Fox News settles a defamation lawsuit with Dominion for $787.5 million.
Fox News has resolved a defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion, a voting equipment maker, over its coverage of the 2020 presidential election.
In a last-minute deal before trial, the network agreed to pay $787.5 million (£634 million), roughly half of the $1.6 billion requested by Dominion.
Dominion said Fox hurt its company by propagating false assertions that the election was rigged against Donald Trump.
The agreement exempts Fox executives like Rupert Murdoch from testifying.
The agreement does not need to be approved by the judge in the case.
Fox stated that the settlement in one of the most anticipated defamation trials in recent US history demonstrated the company’s “commitment to the highest journalistic standards.”
The Fox statement went on to say, without explaining, that the network “acknowledges the court’s rulings finding certain Dominion claims to be false.”
Dominion CEO John Poulos stated at a press conference that the agreement involved Fox “admitting to telling lies, causing enormous damage to my company.”
Dominion attorney Justin Nelson told reporters that “the truth matters.”
“Lies have consequences,” he continued. “A torrent of lies swept Dominion and election officials across America into an alternate universe of conspiracy theories over two years ago, causing grave harm to Dominion and the country.”
Mr Nelson went on to say that in order for “democracy to endure,” Americans must “share a commitment to facts.”
Can Fox News afford the $787.5 million Dominion settlement?
Opening arguments in the $1.6 billion lawsuit against Fox were scheduled to begin on Tuesday afternoon.
The revelation of a settlement came after an unexplained delay of several hours after jury selection concluded, leading to speculation that negotiations were taking place behind the scenes.
Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis announced on Monday that the trial would be delayed by 24 hours.
Although he did not explain why, US media stated that it was to give both sides a chance to reach an agreement.
However, both sides appeared to be preparing for a protracted trial on Tuesday morning.
Attorneys for Fox have repeatedly protested to the $1.6 billion in damages sought by Colorado-based Dominion, calling the number exorbitant.
The “real cost” of the case, Fox contended, would be the “cherished” rights to free speech and journalism guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Dominion’s complaint claimed that the conservative network harmed the company’s reputation by spreading false information about the 2020 election being stolen from former President Trump.
According to the lawsuit, the fraudulent assertions were made in part to appease viewers who were upset by Fox’s choice on election night to correctly proclaim that Mr Trump’s then-challenger, Joe Biden, had won the critical state of Arizona.
Two months later, two of the Fox executives involved for the Arizona decision were fired.
According to legal findings provided prior of the trial, a number of Fox officials and journalists privately questioned and dismissed conspiracy allegations that the 2020 presidential election was rigged, but still broadcasted them.
According to court records, Mr Murdoch responded to the Dominion assertions as “really crazy,” but took no action.
Top-rated anchor Tucker Carlson called some of the assertions “insane” in a series of text exchanges. Sean Hannity, another broadcaster, stated privately that he did not trust them “for one second.”
According to Fox, the words were taken out of context.
Judge Davis concluded ahead of the trial that the charges against Dominion had already been proven untrue, emphasizing that the lies were “crystal clear.”
Despite the massive payout, some legal experts say the deal was a win-win situation for the network.
“Looking ahead at a six-week trial, this was going to be grueling for everyone involved and likely embarrassing for Fox,” said Syracuse University professor and First Amendment specialist Roy Gutterman.
“However, a verdict against Fox could have been even more costly, with serious ramifications for future rulings on the actual malice standard and the First Amendment itself.”
If the defamation trial had gone through, jurors would have had to decide whether Fox News behaved with “actual malice” by broadcasting false charges.
According to civil litigation attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel, the settlement “speaks to the massive threat Fox saw from this litigation.”
“The reputational damage caused by executives, including chairman Rupert Murdoch, and hosts taking the stand appears to have pushed the parties toward a resolution,” Ms Tuegel noted.
Smartmatic, another election technology firm, has filed a second, similar defamation claim against Fox, seeking $2.7 billion.
Dominion is still involved in legal battles with two conservative news networks, OAN and Newsmax.
The corporation has also filed lawsuits against Trump supporters such as Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and Mike Lindell.