Dominion CEO says $787.5M Fox News settlement – which spared Murdoch and Tucker Carlson from taking the stand – is a ‘big step forward in democracy’: Lawsuits continue against Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Mike Lindell, and Newsmax
- CEO John Poulos said it was important for the political system to ‘send a signal that if media companies lie … they will be prepared to pay a very, very high price’
- Fox settled at the eleventh hour Tuesday after Dominion alleged the network knowingly aired false claims that its machines helped rig the 2020 election
- The agreement means owner Rupert Murdoch and primetime stars like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity avoided testifying in open court
The boss of voting technology firm Dominion today hailed its record-breaking $787.5million Fox News defamation settlement as a ‘big step forward in democracy’.
John Poulos told Good Morning America it was important for the political system to ‘send a signal that if media companies lie … and they do so knowingly, they will be prepared to pay a very, very high price.’
Fox settled at the eleventh hour Tuesday after Dominion alleged the conservative network knowingly aired false claims that its machines were used to rig the 2020 presidential election.
The agreement to end the case avoided what most experts suggested would have been a damaging, high-profile trial for the channel in which owner Rupert Murdoch and primetime stars like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity would have been compelled to testify in open court.
Now Dominion marches on with lawsuits against right-wing network Newsmax as well as Trump allies Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and Mike Lindell.
John Poulos told Good Morning America it was important for the political system to ‘send a signal that if media companies lie … and they do so knowingly, they will be prepared to pay a very, very high price’
Rupert Murdoch avoided having to testify in open court after settling for more than $780million Tuesday
Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, and other on-air stars, were deposed in the case last year
Meanwhile Fox is staring down the barrel of a $2.7billion lawsuit from another voting technology company, Smartmatic, over its coverage of debunked election-rigging claims. Legal experts suggested the settlement with Dominion handed Smartmatic a ‘bargaining chip.’
Referring to the Fox case, Poulos told GMA: ‘The fact is [Fox] published falsehoods about us and it wasn’t just once or twice, it wasn’t just on one day or two days, it was 20 statements over two-and-a-half months.
‘This was not the case of a media company pursuing the truth and making a mistake. They knew.’
Judge Eric Davis announced the last-minute agreement after the 12 jurors had been selected and the Delaware Superior Court was readying to hear opening arguments.
Fox News said in a statement it was ‘pleased’ to have ended the dispute and added: ‘We acknowledge the court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.’
Knoxville media law professor Stuart Brotman today warned that the settlement was a boon for Smartmatic which alleges Fox knowingly spread false claims that its software was used to flip votes. Conspiracy theorists erroneously claimed Smartmatic owned Dominion, and the companies mounted similar allegations in their lawsuits.
‘Smartmatic now has a bargaining chip, and Fox has shown it is willing to take out its checkbook and write a big check,’ said University of Tennessee, Knoxville media law professor Stuart Brotman. ‘From Fox´s standpoint, now that they realize they can get a successful settlement, they have a basis for a real discussion with Smartmatic.’
Smartmatic attorney J. Erik Connolly said in a statement Tuesday the company is committed to clearing its name, recouping the damage done to it and ‘holding Fox accountable for undermining democracy.’
Jeanine Pirro interviewing Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, who is also being sued by Dominion in a separate lawsuit. They are pictured on November 14, 2020
The suit also slams the network for allowing guests such as former New York mayor and Trump cohort, Rudy Giuliani and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell on air to peddle conspiracy theories about voter fraud unchallenged and unchecked
Fox denies the allegations, saying in a recent statement the network had a right to report on highly newsworthy allegations of voter fraud. It has also called Smartmatic’s damages claims ‘outrageous, unsupported, and not rooted in sound financial analysis.’
Fox was recently dealt a setback in the case after an appeals court declined to toss it, finding Smartmatic alleged in ‘detailed fashion’ how Fox ‘effectively endorsed and participated’ in defamation.
Dominion boss Poulos told reporters yesterday outside the court that Fox had ‘admitted to telling lies about Dominion that caused enormous damage to my company, our employees, and our customers. Nothing can ever make up for that.’
The proceedings, trailed by the New York Times as ‘the defamation trial of the century,’ had been due to test the limits of free speech rights for media in America when willfully broadcasting misinformation.
The agreement does not require Fox hosts to apologize on-air or admit spreading falsehoods.
Dominion sued Fox News for $1.6billion in March 2021, alleging it promoted Donald Trump’s baseless claim that its machines were used to rig the presidential election he lost to Joe Biden.
Dominion argued that Fox aired the lies despite knowing they were untrue.
It said the network began endorsing Trump’s conspiracy because the channel was losing audience to smaller rivals after it became the first television outlet to call the southwestern state of Arizona for Biden, effectively projecting the Democrat would win the presidency.
The trial has been widely viewed as a test of whether Fox’s coverage crossed the line between ethical journalism and the heedless pursuit of ratings, as Dominion alleges and Fox denies
Fox News denied defamation. It claimed it was only reporting on Trump’s allegations, not supporting them, and was protected by free speech rights enshrined in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
The protection makes it difficult for plaintiffs to win defamation suits in the United States.
In pre-trial hearings, Davis ruled that there was no question Fox aired false statements about Dominion.
For Dominion to have won however, it would have been required to prove that Fox News acted with actual malice – knowing the information was wrong or having a ‘reckless disregard’ for the truth.
The tough burden has been a bedrock of US media law since 1964.
Dominion released a trove of internal Fox News communications in which some commentators and executives balked at Trump’s claims and even expressed a dislike of the ex-president despite praising him on air – evidence, it said, of malice.
A filing showed that Murdoch described comments by former Trump advisors Giuliani and Powell pushing Trump’s claim that the election was stolen from him as ‘really crazy stuff. And damaging.’
Murdoch also admitted in a deposition in the case that some on-air hosts had ‘endorsed’ the lie but he denied that the network in its entirety had pushed it, according to court documents filed by Dominion.
Carlson told staff he couldn’t wait until he could ‘ignore Trump most nights,’ adding: ‘I hate him passionately.’
Fox News accused Dominion of ‘cherry-picking and taking quotes out of context.’
John Culhane, a professor at Delaware Law School at Widener University, said high-profile Fox names defending themselves in court would have been much worse for the network than the settlement.
‘The audio would have been replayed a thousand times, forever,’ he said.
Fox News has overcome several crises in recent years and was the most watched cable news channel for a seventh year in a row last year, well ahead of competitors MSNBC and CNN.
It employs some traditional news reporters, but the majority of its airtime is given to conservative commentators, including in prime-time shows.
‘The network has been completely exposed as a partisan propaganda outlet that is willing to do anything for profit and power,’ said Media Matters advocacy group president Angelo Carusone, reacting to the settlement.
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