Fox News has reached a $787m settlement with voting machine maker Dominion Voting Systems, which accused the network of defamation in its 2020 US presidential election coverage.
Tuesday’s eleventh-hour agreement — reached as opening statements were expected to begin — means the news network controlled by media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his family will avoid a high-profile trial.
Dominion filed its lawsuit in 2021, alleging that Fox News knowingly aired falsehoods about its voting machines in an attempt to boost lagging viewership.
The company was subjected to extensive attention following the 2020 election, in which then-president Donald Trump was defeated by Joe Biden, with Trump and various surrogates promoting conspiracy theories.
The theories falsely alleged that Dominion was part of an international cabal that stole the election from Trump, and that it used its voting machines to transfer millions of votes that had been cast for Trump to Biden instead.
There was no evidence supporting these claims, which have been debunked by various groups including election technology experts, government and voting industry officials, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
The voting machine company initially sought $1.6bn from Fox for “intentionally and falsely blaming Dominion for President Trump’s loss”. Tuesday’s settlement is roughly half that amount.
Fox has maintained that it was only reporting on Trump’s allegations, not supporting them, and that its coverage was protected under constitutional free speech rights. Those protections typically make it difficult for plaintiffs to win defamation suits in the country.
Dominion: Fox News admitted telling lies
Dominion disclosed the settlement figure on Tuesday, and its CEO John Poulos said Fox had admitted to telling lies about his company.
Speaking after the settlement with Fox, Poulos, a Greek Canadian, said: “Fox has admitted to telling lies about Dominion that caused enormous damage … Nothing can ever make up for that.”
Dominion Voting Systems CEO John Poulos after the $787.5 million settlement with Fox News:
“Fox has admitted to telling lies about Dominion that caused enormous damage … Nothing can ever make up for that.” pic.twitter.com/IpxVAucpbO
— The Recount (@therecount) April 18, 2023
Dominion lawyer Justin Nelson said the settlement “represents vindication and accountability” and that “lies have consequences”. Dominion lawyers declined to answer questions about whether Fox News would apologize publicly or make reforms.
In a statement, Fox said “we acknowledge” the court’s earlier ruling that certain claims that the network’s anchors made about Dominion were 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,” the statement said.
However, Fox will not be able to put the issues of its reporting on the 2020 presidential election behind it quite yet, the BBC reports.
It still faces a second, similar defamation lawsuit from another election technology firm, Smartmatic, which is seeking $2.7bn.
For Dominion, the $787.5m Fox payout may be just the start. It still has outstanding cases against Fox’s smaller rivals Newsmax and OAN plus several of former President Donald Trump’s associates.