UPDATED with Fox News statement, settlement sums & Dominion CEO remarks: Fox News has settled Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against the Rupert Murdoch-owned organization, averting a lengthy, expensive and certain to be embarrassing trial.
“The parties have resolved their case,” Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis just told the court Tuesday afternoon, offering no details. News of the settlement was strategically made public right before Wall Street ceased trading for the day.
Fox paid Dominion $787.5 million under the deal, lawyers for the company said afterwards outside the courtroom. “Fox has admitted to telling lies about Dominion that caused enormous damage to my company, our employees and the customers we serve,” said Dominion CEO John Poulos. “Nothing can make up for that.”
Fox News is not required to air an apology or retraction, sources said. However, Fox was quick to address the settlement in crafted language that appears to softly walk back claims amplified by hosts and guests that the 2020 election was stolen from incumbent Donald Trump.
“We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems,” a Fox spokesperson said after the agreement was announced. “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.”
Following a flurry of post-lunch break activity today in and out of Judge Davis’ chambers, the agreement comes soon after the 12-person jury was seated and a special master had been appointed to probe Fox compliance. Opening statements were set to begin later in the day, but that plan went awry as spectators sat in the courtroom for nearly two hours with no idea about what was going on.
Although a settlement is nothing new to Fox and Murdoch-owned entities, things had seemed until well into this morning to be going full steam into a six-week trial. With the flood of scathing and hypocritical internal correspondence emerging over recent weeks between execs and Fox hosts like Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham over Trump and his false claims of the 2020 election being stolen, it looked like the company was eager to make a deal with the private equity-backed Dominion and spare the 92-year-old Murdoch having to testify.
A hint of that seemed to be on the horizon in the past 48 hours.
On Sunday night, just more than 12 hours before jurors were to be picked and seated, Judge Davis suddenly delayed the start of the trial Tuesday. The move triggered immediate speculation that both sides were engaged in some kind of huddle to reach a resolution. talks were said to be underway this weekend, but the situation remained “fluid,” according to a well-positioned legal source.
On Monday morning, the judge publicly reiterated his statement of the evening before, saying “I have made the decision to delay the start of the trial until tomorrow. With only one attorney from each side present, the judge offered an otherwise packed Wilmington courtroom and media overflow room no reason for the delay, but said that such occurrences are not “unusual” in such proceedings.
The high-profile trial would likely have meant an array of Fox executives, including the elder Murdoch and board member and ex-House Speaker Paul Ryan, would take the stand for live testimony. Additionally, some of the network’s best known and most controversial hosts including Carlson, Hannity and Maria Bartiromo were on Dominion’s witness list as was Fox boss Lachlan Murdoch.
In what looked to be another damning portrait of the Murdoch-own conservative outlet, Dominion’s attorneys planned to offer up emails and text messages showing that the Murdochs, other top Fox brass and news personalities personally doubted and derided Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was rigged, yet still let the allegations be amplified on-air by hosts and guests. Many of those correspondences have already come out in pre-trial filings and hearings; they were ignored by Fox on-air and left a distinct stink in the court of public opinion.
Davis ruled in late March that the case could move forward to trial, rejecting one of Fox’s claims that the network was merely covering a president’s newsworthy allegations of election fraud. He determined that the claims made on air about Dominion were false, leaving it to the jury to decide whether the network was liable for actual malice. He also left it to the jury to determine whether Fox Corp., not just Fox News, was liable.
The Delaware judge also said he planned to appoint a special master to investigate claims that Fox had withheld evidence in the case. That could have led to sanctions against the Fox legal team, though one of its attorneys wrote a letter and apologized to the judge, characterizing it as a misunderstanding.
A trial would have been one of the most closely watched defamation trials in recent memory, with a potential impact on judicial interpretation of the law if the jury’s verdict was appealed to higher courts.
Having settled this matter and a related defamation suit brought by Venezuelan businessman Majed Khalil on April 9, Fox still faces a massive lawsuit from another election systems company, Smartmatic, which filed a $2.7 billion lawsuit. Dominion and Smartmatic also have claims against two other conservative news outlets, Newsmax and One America News.
A Newsmax spokesperson said that they believe “the facts at issue in Dominion’s case against it are materially different from those that may have driven Fox to settle, and no conclusion about Newsmax should be drawn from that settlement. Newsmax stands by its coverage and analysis of the 2020 election and will continue to vigorously defend against the claim.”