fox agreed to pay $787.5 million in a settlement with Dominion Voting Systems to avoid a last-minute defamation trial in which the voting machine company accused the television network of spreading falsehoods about alleged fraud in the 2020 US election.
The amount is slightly less than half of the compensation that Dominion sought with the lawsuit it filed in March 2021 against the conservative channel for its false allegations, in support of former President Donald Trump (2017-2021), that the company had manipulated the presidential elections in which Democrat Joe Biden prevailed.
“Truth matters,” Dominion attorney Justin Nelson said in announcing the settlement amount. “Lies have consequences,” he insisted in statements to journalists.
Dominion Chairman John Poulos told reporters outside of court that “Fox has admitted to telling lies about Dominion that have caused enormous harm to my company, our employees and our customers.” Nothing will be able to make up for it,” he added.
trial of the century
This agreement avoids the pearl of the media empire of rupert murdoch submit to the “defamation trial of the century,” as the New York Times called it. And Rupert Murdoch being questioned at 92 years old.
Analysts had predicted that it could be one of the most momentous defamation trials in US legal history.
The unexpected agreement, of which the details are unknown for now, was initially announced by the judge of the Delaware state court in charge of the case, who today had selected the jury and was preparing to hear the initial arguments of the two parties. .
“We are pleased to have reached an agreement on our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems,” Fox News confirmed in a statement, saying the deal reflects its “commitment to the highest journalistic standards.”
“We hope that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably will allow the country to overcome these issues,” the chain said.
After the November 2020 elections, Trump, then president and Republican candidate, repeatedly reiterated his accusation, rejected in various courts for lack of evidence, of electoral fraud after Biden’s victory.
Many of his advisers, including his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, defended the ruler’s claims that he had been the target of electoral fraud in which, they claimed, Dominion was involved.
foxnewsthe most watched news channel in the US, gave wide coverage to those accusations of fraud and several of their star presenters gave them credibility with viewers.
Without the expected judgment
The trial that was to start yesterday, Wednesday, had aroused enormous expectations in the United States, where it is very rare for defamation lawsuits against the media to be seen in court, since most of them settle with out-of-court settlements.
In general, the plaintiffs have this type of case very uphill, since the US Constitution and its First Amendment give broad protections to the press against possible errors and force them to demonstrate that the media acted intentionally and with malice.
For this, the main asset of Dominion there were numerous internal messages from journalists and Fox executives in which they made it clear that the accusations of electoral fraud were not believed that his own company was feeding before the viewers.
Those communications, which came to light as part of the preparation of this process, included words from Tucker Carlson, one of the best-known faces on Fox News, who, while on his show, gave space to these denunciations and assured that at least some were credible, in parallel text messages he referred to them as “absurd” and harshly criticized their promoters.
Presenters and officials of the network were expected to testify at the trial, including media mogul Rupert Murdoch, owner of the media empire of which Fox is a part.
After resolving this case, the channel is facing yet another lawsuit, this time before a New York court, filed by the election systems company Smartmatic, which is demanding 2.7 billion dollars for having also involved it in this alleged electoral fraud. without providing evidence.
Like Dominion, Smartmatic is suing Fox for having defamed them by giving space to Donald Trump’s lie about an electoral punch.
The Smartmatic accusation has attracted less attention so far, but it could be the most dangerous for Fox. Faced with Dominion’s claim of 1,600 million dollars (about 1,460 million euros), Smartmatic is demanding compensation of 2,700 million dollars (about 2,460 million euros).
The Manhattan Supreme Court granted the SmartMatic lawsuit against Fox News in March; against Maria Bartiromo, presenter of Fox Business; against Lou Dobbs, former host of Fox Business; and against Rudy Giuliani, a former Trump attorney.
Smartmatic alleges that Fox News aired a series of blatant lies in support of Trump’s conspiracy theory about an election stunt, and that its hosts and guests made 100 false claims. Among them, that during the 2020 elections Smartmatic technology was present in the recount of six of the disputed states, when the truth is that it was only present in the count of Los Angeles County.
Judicial record of the year 1964
One of the strongest precedents in lawsuits against the media was when in 1964, the United States Supreme Court limited the ability of public figures to sue the media for defamation.
The Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiffs had to show that the media broadcast false material with “actual malice” or knowledge of public defamation.
This became a solid shield for the media and journalists.
What is paradoxical is that the legal norm has been in the sights of some ultra-conservative politicians for years, such as former president Donald Trump himself and his current rival within the Republican Party, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
False fraud or journalism at the service of lies
Opinion. angel paez
The acknowledgment by the Fox News chain of having lied outright when it affirmed that fraud had been committed to prevent the re-election of Donald Trump has come just when the 80th anniversary of the famous phrase of Alan Barth —“The news is the first draft of the history”—, which depicted the importance of the exercise of journalism. Fox News and its owner rupert murdoch they have accepted having pulverized the backbone of journalism, which is to report according to the facts, with transparency and good faith.
When Barth wrote the memorable line, he was not thinking of the press knowingly lying, as the journalists of foxnews, and as replicated in Peru by those who launched a media campaign to denounce false fraud. Fox News wanted Trump to continue one more term as president of the United States. The Peruvian media involved wanted Keiko Fujimori to be declared president without having won the elections.
The media that openly supported the Fujimori candidate were the same ones that spread fabricated lies for the express purpose of questioning the electoral results. Arguments that lacked support, elementary logic or simple common sense were turned into front-page news, and were disseminated systematically, leaving no room for questioning, criticism, or doubt.
It was invented that the identity of thousands of deceased people had been used. That records were validated with signatures of impersonated citizens. That there were tables made up of members of the same family and that they voted the same. And even a presumed cryptanalyst was presented who pointed out that Keiko Fujimori had suffered vote theft. These lies deserved spectacular dissemination by the media involved and mobilized citizens who claimed fraud in the streets, calling into question the electoral process recognized by international organizations.
However, the responsibility for spreading fake news does not only fall on the owners of the media.. More serious is the action of the journalists who betrayed the trust of the public, for not having informed with the truth. Murdoch is as responsible as his journalists for knowingly lying, but they acted more shamefully for not refusing to spread falsehoods. Because of him, journalism is no longer “the best profession in the world”, as Gabriel García Márquez said.
The ‘black beast’. The company Dominion Voting Systemswhose electronic voting machines were used in 28 states in the presidential elections won by Democrat Joe Biden, was Trump’s beast noire, who accused the company, without evidence, of having been rigged.
Augusto Álvarez Rodrich, columnist
“Fox prevented its owners, managers and drivers from parading before the court to bare their miseries that, as journalists, they are tremendous buccaneers who move through the sewers of the trade…”.