Fox News to Pay $787.5 Million to Settle Dominion’s Defamation Lawsuit

From a story on by Erin Mulvaney, Joe Flint, and Isabella Simonetti headlined “Fox to Pay $787.5 Million to Settle Dominion’s Defamation Lawsuit”:

Fox News parent Fox Corp. agreed to pay $787.5 million to settle its closely watched legal battle with Dominion Voting Systems, averting a trial on the voting-machine company’s allegations that it was defamed by network broadcasts after the 2020 presidential election.

Dominion alleged that Fox hosts and guests amplified false claims that its voting technology helped rig the election for Joe Biden. The company sought $1.6 billion in damages. Fox argued that it was covering newsworthy claims by associates of then-President Donald Trump and that its broadcasts should be protected by the First Amendment.

Fox in a statement said the settlement reflected its “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.”

Superior Court Judge Eric Davis had already concluded that Fox News and Fox Business did in fact broadcast false claims about Dominion, voiced by both network hosts and Trump associates. Fox in its statement acknowledged the judge’s findings. Fox News doesn’t have to make an on-air apology as part of the agreement, people familiar with the matter said.

Dominion lawyers provided the settlement amount to reporters outside of a Delaware courthouse. Fox declined to comment on the specific dollar figure.

“Today I was reminded of the hell Dominion and their employees went through,” said Dominion attorney Stephen Shackelford. “They deserved money and accountability, and we got that from Fox.”

The settlement ends a two-year legal battle that has threatened Fox News and cast an unflattering spotlight on its inner workings, especially during the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. If it had gone to trial, the case was set to test the contours of modern media law.

The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that Fox was making a push to settle the case. Judge Davis had delayed the start of the trial by a day this week, without providing details, and opening statements scheduled for Tuesday afternoon were delayed while the parties worked toward a deal.

Defamation cases rarely go to trial. Plaintiffs must meet a high bar to prove their claims, showing that a defendant knowingly published falsehoods or showed a reckless disregard for the truth.

Dominion said it met that standard, pointing to internal Fox communications that showed top executives and hosts were deeply skeptical of election-fraud claims, even as Fox continued to air them. Some of the communications also showed that company executives were concerned about alienating Trump supporters who were a core part of the Fox News audience.

Fox has said Dominion cherry-picked internal network communications out of context. The network, which sought to portray its coverage as within the mainstream of media practices, has said the people responsible for its broadcasts didn’t knowingly air false claims. It also argued that Dominion’s claims for damages were wildly inflated.

Both sides faced risks from moving forward with a trial. Several high-profile Fox figures could have testified, including hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Maria Bartiromo, as well as Rupert Murdoch, chair of Fox News parent Fox Corp. Fox lawyers previously sought to keep Mr. Murdoch from having to appear in person, but Judge Davis had said he would require him to appear as a witness if Dominion formally requested his testimony at trial.

Dominion faced its own challenges. Some legal experts said the company had a strong case that it was defamed, but could have faced a tougher time convincing a jury to award such a large amount of damages. The company had argued that it suffered significant financial harm because of Fox’s election broadcasts, saying it lost contracts and had more difficulty engaging with elected officials and investors.

Fox faces a separate $2.7 billion lawsuit from Smartmatic USA, a voting-machine company making similar claims. A judge in that case recently allowed it to move forward. Fox has denied Smartmatic’s allegations.

Fox had just over $4 billion in cash when it last reported quarterly earnings. Wall Street analysts have said any substantial damages payments or settlements could limit Fox’s flexibility to make investments or engage in share buybacks.

Fox Corp. shares common ownership with News Corp NWSA -0.29%decrease; red down pointing triangle, parent of Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones & Co.

Doug Arthur, an analyst at Huber Research, said the settlement total was higher than close observers of the case expected.

“This is a shocking number given the size of Dominion,” Mr. Arthur said. Though Fox has the cash on hand to pay it, “nobody can make light of an $800 million payout,” he said.

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