Experts say a massive defamation case related to Fox News and its parent company’s 2020 election coverage has a good chance of prevailing, which poses a severe danger to the network’s financial and reputational health.
The plaintiff in the $1.6 billion lawsuit is Dominion Voting Systems, a voting technology company. It claims Fox News defamed it by spreading false claims made by former President Trump and his friends that Dominion’s services were used to illegally elect Joe Biden as president.
Several attorneys have warned that Fox’s legal position is precarious after reviewing Dominion’s discovery materials, which include internal conversations and depositions.
Dominion contends in court documents that the anecdotes show how Fox News hosts and management knew the charges being pushed by Trump’s allies against Dominion were untrue but aired them regardless.
As Catherine Ross, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University who focuses on First Amendment problems, put it, “One just doesn’t see cases like this in defamation,” she said.
She concluded that “Fox does not appear to have any viable defense,”, especially in light of what Dominion found in its discovery of real-time knowledge of falsehood.
Fox’s A-listers and high-ups have been deposed by Dominion, including Rupert Murdoch, Fox’s owner and co-chairman of Fox Corp.
Texts and depositions reveal that several hosts and executives had serious questions about Trump’s assertions but were afraid to fact-check him for fear of the audience’s reaction.
Fox News contends Dominion is “cherry-picking” statements and intentionally pushing out pieces of what it received in discovery to generate press publicity as it develops its case.”
The network explained its position in a statement issued earlier this week.
According to the network, “Dominion’s lawsuit has always been more about what will generate headlines than what can withstand legal and factual scrutiny,” as evidenced by the company’s decision to reduce its inflated damages demand by more than $500 million after its expert debunked its implausible claims.
“Their summary judgment motion took an extreme, unsupported view of defamation law that would prevent journalists from basic reporting, and their efforts to publicly smear Fox for covering and commenting on allegations by a sitting President of the United States should be recognized for what it is: a blatant violation of the First Amendment,” it said.
The network’s claims, however, have been met with resistance from the legal community. For example, Ross cited Sidney Powell, an attorney who formerly worked for ex-President Trump’s legal team. Like many other Trump backers, Powell believes there is widespread voting fraud.
“You can cover this without providing a platform to someone like Sidney Powell because when you bring her on her program, you’re liable for her lies if you don’t address them in real time,” Ross added. It’s possible to frame and report on an issue without endorsing it or calling it “news” or “fact.”
According to several legal experts, there has been no sign of settlement talks, which is uncommon given the damning data that look unfavorable for Fox News.
This week, both Fox’s attorneys and a Dominion spokesperson have declined to comment on the possibility of a settlement in the lawsuit.
Fox’s legal team argues that while some of the headlines about Dominion’s latest filing may be unpleasant for the firm, they do not rise to defamation.
Media and legal experts believe that the case is shedding light on how the biggest news outlets in the world report on questionable claims supported by influential individuals and how failing to scrutinize them can have serious implications.