On Tuesday, Dominion Voting Systems received a $787.5 settlement from Fox News after suing Fox for $1.6 million for defamation. Dominion, a Colorado-based tech company that manufactures voting machines, sued Fox News and its parent company Fox Corp. for defaming Dominion after the 2020 presidential election with claims that Dominion’s voting machines had counted for-Trump votes for Biden.
The Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox News trial began in Delaware on Monday. Before Tuesday’s settlement, lawyers for Fox News claimed that the First Amendment protects the network from retaliation for what its broadcasters say on air, even claims that are found to be baseless, like the unfounded idea that Dominion’s voting machines flipped votes in favor of Biden.
Even after the claims were debunked, hosts and guests on Fox News repeated the allegation for weeks after the 2020 election that Biden’s win was fraudulent and that electronic voting machines falsely cast votes in his favor. Dominion Voting Systems first filed its lawsuit in March 2021, stating that Fox’s groundless claims have damaged its business in the election’s wake.
Dominion alleged that Fox hosts and executives knew that the claims were false but perpetuated them to save Fox’s ratings, which plummeted after Fox was the first major network to call Arizona for Biden. Fox News has been primarily associated with pro-Trump hosts and Trump supporter viewers since before Trump’s 2016 election. According to a 2021 poll, about half of Republicans in the United States watch Fox at least once per week.
Dominion’s settlement with Fox News is one of the largest defamation payments in American history. Meanwhile, Dominion has several other cases pending, including one against news outlet Newsmax, and public figure Mike Lindell, the My Pillow executive, whom Dominion alleges contributed to its defamation with 2020 election conspiracy theories.
Santa Clara University law professor Margaret M. Russell, quoted in The New York Times, said,
Even though it was a settlement, it certainly was a victory for Dominion. For other possible defendants, I don’t think this will make them double down; it will make them fearful.Margaret M. Russell, Santa Clara University
Even before Tuesday’s settlement, legal experts predicted that the Dominion v. Fox News trial could set a precedent for how the First Amendment applies in political news coverage. According to a statement that Fox released on Friday,
While Dominion has pushed irrelevant and misleading information to generate headlines, FOX News remains steadfast in protecting the rights of a free press.Fox’s statement from Friday
The statement also says that “a verdict for Dominion… would have grave consequences for the entire journalism profession.” Fox has claimed throughout the lawsuit that it aired the claims of voter fraud in 2020 because they came directly from a sitting president, making them inherently newsworthy despite their falsity. In order to successfully sue for defamation, Dominion was tasked with proving that Fox News made false statements with malicious intent to cause harm.
According to a statement that Dominion shared with NPR,
As long-settled law makes clear, the First Amendment does not shield broadcasters that knowingly or recklessly spread lies.Dominion’s statement, shared with NPR
Before the Trial
In a pre-trial ruling earlier in April, Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis stated that Fox’s 2020 claims about Dominion were unequivocally false. In an 80-page decision, Davis wrote,
The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that [it] is CRYSTAL clear that none of the Statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true.Judge Eric Davis’s decision from a pre-trial ruling
Actual malice is generally challenging to prove in defamation cases involving the media. However, prior to Monday, Dominion had already acquired what NPR called an “extraordinary trove” of evidence suggesting that Fox executives knew the false election fraud claims. A recently-unearthed email that Fox host Dana Perino sent to a colleague on November 12, 2020, states, “This dominion stuff is total bs.” In his pre-trial ruling, Davis ruled against Fox’s argument that it has a “neutral reporting” privilege that protects it from liability for accurately representing Trump’s claims, even unfounded ones.
After the Settlement
Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico’s secretary of state, applauded Tuesday’s settlement on Twitter, stating, “Elections have consequences… and so do election lies.”
Fox, meanwhile, issued a statement on Tuesday acknowledging “the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.” According to Fox, the admission “reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.”
In an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, Dominion CEO John Poulos called the settlement “a big step forward in democracy.” According to Poulos,
I think that it’s a big step forward in democracy if our system can send a signal that if media companies lie—whoever they are or whatever channel they’re on—and they do so knowingly, they will be prepared to pay a very high price.John Poulos, Dominion CEO
This post was updated on Thursday, April 20, to reflect new details about the settlement.