A defamation lawsuit brought by the manufacturer of voting machines, Dominion, against Fox News for its coverage of the 2020 presidential election has been settled.
The network agreed to pay $787.5m (£644m) in a last-minute settlement before the trial, which is approximately half of the $1.6bn that Dominion had originally requested.
Fox, according to Dominion, promoted false assertions that the election was rigged against Donald Trump, harming the company’s reputation.
Rupert Murdoch and other Fox executives are exempt from testifying thanks to the agreement.The agreement is not essential to receive the judge’s blessing in this instance.
Fox said that its “commitment to the highest journalistic standards” was reflected in the settlement reached on Tuesday in one of the most eagerly awaited defamation cases in recent US history.
Fox stated that it “acknowledges the court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false” without going into further detail.
John Poulos, chief executive officer of Dominion, stated at a news conference that Fox had to “admit to telling lies, causing enormous damage to my company” as part of the transaction.
Attorney for the Dominion, Justin Nelson, told reporters, “The truth matters.”
“Lies have consequences,” he continued. “More than two years ago, a deluge of lies swept election officials and the Dominion into a parallel universe of conspiracies, doing grievous harm to the Dominion and the nation.”
For “democracy to endure,” Mr. Nelson continued, “Americans must share a commitment to facts.”
Important participants in the $1.6 billion Fox lawsuit
On Tuesday afternoon, the case’s opening arguments were scheduled to begin.
Once jury selection was complete, there was an unexplained delay of several hours before the settlement was announced, which led to rumors that negotiations were taking place behind the scenes.
Judge Eric Davis of the Delaware Superior Court announced on Monday that the trial would begin 24 hours later.
He gave no explanation, but according to US media, it was to allow both parties a chance to reach a resolution.
But on Tuesday morning, it seemed as though both sides were preparing for a protracted trial.
Fox’s legal team had consistently disputed Dominion’s demand for $1.6 billion in damages, calling the amount drastically exaggerated.
The “cherished” freedoms of expression and the press guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US Constitution would bear the “real cost” of the case, according to Fox.
Dominion’s complaint claimed that by airing untrue claims that the 2020 election was stolen from the previous president Trump, the conservative network had damaged the brand of the electronic voting firm.
According to the lawsuit, Fox’s decision to properly announce that Mr. Trump’s then-opposing candidate, Joe Biden, had won the critical state of Arizona on election night had offended viewers. As a result, Fox made the bogus statements in an effort to win over those viewers.
Two months after the Arizona ruling was made, two Fox executives lost their jobs.
Legal evidence that was made public prior to the trial revealed that several Fox executives and journalists privately questioned and rejected conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election being rigged yet continued to air them.
According to court records, Mr. Murdoch called the allegations against Dominion “really crazy” but did nothing about them.
Top-rated host Tucker Carlson called some of the assertions “insane” in a string of text exchanges. Sean Hannity, a different anchor, admitted in private that he did not trust them “for one second.”
According to Fox, the words were misinterpreted.
Judge Davis determined that the allegations against Dominion had already been disproven, stating that the falsities were “crystal clear” before the trial ever began.
Despite the enormous payout, some legal professionals think the deal was ultimately successful for the network.
Roy Gutterman, a professor at Syracuse University and an authority on the First Amendment, said: “Looking out at a six-week trial, this was going to be hard on everyone involved and probably embarrassing for Fox.”However, a decision in Fox’s favor may have been far more costly and had significant ramifications for decisions made in the future regarding the First Amendment and the actual malice threshold.
Jurors would have had to decide if Fox News airing claims it knew to be false with “actual malice” if the defamation trial had proceeded.
The deal, according to civil litigation attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel, “speaks to the massive threat Fox saw from this litigation,” the BBC said.
“The reputational harm of having executives, including chairman Rupert Murdoch, and hosts take the stand seems to have moved the parties towards a resolution,” Ms. Tuegel continued.
Another electoral technology company, Smartmatic, has filed a second, related defamation claim against Fox, seeking $2.7 billion.
Dominion still has legislation pending against OAN and Newsmax, two conservative news networks.
Additionally, the business has filed lawsuits against Trump associates Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and Mike Lindell.