The Big Media Trial Is Over in a Day

From The Poynter Report with Tom Jones:

As media observers and consumers settled in for what we thought was going to be a six-week trial full of explosive testimony, eye-popping revelations and a breathtaking verdict, we instead are left with what to make of Tuesday’s news of an anticlimactic settlement.

Dominion Voting Systems was suing Fox News for $1.6 billion, claiming the network had aired guests who put forth unproven lies that Dominion’s voting machines flipped the election from Donald Trump to Joe Biden and that Fox News knew the claims were not true. In addition, Dominion alleged some Fox News hosts seemingly endorsed the lies and executives allowed it all to happen to placate viewers.

In the end, the two parties reached a settlement, with Fox News agreeing to pay Dominion $787.5 million. Perhaps just as importantly, Dominion made its point: Fox News lied.

Those who were rooting hard against Fox News were likely disappointed with Tuesday’s settlement.

Critics of Fox News wanted their pound of flesh. They wanted to see Fox News pay for its lies, and not just by writing a check. They wanted to see the network embarrassed and humbled. They wanted to see hosts such as Tucker Carlson and Maria Bartiromo look into the camera and grovel by saying, “We lied to you. The 2020 election was not rigged. Dominion did not switch votes. The election was fair and square. I’m sorry. Please forgive us.”

But that won’t happen. The settlement does not include Fox News offering any on-air apologies.

Margaret Sullivan, the former Washington Post media columnist who now writes columns for Guardian US, tweeted, “Dominion should have insisted on an apology, including prominently on air.” She added, “It would have been in the public interest.”

Veteran media reporter Brian Stelter tweeted, “You could argue that Dominion wins but the public loses.”

Most legal experts following this case said Dominion had one of the best cases they had ever seen. If so, why settle? Why not let it go to a jury?

As is often the case in any business, the answer can be found in one word: money. Make no mistake, $787.5 million is staggering. The Washington Post reported it is “the largest publicly disclosed monetary settlement ever in an American defamation action.”

Elie Honig, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, told CNN, “Translated it means ‘we got caught lying by the judge’ — and I think that’s exactly why we are seeing this absolutely jaw-dropping number.”

It’s about half of what Dominion was asking for in the trial. But Honig said, “I didn’t think there was any way they would get $1.6 billion — even when they proved their case, even if they proved it overwhelmingly to a jury. Let’s remember, by its own estimation, Dominion valued the entire company at somewhere between $30 and $80 million. This settlement is 10 times the value of Dominion as an entire company. That’s how strong a statement this is with this number.”

So what now?

Well, in terms of airtime, it’s back to business as usual for Fox News. The network has given bare-bones coverage of the trial and isn’t likely to bring it up moving forward.

But its legal issues are not over. Another voting systems company, Smartmatic, has filed a $2.7 billion lawsuit against Fox News.

Smartmatic attorney J. Erik Connolly said, “Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign. Smartmatic will expose the rest. Smartmatic remains committed to clearing its name, recouping the significant damage done to the company, and holding Fox accountable for undermining democracy.”

And while Fox News might want to write its checks and bury this whole ordeal in an unmarked grave in the middle of nowhere to never be seen again, it will long be remembered. In the end, Fox News cannot avoid something that should be devastating to any outlet claiming to be a legitimate news organization with journalism ethics: It lied to its audience and knew so while it was doing it. And not just on one occasion. And it wasn’t just a rogue employee. It included the founder of the company, the network’s top executives and some of its most popular and recognizable personalities.

Justin Nelson, a lawyer for Dominion, told the media outside the Wilmington, Delaware, courtroom, “The truth matters. Lies have consequences. Over two years ago, a torrent of lies swept Dominion election officials across America into an alternative universe of conspiracy theories causing grievous harm to Dominion and the country.”

Dominion CEO John Poulos told reporters, “Fox has admitted to telling lies about Dominion that caused enormous damage to my company, our employees and the customers that we serve.”

Fox didn’t give the full-throated apology that many wanted, but the network did acknowledge it lied. In a statement after the settlement, Fox News said, “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. 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.”

Meanwhile, Dominion isn’t done yet either. Dominion attorney Stephen Shackelford told reporters, “Money is accountability, and we got that today from Fox, but we’re not done yet. We’ve got some other people who have some accountability coming toward them. And we’ll move right on to the next one.”

Other news from the Dominion-Fox News settlement:

Appearing on CNN on Tuesday night, Dominion lead counsel Justin Nelson addressed why an on-air apology from Fox News wasn’t a part of the settlement. He said, “Our goals were accountability, No. 1, and trying to have some semblance of a whole for Dominion as a company, to have some remuneration for the reputational hit that it has suffered and continues to suffer as a result of these lies. And those have been our goals all along. And today’s settlement achieved that. And we could have gone all the way through trial and obtained some unknown judgment. But what we achieved today was certainty. What we achieved today was again nearly $800 million in the settlement number. And we achieved the admission of — from Fox that it was the acknowledgment that the court, in fact, was correct in calling these lies.”

What does $787.5 million mean to Fox News? The Associated Press’ David Bauder, Randall Chase and Geoff Mulvihill wrote, “It represents about one-quarter of the $2.96 billion the company reported earning last year before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — a figure often used to approximate a company’s cash flow.”

The New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg and Katie Robertson with “A $787.5 Million Settlement and Embarrassing Disclosures: The Costs of Airing a Lie.” They wrote, “The one question that only time will answer is whether the settlement was enough to cause Fox News to change the way it handles such incendiary and defamatory conspiracy content. The amount is huge — $787.5 million. Fox News certainly doesn’t want to see a similar settlement anytime soon as other legal cases loom, notably a $2.7 billion suit from another election technology company, Smartmatic. But Fox did manage to escape Dominion’s goal of an on-air admission or apology, meaning it did not have to force either on its audience, which did not hear much about the case on Fox’s shows to begin with.”

The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake with “4 takeaways from the Dominion v. Fox settlement.”

The Atlantic’s David A. Graham with “Fox News Lost the Lawsuit but Won the War.” Graham wrote, “Dominion’s choice to settle comes as a great disappointment to many critics of Fox, and is also probably a smart financial decision. For the critics, this case was about democracy and disinformation and provided an opportunity to hold Fox accountable for years of broadcasting hogwash. For Dominion, it was primarily about business. No matter how lofty the language its spokespeople used, the company didn’t sue to fix the American media landscape.”
Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson did not mention the news on his show Tuesday night.

Former Fox News prime-time host Bill O’Reilly wrote, “This is what happens when money becomes more important than honest information. Since I left FNC, the template changed from ‘Fair and Balanced’ to ‘tell the audience what it wants to hear.’ And millions of Trump voters, to this day, want to believe the 2020 election was rigged. That opinion can certainly be presented if you provide a counter opinion — equal time. However, once the facts begin to overwhelm any point of view, a news agency has an obligation to say that.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper, on air, said, this was “one of the ugliest and most embarrassing moments in the history of journalism.” As he read Fox News’ statement, he added, “I’m sorry, this is going to be difficult to say with a straight face.” He then paused and laughed while reading it.

And here is Anderson Cooper’s breakdown on CNN. He said that “Fox blinked.”

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