The Dominion-Fox trial was the trial that never was. It was supposed to start on Monday, but Sunday night the judge overseeing the case announced that it would be delayed until Tuesday. On Tuesday, everyone was scheduled to convene at 9:00 a.m., but most of the day was spent finishing jury selection and going from recess to recess. There were no opening statements from either party. Turns out, as had been rumored, both sides been negotiating a behind-closed-doors settlement And, in the end, the case was settled: Fox agreed to pay $787 million to Dominion. “The truth matters, lies have consequences,” Dominion’s lawyer said.
Dominion Voting Systems sued Rupert Murdoch’s television network for $1.6 billion dollars for the lies it spread about the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Presenters and guests of the network publicly said that Fox relentlessly spread the lie that the 2020 U.S. presidential election had been stolen from former president Donald Trump and that Dominion’s voting machines were responsible for rigging the vote.
It was a hoax, that had been made “crystal clear,” as Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis said in pretrial proceedings. The central question of the trial was whether in spreading those lies, Fox acted with what is known as “actual malice,” that is, whether the company spread the falsehoods knowing that they were such, or at least with irresponsible disregard as to whether they were lies.
Actual malice must be proven in order to establish that defamation took place, a requirement set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in order to protect freedom of speech. It is difficult to prove that a media outlet has been maliciously or at least culpably lying, but the spectacle generated by leaked internal communications and messages between Fox executives and anchors makes it clear that even they did not believe the lies they were repeating on-air.
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