After its $787.5m settlement, Fox News faces lawsuits from a former employee and another voting technology company
In a last-minute settlement on Tuesday, Fox agreed to pay voting equipment company Dominion US$787.5m, ending a dispute over whether the network and its parent company knowingly broadcast false and outlandish allegations that Dominion was involved in a plot to steal the 2020 election.
According to analysts, while the settlement amount is incredibly costly, Fox has avoided the more damaging spectacle of a trial and a public apology.
But it still faces a number of legal challenges over the coming months.
A global election technology company headquartered in London, Smartmatic, lodged a defamation suit against Fox in February 2021. The complaint’s striking opening sentence read: “The Earth is round. Two plus two equals four. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 election … ”
Like Dominion, Smartmatic is suing Fox for defamation related to its coverage of Donald Trump’s stolen-election lie, but the company’s lawsuit has so far attracted only a fraction of the attention.
On paper, Smartmatic’s suit could be the more dangerous: it is demanding damages of $2.7bn compared with Dominion’s claim for $1.6bn.
In March, the New York state supreme court in Manhattan gave the green light for the case to proceed against Fox News, the Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo, the former business anchor Lou Dobbs and Trump’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
The company argues that that Fox News broadcast a series of blatant lies in support of Trump’s stolen election conspiracy theory and that hosts and guests broadcast 100 false statements: among them, that Smartmatic was involved in 2020 election counts in six battleground states when in fact it was present only at the count in Los Angeles county.
Claims broadcast on Fox described Smartmatic as having been founded in Venezuela at the behest of corrupt dictators. In fact, it was founded by Antonio Mugica and Roger Piñate in 2000 in Boca Raton, Florida, in the wake of the “hanging chad” fiasco, with the aim of using technology to restore people’s faith in election results.
The firm claims that it has lost clients as a result of what it calls Fox’s “disinformation campaign”, while Fox News has disputed Smartmatic’s multibillion dollar estimate of its losses, calling it vastly inflated.
Smartmatic has a very high bar to meet if it is to win the defamation suit at trial. Under New York, plaintiffs have to be able to convince a jury that not only did the media outlet put out false information, it did so with “actual malice”.
Fox News said that “freedom of the press is foundational to our democracy and must be protected, in addition to the damages claims being outrageous, unsupported and not rooted in sound financial analysis, serving as nothing more than a flagrant attempt to deter our journalists from doing their jobs. There is nothing more newsworthy than covering the president of the US and his lawyers making allegations.”
A trial date has not been set.
In March, the former Fox News producer Abby Grossberg filed a pair of lawsuits claiming that the network’s lawyers “coached” and “intimidated” her into giving misleading testimony in the Dominion lawsuit.
Fox News filed their own counter lawsuit, seeking a restraining order to prevent Grossberg from revealing conversations she had with network lawyers.
Grossberg, a senior producer and head of booking for Tucker Carlson who has also worked on Maria Bartiromo’s show, alleged in her lawsuit that the network attempted to pin the blame for Fox News airing voting conspiracies on her and Bartiromo – an effort that Grossberg says was part of a broader culture of sexism and misogyny at Fox News.
Grossberg accused Fox News attorneys of coaching her in “a coercive and intimidating manner” before her deposition in the Dominion case.
At the time, a Fox spokesperson said: “Fox News Media engaged an independent outside counsel to immediately investigate the concerns raised by Ms Grossberg, which were made after a critical performance review. Her allegations in connection with the Dominion case are baseless and we will vigorously defend Fox against all of her claims.”
In August 2022, the Fox Corp chief executive, Lachlan Murdoch, launched defamation proceedings against the Australian independent news site Crikey. The claim related to an article published in June 2022 that referred to the Murdoch family as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the US Capitol attack.
Private Media’s defence alleges Lachlan Murdoch “closely monitored how Fox News Network handled reporting on the election”, according to his Dominion deposition, and that he was “generally aware of the allegations made by Sidney Powell on the Fox News Network at the time they were being made, which were to the effect that the 2020 US presidential election was fraudulently stolen from Mr Trump”.
Their expanded defence includes the recent admission by Rupert Murdoch that Fox News hosts endorsed Trump’s false claims.
Murdoch’s barrister, Sue Chrysanthou SC, indicated in an earlier hearing she would apply to strike out the contextual truth defence, which she described as vague.
“This defence is not rational, it is not arguable, it’s a waste of everyone’s time and it serves no legitimate end in the litigation,” the barrister said.
This week, Reuters reported that Fox Corp shareholders were demanding company records in an effort to ascertain whether directors and executives properly oversaw Fox News coverage of Trump’s election-rigging claims. Reuters said it could be a prelude to lawsuits seeking to make directors liable for costs.
Sources told Reuters that investors were demanding internal records to investigate how Fox’s leaders acted as its network aired segments on Trump’s false claims.
Analysts say that the shareholders could use these records as well as evidence presented in other lawsuits to build a case for Fox leaders to be held personally liable for costs from defamation cases.
A spokesperson for Fox did not reply to a request for comment from Reuters.
Reuters contributed to this report
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