an attorney who was set to give opening arguments for Dominion on Tuesday, said that the company will continue seeking accountability.
“Money is accountability,” he said. “We got that today from Fox. But we’re not done yet. We’ve got some other people who have some accountability coming for them.”
Top Feature Photo: ‘Lies have consequences’: Dominion reacts to Fox settlement – video