Fox to Pay $787 Million in Dominion Defamation Trial Settlement

In an unexpected and abrupt end to a legal battle that had fascinated the media industry, Fox Corporation and Dominion Voting Systems agreed to settle a much-discussed $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit mere hours after a jury had been seated to consider the matter in Delaware’s Superior Court.

Attorneys for the two sides had been set to deliver opening statements to the jury Tuesday afternoon. But that activity was delayed after Judge Eric M. Davis called for a lunch break. When he finally returned to the courtroom two hours later than originally planned, the matter was moot.

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“The parties have resolved their case,” the judge said, without releasing any terms of the agreement between the two sides. Earlier Tuesday, Dominion had asserted it was not backing off its assertion that Fox had caused damages of more than $1.6 billion to its business and operations.

But in remarks delivered outside the Wilmington, Delaware courthouse, officials and executives from Dominion said Fox had agreed to pay the company $787.5 million — nearly half of what the company had sought in trial. “Fox has admitted to telling lies about Dominion,” said John Poulos, Dominion’s CEO.

At issue in the case were damages Dominion alleged it was owed after Fox News aired false claims about its actions and influence on the 2020 election. It is the second legal proceeding made against Fox News for its coverage of the aftermath of the 2020 race for the White House. Smartmatic, a separate voting technology company, has filed a massive $2.7 billion suit against Fox News that is still pending. Both suits alleged that Fox News falsely claimed the companies had rigged the election, repeated items about the matter and then refused to engage in efforts to set the record straight. The 2020 election was not fixed and its results were certified by multiple legal processes

The legal case had already generated intense scrutiny, with documents, emails and texts from senior Fox executives and well-known Fox News anchors and hosts all suggesting many people at the company knew they were disseminating conspiracy theories around the 2020 presidential election and Dominion Voting’s role in it.

The trial would have put the inner workings of Fox News on full display. Dominion had been prepared to summon Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Bret Baier from the network, as well as CEO Suzanne Scott and even Rupert Murdoch, the executive chairman of Fox Corp. himself.

“We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems. We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false,” Fox said in a statement. “This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards. We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues.”

Some First Amendment scholars feared the case would undermine libel protections that have been enjoyed for decades by U.S. media, despite acknowledging that Fox likely acted recklessly. Had Fox continued to fight the allegations, they argued, the case might have gone to a higher federal court, where laws governing media might have potentially reworked.

Whether the case will affect perceptions of Fox News by its core customers remains to be seen, but it does not seem likely. Fox News has not covered the case to the extent that media rivals have. And it will not be baking any kind of on-air retraction, according to a person familiar with the matter. Audiences for its programs, like “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and “The Five,” continue to generate more viewers that shows on Fox News rivals like CNN and MSNBC.

Effects are more likely to be seen in the parent company’s stock price. Fox Corp. has said in recent filings that it has $4 billion on hand. Even so, $787 million is no small sum, and Dominion’s victory suggests that Fox will also have to contend with Smartmatic in the not-too-distant future.

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