Opening statements are set to begin on Monday in Wilmington, Delaware in a defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox Corp and Fox News, which is seeking $1.6 billion in damages over the network’s coverage of false vote-rigging claims in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Here is what to expect.
Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis began choosing members of the jury on Thursday and is due to finish the process on Monday before opening statements to the 12-member panel by lawyers for the two sides commence later that day. The trial promises to shed further light on the inner workings of one of the biggest U.S. cable networks, known for its conservative commentators.
Dominion sued Fox Corp and Fox News in 2021, accusing them of ruining its reputation by airing false claims by Republican former President Donald Trump and his lawyers that the Denver-based company’s voting machines were used to rig the outcome of the election against him and in favour of Democrat Joe Biden.
Dominion is seeking to prove that Fox personnel – show producers and hosts all the way up to the top executives – knew that the election claims were false but continued hosting guests who touted them, fearing the loss of viewers to competing right-wing media outlets that embraced the conspiracy theories. Dominion cited troves of internal Fox communications that it said proved the network knowingly spread falsehoods or recklessly disregarded the truth – the legal standard of “actual malice” that it must meet to prevail in a defamation case.
Fox has argued that Dominion cherry-picked evidence to mischaracterize the network’s coverage decisions, which it said were reasonable because election-rigging claims by the president’s lawyers were inherently newsworthy. Fox has said it also gave Dominion’s side of the story by airing its denials.
Will Rupert Murdoch testify?
Yes. The Fox Corp chairman is set to take the witness stand, along with other executives including Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott. The trial is also due to include testimony from a parade of conservative-leaning Fox hosts including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro. The trial is expected to last five to six weeks.
Could the two sides still settle?
Possibly, but experts think that is unlikely because the two sides have litigated the case fiercely for two years and framed it as more than a simple business dispute that could likely be resolved by a settlement.
Dominion has argued that Fox’s conduct was damaging to American democracy and that the network must be held accountable for crossing the line between journalism and the heedless pursuit of ratings. Fox has called Dominion’s lawsuit an assault on the free press and framed its stance in the case as a defence of journalism and diversity of ideas in the public square.
What about damages?
Fox has attacked the credibility of Dominion’s damages estimate, saying it is based upon unrealistic growth projections and faulty assumptions. The network has said Dominion was worth only $80 million in 2018 and has continued to grow and post strong revenues despite the untrue claims of election-rigging.
Dominion has defended its damages model, which it has said was based on industry standard accounting methods. An expert report commissioned by the company attributed scores of lost contracts to Fox’s coverage, though much of the report remains under seal. More of those details are likely to come out when Dominion’s expert testifies.