In the wake of the 2020 presidential election, the most watched cable news network in the United States gave a platform to Donald Trump and his allies with their false claims rigged against him.
At the heart of the former president’s many election lies, conspiracy theories and bogus legal challenges to overturn the result was Dominion Voting Systems – a voting machine company baselessly accused of altering votes.
Those claims were broadcast uncritically on Fox News.
Those claims were false, a judge has decided.
Moreover, many of the network’s top on-air personalities, producers and executive leadership at Fox Corporation knew this, including right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch and Tucker Carlson, the t -most watched host on the most watched network.
This week, a judge in Delaware, where Fox is incorporated, is expected to preside over a six-week jury trial stemming from Dominion’s $1.6bn lawsuit against the network, which will defend itself against Dominion’s argument that statements lies about the company afterwards. of the defamatory election, which caused significant damage to Dominion’s business and reputation.
On Sunday afternoon, Judge Eric Davis announced a sudden delay in the trial – one hour before opening statements were scheduled to begin on Monday morning.
No explanation was given for the sudden delay but several reports indicated that Fox News is now pushing to resolve the case before the trial begins. Lawyers for both sides are expected to meet on Monday to discuss a possible settlement, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Defamation cases rarely go to trial, but it will be up to a jury in Superior Court in Wilmington to decide whether the claims against Fox News meet the high bar for the “actual malice” standard — meaning the network made false claims. knowingly present with recklessness. disregard for the truth.
In his 80-page decision allowing the case to go to trial, Judge Davis wrote that “the evidence developed in this civil proceeding shows that [it] CRYSTAL is clear” – his emphasis – “that none of the Statements related to Lordship about the 2020 election are true.”
“We want to encourage a robust and open discussion about public affairs, especially about how our governments are run, and we want to allow some breathing space … to allow people to talk about this without having to do the full journalistic run on him. ,” said Andrew Geronimo, director of the First Amendment Clinic within the Milton and Charlotte Kramer Law Clinic at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. The Independent last month.
“But what you can’t do is knowingly lie about someone in a way that harms them.”
The former president publicly attacked absentee or mail-in voting, which he called a “hoax” and “corruption” before any ballot was even cast in the 2020 elections, casting public doubt about the process as an apparent attempt to challenge. the results.
In the months that followed, Republican lawmakers across the US launched a coordinated campaign under the guise of preserving “election integrity” and restoring “voter confidence,” which the president himself undermined.
The persistent lie that the election was stolen from him – and his legal team’s baseless attempts to discredit millions of Americans – fueled violence at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, enduring election investigations and “audits” in an attempt to reverse the situation. results in states lost by Mr. Trump, and prompted GOP-led legislation in nearly every state to change the way elections are run.
The trial is among several election-related cases playing out in courtrooms and prosecutors’ offices across the country.
Mr Trump, whose bid for US election is driving his 2024 ambitions, has been criminally charged in New York in a case involving hush money payments to at least two women before his 2016 election, and a prosecutor in Georgia is reported to be considering charges against him. more than a dozen people joined Mr. Trump’s effort to pressure officials to overturn the state’s 2020 runoff.
In addition, Fox was sued separately by a former producer who is now accused by the company’s lawyers of extorting her testimony in the Dominion case.
Mr Trump and Mr Murdoch were not close; Mr. Murdoch’s The Wall Street Journal A “disaster” his ex-husband asked to know about and Mr Murdoch himself said he was “disgraceful” to the country.
But their success was intertwined with Mr. Trump’s presidency and its outcome, which boosted Fox’s ratings but now poses significant threats to both men.
Despite Mr. Murdoch’s apparent support for the network’s correct prediction that Joe Biden would win the state of Arizona, Fox’s leadership was met with concern about “dressed audience backlash” over the call, according to court filings.
The network’s leadership appeared to have agreed to provide a platform for “wild claims” that the election was stolen from Mr. Trump because “positive impressions of Fox News” among its viewers “suddenly dropped after Election Day to record lows.” low” was seen by the network, Dominion. Occupy.
Indeed, Dominion’s extensive pre-trial filings have painted a much larger picture of Fox’s organization, its decision-making, and its concerns about declining viewership and competition from other networks that have fueled the conspiracy theorists. former president.
Attorneys for Fox News argued that the network was not only obligated to cover those allegations, especially those endorsed by a sitting president, as newsworthy, but that they are also protected by the First Amendment.
The network’s legal team has warned that the case could set a dangerous precedent for press freedoms and the ability of media companies to report other allegations that are not worth reporting.
“This case is and always has been under First Amendment protections of the media’s full right to cover the news,” a Fox spokesperson said in a statement shared with him. The Independent.
“Fox will continue to advocate strongly for the rights of free speech and a free press as we move into the next phase of these proceedings.”
Dominion’s case alleges that Fox News is a media empire that feels like lying to its audience.
The company’s extensive court filings revealed private admissions among Fox producers, executives and program hosts questioning or mocking the network’s untrustworthy guests and their questionable arguments about Dominion, while, at the same time, admitting that the danger existed that the network would alienate Fox viewers if it publicly rejected them. demands.
“Really crazy stuff. And damaging,” Mr. Murdoch wrote in an email message on Nov. 19, 2020 as he watched Mr. Trump’s former attorney Rudy Giuliani broadcast false claims about Dominion during a press conference, court filings show.
Last week, Judge Davis chided Fox’s lawyers for not being “simple” with him.
He sanctioned Fox News and Fox Corporation for allegedly withholding evidence in the case and said he was considering appointing outside counsel to investigate Fox’s handling of documents and whether it withheld details about the scope of its role. Mr. Murdoch.
The judge ruled that if Dominion wanted other depositions, Fox would have to “do everything possible to make the person available, and there will be a cost to Fox.”
That evidence includes recordings between Mr. Giuliani and Trump campaign aide with Fox personality Maria Bartiromo, which Dominion said were changed just a week earlier.
Davida Brook, a lawyer for Dominion, told the court last week that the legal team was still receiving the relevant documents from Fox despite an impending trial.
“We continue to learn about more relevant information from individuals other than Fox,” she said. “And to be honest we don’t really know what to do about that, but that’s the situation we’re in.”
In a statement, Dominion said that the evidence to be presented at the trial will show that “Dominion was a valuable business that was growing rapidly and was implementing its plan to expand before the time Fox began endorsing lies baseless about Dominion voting machines”.
“Dominion’s business suffered greatly” as a result, according to a statement. “and its claim for compensatory damages is based on industry-standard valuation metrics and conservative methodologies. We look forward to proving this aspect of our case at trial.”