John Poulos is the chief executive officer of Dominion Voting Systems.
Does anyone care about the truth any more? Given how easily misinformation seems to spread and the ways some media outlets show contempt for serious fact-checking, one may wonder.
But I’m convinced the truth does matter. This week’s developments in my company’s lawsuit against Fox prove it.
When I started Dominion Voting Systems more than 20 years ago in my attic in Toronto, my sister took out a loan to become my first investor. My original partners included my Grade 9 science partner from Humberside Collegiate Institute, and others from the University of Toronto’s engineering school. We wanted to help blind people vote, plus design technology that would accurately and transparently count paper ballots.
Out of the 93 companies in that space across North America, we were the smallest. It was a long-shot bet with lofty goals, but when the city clerk in Trenton, Ont., put her trust in us for the city’s 2003 municipal election, we felt that we had a chance.
We grew in the most remarkable way, across Canada and the United States. By the eve of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, we had an annual profit of almost US$50-million and had become the second-largest provider of voting machines in North America. We’d earned a terrific track record and worked hard for a good reputation that promised only continued growth and opportunity. Our customers, investors and employees staked their reputations to Dominion’s brand.
We never dreamed it would all come crashing down because of harmful lies.
As we alleged in multiple lawsuits, after the 2020 election Fox and several other media companies (and individuals) spread outrageous and harmful lies about my company in pursuit of ratings and profits. Those lies had enormous consequences – not just on our business, but on the personal lives of our customers, our employees and all of our families. They faced death threats; they were accosted at their local grocery stores and gyms; they received targeted messages threatening their children. The source of this vitriol? People who believed the media outlets that they trusted to tell the truth – but which were actually pushing things they knew to be false because they represented, as one Fox employee put it, ratings “gold.”
Nothing can ever make up for the harm and damage these lies caused us. As one of our customers testified to under oath, these lies have made Dominion one of the most demonized brands in the world.
This past Tuesday, my employees and I were relieved to have successfully held Fox, the first media company we’re suing, to account for its actions. Fox agreed to pay the largest media-defamation settlement in U.S. history. Further, we were able to shine a light on the truth through our legal filings and motions. As we showed in those filings, the mountains of evidence we discovered in the course of this litigation revealed that leaders and high-profile figures at Fox knew they were lying about Dominion.
This was not a case of a media outlet making well-intentioned mistakes in pursuit of the truth. Indeed, we did not sue other media outlets that quickly retracted and apologized for inaccurate stories about Dominion.
No, this was a case where certain media outlets knowingly and repeatedly amplified and endorsed lies. In Fox’s case, they didn’t air lies about Dominion just once or twice, and it didn’t happen over just one day or one week. In our lawsuit, we outlined 20 different false statements that were published and republished over a nearly three-month period.
After reviewing millions of Fox documents, we confirmed what we already knew to be true: They did not receive any evidence for their claims (unless you count the “source” who wrote such things as “the Wind tells me I’m a ghost”). What we did find was Fox’s own internal fact-checking department and sources inside the White House warning them that their statements were not true, all while we were sending them thousands of our own fact-check e-mails. The evidence we exposed showed that Fox aired the lies anyway because they were good for ratings.
The judge in our defamation case saw all of this clearly. In his ruling on our motion for summary judgment last month, he wrote that it was “CRYSTAL clear that none of the statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true.” It was a relief to have finally settled that as a matter of law, and it was a relief this week to settle our lawsuit against Fox on our terms.
Our lawsuit, and in particular the size of the settlement, also proved that the truth matters after all.
A strong, free press is essential to democracy. There must be space for the media to make honest mistakes, which is why I believe the bar to prove actual malice against a media company is understandably very high. But under U.S. law, the First Amendment does not protect an outlet that knowingly spreads lies. We rely on the media to hold governments, institutions and the public to account, but for that to work, it is essential for media to prioritize the truth, take fact-checking seriously and maintain journalistic integrity. They must never knowingly amplify or endorse lies to satisfy an audience, juice ratings or increase profits.
On Tuesday afternoon I was handed a pen to sign the final agreement with Fox, but was cautioned to wait until the wire transfer was ready. At that moment, I imagined what the company’s board of directors was thinking as it was called to approve a US$787.5-million wire payment to Dominion after spending the past two years proclaiming how proud they were of their Dominion coverage. I really hope they took a minute to appreciate that they just set a new price tag for knowingly spreading lies.
Editor’s note: (May 3, 2023): A previous version of this story said that the city clerk in Trenton, N.J, had reached out to Dominion about the city’s 2003 municipal election. The city was Trenton, Ont.