After months of court proceedings in Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox News, the trial that was about to begin on April 18 was stopped when Fox agreed to pay $787.5 million in a negotiated settlement of the case. One of the largest settlements ever in a U.S. defamation case was centered on charges that the right-wing network promoted false conspiracy theories that Dominion was complicit in stealing the 2020 presidential election from Trump. In paying out nearly $800 million, Fox avoided further embarrassing revelations that were likely to be exposed in a trial.
Dominion will be proceeding with additional lawsuits against Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, Trump allies OverStock CEO Patrick Byrne and My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, as well as News Max and OANN. Fox and many of the other Dominion targets continue to face a parallel $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit filed by the Smartmatic voting technology company, alleging that Fox’s lies decimated its business.
Many critics of Fox News were disappointed that the trial was halted and that the Murdoch-owned company wasn’t forced to publicly admit that the news network and its hosts consciously lied to their audience, lies that were in large part responsible for feeding the rage of the Trump supporters who launched the violent Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Peter Maass, a senior editor with The Intercept, who assesses the outcome of the Dominion-Fox News defamation lawsuit that he emphasizes was never undertaken to protect democracy from Fox’s toxic propaganda.
PETER MAASS: When somebody wants to sue a company for defamation, whether it’s an individual or a company, you have to not just show they were wrong; journalists are wrong all the time. You have to show that they knew they were wrong and that they acted recklessly or with malice. And Dominion had an incredibly strong case because in discovery, that is, once they filed the suit, they were able to kind of rummage through Fox News internal communications.
They found all kinds of incriminating emails and text messages between Fox hosts and guests and bookers where they’re talking about these kind of fantastic lies that their guests were putting on the air. And you know, this is hosts like Tucker Carlson and Maria Bartiromo and others where they’re talking about “this is a pretty incredible; they’re unsourced. But you know, what the heck, Let it fly.”
So this is incredibly damaging information that came out during the course of discovery. And it was because of that that basically Fox, on the day the trial began, the jury was selected, the jury was seated. All the journalists were in Delaware waiting for the opening arguments. And minutes basically before opening arguments were supposed to begin, the two sides, Dominion and Fox News, reached a settlement in which, you know, the monetary amount of $787.5 million was paid.
And, you know, this was a major victory of sorts for people who wanted Fox to literally pay for their lies. And the whole process of discovering where these documents and emails came out was incredibly embarrassing for Fox News. But one thing that was lacking — and this is a major lack, absence in this kind of a settlement in this whole thing that Fox did not have to apologize particularly to its viewers for what it did.
It did not have to state on its own air to its own viewers that, “Hey, we were telling you lies. We knew we were telling lies. Sorry about that.” That was not a component of the settlement. And that’s kind of the major disappointment. I mean, any $787.5 million is a lot of money to you and me. But to Fox, it’s not really the backbreaking amount of money you think.
Think they have $4 billion in cash on hand. It’s an incredibly profitable network. They can write off some of this money in taxes and tax write- offs. They can also get some insurance coverage of it. So Fox escaped to lie another day.
SCOTT HARRIS: Peter, do you think this settlement in this lawsuit will change the way Fox News covers the news over recent decades–they’ve essentially served as the propaganda arm of the Republican party? Will the money they have to pay out to Dominion change in any way what viewers see on Fox News in the future, you think?
PETER MAASS: I think in the short term, maybe Fox isn’t going to go quite as crazy as it has gone. But I don’t think in the medium or long term it’s going to have any effect. I mean one effect it will have is that they will be a lot more careful when they’re putting lies out into the political bloodstream, to not mention companies individually and to not mention nonpublic figures because that’s where they get into trouble with defamation.
So they’ll be better about it. They’ll be smarter about it. You know, Tucker Carlson has been one of the most terrible individuals as far as, you know, spreading racist ideas and propaganda into America. But, Murdoch is only interested in making money through, you know, right-wing politics and whatever those politics are, however extreme they become, so long as it makes money for the Murdochs, they’re very happy to go as far as is necessary.
So, you know, people were very glad, whatever it was nearly a decade ago when Glenn Beck was finally eased out of the Fox News universe. And, you know, then what happens? You know, we get Tucker Carlson. So there will be another iteration of Tucker Carlson, whose name will not be Tucker Carlson, but who could be even worse than Tucker Carlson because the Murdochs are interested in making money off of right-wing propaganda.
And what actually that right-wing propaganda consists of I don’t think they care very much. No matter how much damage it does.
SCOTT HARRIS: Well, Peter, I did want to turn our attention to the announcement that Tucker Carlson was fired. I’m not sure we know exactly the details about why he was fired. In your view, was it related to the outcome of this Dominion lawsuit and the settlement? There is a young woman who sued Tucker Carlson and Fox News who was fired from her job and alleges sexual harassment and some other wrongdoings on the part of Fox.
But what’s your overall reaction to the firing of Tucker Carlson? That was a surprise to him, apparently, and to many in his audience.
PETER MAASS: You know, my sense is that one of the possibilities and there’s obviously going to be multiple factors. But one is the lawsuit that you mentioned by this producer, Abby Grossberg, which kind of is another discovery time bomb that Fox News has to deal with. It’s got this lawsuit. There’s going to be discovery.
And now the issue is not going to be lies about the election. It’s going to be about sexism and sexual harassment at Fox News, which has a long, sordid history of that. And I suspect that the Murdochs realize they made a big mistake by letting the defamation suit get as far as it did. And they decided we can’t go through this again. We have to cut this other lawsuit off in the pass.
And the way they do that is by getting rid of Tucker Carlson, because the lawsuit was against him and the people who worked with him and probably we’ll read in the next few weeks, a month or two, a settlement to this producer to make the problem go away.