Update: Fox News settles suit with Dominion Voting Systems
Fox News has resolved a defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems on April 18, 2023, the day the trial was set to begin. The terms of the settlement were not immediately disclosed. Fox host Tucker Carlson parted ways with the company less than a week after the settlement. The New York Times reported that racist text messages sent by Carlson reportedly contirubted to his dismissal.
Soon after Donald Trump lost the U.S. presidential election in 2020, Fox News began airing false claims that Dominion Voting Systems, a Toronto-based company, was involved in a large plot to steal the election.
There was no known widespread fraud in the 2020 election, a fact that even Mr. Trump’s attorney-general William Barr has confirmed. And behind the scenes, text messages and internal documents show that Fox News anchors doubted the claims even as they broadcast stories about election fraud to their millions of viewers.
In March, 2021, Dominion filed a US$1.6-billion defamation lawsuit accusing Fox News of trying to boost ratings by spreading false claims that its machines were used to rig the election.
Opinion: I’m the CEO of Dominion Voting Systems – and I believe the truth still matters
Here is what you need to know about the lawsuit, what has been revealed so far, and what the outcome could mean for freedom of the press.
What is Dominion Voting Systems?
Dominion Voting Systems is a modestly sized voting technology company that produces electronic voting hardware and software, such as voting machines and tabulators, and sells to clients in both Canada and the United States. It is particularly known for its ballot-counting technology that allows for optical scanning, electronic voting and accessible features for voters with disabilities.
The company’s technology is used within 150 municipalities, provincewide elections including Ontario’s 2010 vote, and 1,000 counties in the United States. According to a study from the University of Pennsylvania, more than 71 million U.S. voters used the company’s technology in the 2016 presidential election.
Dominion CEO and founder John Poulos started the company in Toronto in 2002, and its U.S. headquarters are in Denver. Mr. Poulos said that his sister was his first investor and they picked the company name as an homage to the 1920 Dominion Elections Act, legislation that removed barriers from voting.
In a 2021 column for The Globe and Mail, John Poulos wrote:
The ideals encapsulated in that piece of legislation reflected our core purpose in founding the company: increasing election transparency and helping voters vote.
Why is Dominion suing Fox News?
After Mr. Trump lost the presidential election, Fox News began covering conspiracy theories that the election was stolen, which included voting poll workers secretly removing ballots in suitcases and mail-in ballots being discovered in a ditch.
The theory that Dominion rigged the election by switching votes for Mr. Trump to Joe Biden gained the most traction amongst Trump allies and supporters. Mr. Trump’s legal adviser Sidney Powell and lawyer Rudy Giuliani spread these false claims on Fox News, and high-profile anchors including Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson amplified them.
Dominion sent e-mails to Fox attempting to factually address the fraud allegations, but the cable network and its hosts continued to air the conspiracy theories. In March, 2021, Dominion filed a US$1.6-billion defamation lawsuit. “The truth matters. Lies hav
e consequences,” the lawsuit said. “If this case does not rise to the level of defamation by a broadcaster, then nothing does.”
Dominion and Goliath: Inside the Canadian voting-tech company’s fight with Fox News
Dominion’s filing, which was made public on Feb. 17, is replete with references to e-mails and statements in which Fox Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch and other top Fox executives say the claims made about Dominion on-air were false.
How has Fox News responded?
Fox has argued that it had a right to report on Mr. Trump’s claims of vote manipulation and that the lawsuit would stifle press freedom, noting that freedom of the press and freedom of speech are rights that are protected by the U.S. Constitution.
Fox has said the $1.6 billion in damages being sought by Dominion is unrealistic and based on flawed economic modelling. An expert report commissioned by Dominion attributed scores of lost contracts to Fox’s coverage, though much of the report remains under seal.
Has Dominion filed other defamation lawsuits?
Dominion has filed lawsuits against high-profile Trump allies, including Mr. Giuliani, Ms. Powell, podcaster Joe Oltmann, Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, and Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock.com.
The company has also filed suits against Newsmax Media Inc. and Herring Networks Inc.’s One America News Network, accusing the conservative media networks of airing false reports of vote manipulation.
What evidence has emerged from the lawsuit so far?
On March 7, Dominion and Fox released hundreds of documents, including excerpts from depositions, text messages and e-mails, related to the lawsuit. The excerpts reveal the inner workings of Fox News, and how the cable network blurred the lines between journalism and party politics.
Text messages from Fox anchors revealed Mr. Carlson’s behind-the-scenes opinion of Mr. Trump: “I hate him passionately.” The exchanges include Mr. Carlson’s text conversation on Jan. 4, 2021, with an unknown person, in which the prime-time host expressed anger toward Mr. Trump. He said that “we are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights” and that “I truly can’t wait.”
Documents from Mr. Murdoch’s deposition also revealed that the Fox Corp. chairman questioned whether the network’s news anchors “went too far” with election fraud claims. He also said that Fox commentators Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro and Mr. Hannity “endorsed” the false narrative.
What are the greater implications of the trial?
The future of Dominion as a company is at stake as many weigh the greater implications of the trial. But a win for Dominion could, legal experts say, begin to challenge some of the misinformation that has become the universal flotsam of the social media age. “You’re going to have to be very cognizant of what you say now, from a legal standpoint, unless you want to pay big damages. And I think that’s the way it should be,” said Houston lawyer Wes Ball.
Questions about misinformation within the media and election transparency will also come into play.
Fox News lawyers have argued that “the core of this case remains about freedom of the press and freedom of speech, which are fundamental rights.” The Globe’s Gary Mason writes, however, that Fox News will only have itself to blame after deciding “it was in their interest to feed their right-wing followers lies and falsehoods about election fraud.”
When does the trial start?
The trial was set to start April 17, but was delayed to April 18. Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis did not state a reason for the delay, but a source familiar with the matter told Reuters that Fox had been pursuing a possible settlement.
The trial, which is set to last six weeks, will take place in Delaware, where the suit was filed. Though Fox News is headquartered in New York and Dominion in Denver, both companies are incorporated in Delaware.
Who is expected to testify during the trial?
Mr. Murdoch is set to testify during the trial, along with Fox executives and on-air hosts, including Mr. Carlson, Mr. Hannity and Jeanine Pirro.
With reports from Nathan VanderKlippe, Reuters and The Associated Press