Dominion’s landmark libel case against Fox News will go to trial, under judge’s rules, in landmark ruling knocking down Fox’s main defenses
Dominion Voting Systems’ landmark libel case against Fox News will go to a high-stakes jury trial in mid-April, a Delaware judge ruled Friday, in a landmark decision that knocked down several of the leading right-wing network defenses.
The judge’s decision is a painful setback for Fox News and sets the stage for an agonizing week-long trial, where the network’s top executives and most prominent hosts could be called to the stand to testify about 2020 election lies. who were promoted on his tune.
Both sides had asked Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis for a preliminary ruling in their favor, declaring them the winners. After thousands of pages of documents and exhibits, and a series of courtroom clashes, Davis decided the case should go to trial. But one question the jurors won’t need to weigh, he concluded, was whether Fox’s claims about Dominion were true or false.
“The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that it is CRYSTAL clear that none of the statements relating to Dominion regarding the 2020 election are true,” Davis wrote.
Unless there’s an out-of-court settlement — which is always possible — Davis’ decision means jurors will have to decide whether Fox News defamed Dominion by repeatedly promoting false claims that the voting technology company rigged the 2020 presidential election by reversing millions of votes. from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. Dominion is seeking $1.6 billion in damages.
Jury selection is due to begin April 13 in Wilmington, Delaware.
Fox News and its parent company, Fox Corporation, deny any wrongdoing. They argued that their conspiracy-theory-filled shows after the 2020 election were protected by the First Amendment because their on-air reporters only reported “newsworthy allegations.”
“This case is and has always been about First Amendment protections of the media’s absolute right to cover the news,” a Fox spokesperson said in a statement after the ruling. “Fox will continue to fiercely defend the rights to free speech and a free press as we enter the next phase of these proceedings.”
In his 130-page decision, Davis dismantled several of Fox News’ potential defenses, dealing a blow to the network. Overall, these Davis conclusions take away several key arguments that Fox could have made to the jury, making it harder for them to prevail at trial.
Davis ruled that Fox News could not invoke the “neutral reporting privilege,” which protects reporters who report newsworthy and unbiased allegations in a neutral manner. Dominion had argued that the Fox News hosts had essentially taken sides while covering the fallout from the 2020 election, throwing their weight behind the misconception that the results were illegitimate, and Dominion was to blame.
“The evidence does not confirm that (Fox News) conducted good faith and disinterested reporting,” Davis wrote. “(Fox News’) failure to uncover much conflicting evidence from the public sphere and Dominion itself indicates that its reporting was not disinterested.”
The judge also barred Fox News from using “fair report privilege” with the jury. This legal doctrine protects journalists who report what is said in official proceedings, such as congressional hearings, or on allegations in court, such as in a civil lawsuit.
Davis pointed out that the timeline of Fox’s on-air statements was out of sync with the lawsuits, many of which were filed by pro-Trump lawyers like Sidney Powell, who were seeking to overturn the 2020 election.
“Most of the disputed statements were made before a lawsuit was filed in court,” Davis wrote, adding that of the nearly 20 shows on Fox networks that Dominion says violated their reputation, “only one show in question even mentioned Ms. Powell’s name.
The judge gave Dominion a boost by determining that the on-air statements at the heart of the litigation were either factual assertions or “mixed opinions”, which could make it more difficult for Fox to defend himself in front of the jury . Fox had asked Davis to declare that the statements were “pure opinion” and therefore could not be defamatory under the First Amendment.
“The context supports the position that the statements were not pure opinion when made by news anchors posing as accurate sources of information,” Davis wrote.
Davis further wrote in his ruling that even if the statements were an opinion, Fox News would not be constitutionally protected, given that they appeared to “charge Dominion with the serious crime of voter fraud.”
“Charges of criminal activity, even in the form of an opinion, are not constitutionally protected,” Davis wrote.
The voting technology company applauded those parts of Davis’ decision in a statement Friday.
“We are pleased with the Court’s thorough ruling which has soundly rejected all of Fox’s arguments and defenses, and found in law that their statements regarding Dominion are false. We look forward to going to trial,” a Dominion spokesperson said in a statement.
Fox’s legal liability will be decided at trial. But the case has already tarnished Fox’s reputation.
Incriminating texts and emails showed how Fox executives, hosts and producers did not believe the claims the network was peddling about Dominion. These revelations pushed a dagger through the idea that Fox News is anything but a partisan GOP operation focused on ratings — not journalism.
The lawsuit is considered one of the most significant libel cases in recent memory. Fox argued that a loss would eviscerate press freedom, and many academics agree that the bar should remain high for proving defamation. Other analysts said holding Fox responsible for knowingly spreading lies would not pose a threat to objective journalists who would never do so in the first place.
The case sparked a mountain of evidence exposing Fox News as a right-wing profit machine devoid of the most basic journalistic ethics — and willing to promote messy election conspiracy theories to preserve its lucrative business.
Fox Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch admitted in his sworn deposition that several of his top hosts had endorsed campaign lies on the radio that he knew to be false. And after the 2020 election, its most prominent stars and top executives privately dismissed conspiracy theories being aired on air, according to internal text messages and emails revealed in court documents.
The legal papers showed how Fox News executives and hosts feared losing their audience to Newsmax, a small right-wing chat channel that saturated its airwaves with election denialism. And in several cases, Fox News executives and hosts have begun cracking down on those on the network who fact-checked election lies, showed private messages revealed in court records.
Despite what appeared on the air, Fox News executives and hosts privately criticized the Trump camp for pushing the voter fraud allegations. Hannity said Rudy Giuliani, then Trump’s lawyer, “acted like a madman” and Ingraham described him as “an idiot.” Rupert Murdoch said it was “really bad” for Giuliani to advise Trump.