The Fox News defamation case was not, in fact, as entertaining as Succession. On the first day of trial, Fox settled with Dominion Voting Systems, heading off a process that could have aired embarrassing revelations about the news giant. Dominion says the settlement included a $787 million payout — apparently enough to compensate it for months of false claims about the 2020 presidential election.
As The New York Times reports, a Delaware judge announced the settlement after a morning of jury selection and just before attorneys’ opening statements. The dismissal means Fox Corporation won’t have to put some of its biggest names on the stand, including chairman Rupert Murdoch and Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Dominion revealed the payment in a press conference. “Money is accountability and we got that today from Fox,” said Dominion attorney Stephen Shackleford, according to CNN reporter Oliver Darcy. Dominion had originally sought $1.6 billion.
In a statement, Fox News Media conceded parts of Dominion’s allegations in vague terms. “We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems,” it said. “We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false. This settlement reflects Fox’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.”
As alluded to by Fox, a judge had already ruled that Fox aired false claims about Dominion’s role in the election, including that the company had attempted to covertly engineer the defeat of former President Donald Trump. Dominion still had to establish that the statements were made with “actual malice,” a high bar that would require demonstrating Fox knew the statements were false or seriously doubted them. While it’s difficult to meet the actual malice standard, Fox was widely understood to be in a weak position. The case surfaced text messages revealing that Fox News stars like Carlson were ambivalent about promoting Trump’s election lies, and just before the trial, it was sanctioned for withholding evidence.
Fox still faces a lawsuit by another election tech company, Smartmatic. And in a statement to Semafor editor-in-chief Ben Smith, Smartmatic indicated it would continue its fight with Fox. “Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign. Smartmatic will expose the rest,” attorney Erik Connolly said, according to Smith’s Twitter feed. “Smartmatic remains committed to clearing its name, recouping the significant damage done to the company, and holding Fox accountable for undermining democracy.”