Fox News is urging Dominion to settle a mammoth defamation lawsuit as the judge delays the trial, multiple sources report
Fox is urging Dominion to settle its $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit, WSJ and Reuters report.
A judge delayed the trial the night before opening arguments were expected.
Court filings have already made embarrassing revelations about Fox hosts, executives and producers.
According to multiple reports, Fox is pushing to settle a mammoth defamation lawsuit against Dominion Voting Systems just before it is due to go to court.
On Sunday evening, Eric M. Davis, the Delaware Superior Court judge presiding over the lawsuit, said in a statement that the trial would begin Tuesday rather than Monday morning as scheduled. He did not give any reasons for the move.
Fox made a last-minute attempt to settle the case out of court, The Wall Street Journal reported with reference to people familiar with the situation. The Journal first reported on the settlement talks. Reuters also reported that Fox was attempting to settle the caseciting an unnamed source familiar with the matter.
According to the Washington PostLawyers for both sides are scheduled to meet on Monday to see if they can negotiate a last-minute deal.
A spokesman for Fox Corp., Fox News’ parent company, declined to comment to insiders about the recordings. A Dominion spokesman declined Insider’s request for comment.
The twist effectively muffles what was widely expected by First Amendment experts as a reckoning for the Right Media Company in the Delaware Superior Court.
Dominion first filed its lawsuit in March 2021, seeking $1.6 billion in damages. It is claimed that Fox News and Fox Corp. would have slandered it when it housed lawyers for conspiracy theorists Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, who told millions of viewers untruths about the company after the 2020 election.
Former President Donald Trump, who refused to accept that he had lost the presidential election, hired Powell and Giuliani a failed attempt to reverse his loss in court.
Powell and Giuliani put forward a false theory that Dominion — in partnership with rival voting technology company Smartmatic — implicated ties to dead Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and secretly passed votes from Trump to now-President Joe Biden. Dominion alleges that Fox hosts Jeanine Pirro, Maria Bartiromo and Lou Dobbs either supported or did not adequately defend these claims when they hosted Powell and Giuliani on their shows.
Fox has argued that it only reported newsworthy claims by the incumbent president. And though defamation lawsuits in the US are hard to win because of the country’s strong protections for free speech, First Amendment experts say largely agree that Dominion has enough evidence to win the case. The voting technology company would have to prove to Fox News that it acted with “actual malice” – a legal standard meaning the media knew they were lying or recklessly disregarding the truth.
According to Frederick Schauer, a University of Virginia professor and defamation law expert, plaintiffs’ victories in defamation lawsuits are often reversed on appeal. While juries often sympathize with plaintiffs, appellate courts tend to reverse their decisions by applying the standard of “actual malice,” he said. Fox and Dominion both appeared willing to take their litigation to appellate courts. fox had referred to the possibility in SEC filings, and both sides of the case brought experienced appellate attorneys to their teams. Fox Corp.’s top attorney, Viet Dinh, said he believes Fox has a good chance of winning their case in the Supreme Court. according to the New York Times.
The case has already damaged Fox
In the months leading up to the trial, both Dominion and Fox filed motions for summary judgment — essentially trying to convince Davis that their respective cases were strong enough for him to decide them for himself, rather than submitting them to a jury.
Dominion’s files contained numerous affidavits, texts and emails from hosts, executives and producers that proved extremely embarrassing to Fox.
Host Tucker Carlson wrote how “passionately” he hated Trump and resented it, like the then President could “destroy” Fox News.. In a group chat, Carlson and fellow hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham were all said Powell’s claims about flipping votes were ridiculous.
At the same time, Fox News anchors have been slow to embrace Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. Carlson said in a text message that Fox News’ decision-making office “destroyed our credibility” when it correctly called Arizona for Biden. He and Hannity tried to convince Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott to have a reporter fired for fact-checking Trump.
In his own messages and statements, Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch appeared concerned about going too far in Trump’s direction — but so did he wanted to make sure his followers wouldn’t change channels.
“He had a very large following, and they were probably mostly Fox viewers, so it would have been stupid,” Murdoch said of Trump.
Fox News also seemed driven by the rise of Newsmax to spread election untruths, Dominion’s filing shows. The right-wing media outlet had more explicitly embraced Trump’s election untruths following his loss to Biden, prompting a ratings surge.
Davis issued his summary judgment decision in late March, mostly in favor of Dominion.
“The evidence developed in this civil case shows that it is clear to KRISTALL that none of the statements made regarding Dominion about the 2020 election are true,” he wrote, using his own capitalization.
All Dominion needed to convince a jury, he felt, were three things: that Fox News acted with “actual malice”; whether Fox Corp. was also liable; and how bad the damage should be.
The weeks leading up to the study’s scheduled start date were full of twists and turns.
Abby Grossberg, a former producer of Bartiromo and Carlson, filed two lawsuits against Fox News. One such lawsuit, also filed in Delaware, claims the company’s lawyers tricked her into giving wrong answers for testifying in Dominion’s case. She said in court filings that Fox News producers should be viewed as “activists, not journalists.”
In the week leading up to the trial, Davis admonished Fox’s attorneys after finding that Fox News had withheld documents showing Murdoch held a corporate role at Fox News, not just its parent company Fox Corp. – an issue that is having a significant impact on whether Fox Corp. in which case it could be held liable. He also admonished Fox’s lawyers for appearing to withhold a Grossberg-produced recording of Giuliani appearing to be telling Bartiromo that some of his claims about Dominion were unproven. Fox has stated that it has complied with all of its disclosure obligations and that Grossberg’s claims are without merit.
Ahead of the expected trial, Fox argued so in court filings Dominion is worth almost $100 million — well below the $1.6 billion in damages the voting tech company has been seeking. Murdoch also has a track record of settling court cases against his companies. A Washington Post analysis noted that his companies have paid out nearly $750 million in settlement funds over the past 13 years, including settlements of numerous sexual harassment lawsuits against Fox News.
A potentially greater risk for Fox is Smartmatic’s lawsuit making its way through New York state court. Smartmatic sought $2.7 billion in damages and also has Giuliani as a defendant. Smartmatic’s lawsuit against Powell by a court in Washington, DCfor judicial reasons.
Dominion also has pending defamation lawsuits against Newsmax and another right-wing media outlet, One America News, both of which face existential jeopardy after being hired by DirecTV. Along with Smartmatic it has a few lawsuits against other conspiracy theoristsincluding MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, also pending.
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