Fox News settlement with Dominion pulls the rug on Trump’s election lies

The conservative station was not the only loser in Tuesday’s agreement: the former president and his false allegations of voter fraud also suffered a blow

Two women inside the headquarters of the Fox network in New York, on Wednesday, April 19.
Two women inside the headquarters of the Fox network in New York, on Wednesday, April 19.JUSTIN LANE (EFE)
Miguel Jiménez

Fox’s lawyers left through a side door of the court building and squeezed past reporters as best they could. The lawyers representing Dominion — the voting machine company that sued Fox News for defamation over its lies about the 2020 presidential election — came out smiling and welcomed the cameras at the front door on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in Wilmington, Delaware. Although the defamation lawsuit has been settled, there is a very clear winner and loser: Fox will pay $787.5 million to Dominion for repeatedly airing false allegations that the company’s machines had switched votes to Democrat Joe Biden. The lawsuit has been Dominion’s best business ever. But Fox News isn’t the only loser: Donald Trump and his election lies, upon which the former president has based his strategy and discourse, also lost.

In the United States, when a president runs for re-election and loses, the politician and the country move on. But Trump did not want to be cast as the fallen leader, and decided to change the script, repeatedly insisting — without any proof — that the 2020 presidential election had been rigged. It was part of an effort to hold on to his influence over Republican voters. Fox News aired these bogus allegations. Just like Trump, it wanted to keep its audience.

While the settlement is a blow to the conservative news network, it protects Fox from suffering even greater losses. To begin with, Dominion was suing Fox for $1.6 billion. In a summary judgment, the judge said it was “CRYSTAL clear” that fraud allegations against the company were false. What Dominion had to prove was whether the network spread the lies knowingly or with reckless disregard for the truth. The pretrial investigation uncovered mountains of evidence that suggested this was the case, including private messages in which Fox’s star presenters expressed skepticism over the fraud claims. The settlement means that Fox will avoid a six-week trial in which it would have faced repeated examples of its deceit. It also means that star presenters and even Fox founder Rupert Murdoch will not have to take the stand and address the embarrassing revelations of their duplicity.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Fox made it clear that it intends to move on from the matter. “We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false. [...] 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,” it said. “This settlement reflects FOX’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards,” it added — a message that drew a smirk from CNN anchor Jack Tapper. “Sorry, this is going to be difficult to say with a straight face,” he said, while reporting the news on TV.

Fox reported on the settlement only briefly on Tuesday, and avoided discussing the matter on Wednesday. Its star presenters — the same ones who helped spread the election lies — completely ignored the issue on their shows. But turning the page will not be so easy for Fox.

The voting machine company Smartmatic is also suing the conservative network for $2.7 billion for defamation for airing false allegations of voter fraud. The appellate division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York issued a ruling that found merit in the case, meaning it may go to trial in Delaware. Given that Fox has agreed to pay Dominion $787.5 million to avoid not only a trial, but also a public spectacle, it would make sense for the network to also try to reach an out-of-court settlement with Smartmatic. But the network is under fire from many directions: it is also being sued by a recently fired producer, while company shareholders are also preparing a lawsuit. Dominion, meanwhile, has sued other channels and individuals who accused the company of rigging the election, such as Fox rival Newsmax and businessman and Trump ally Mike Lindell.

Smartmatic’s lawsuit is not only directed against Fox: it also names its star presenters and Trump’s former lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. “Dominion is a company that’s owned by another company called Smartmatic through an intermediary company named Indra,” Giuliani told Fox Business host Lou Dobbs in an interview on November 12 — a statement that is cited in the lawsuit. Spanish company Indra is also considering legal action: it is neither an intermediary nor has it participated in a U.S. election, which was made clear soon after Giuliani’s comments.

Trump, for his part, has been careful not to mention any company when making his voter fraud allegations, and is not facing any defamation lawsuits. But he is accused of trying to interfere in the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. “The truth matters and integrity counts,” Georgia’s secretary of state, Republican Brad Raffensperger, told CNN, after the settlement was announced. “It took a couple of years, 2.5 years, to be vindicated,” said Raffensperger, explaining how he stood up to Trump when he demanded that he “find” 11,780 votes to win the state.

According to Raffensperger, the voter fraud allegations have affected more than just Dominion. “It about our social fabric. It really ripped apart America, and it really ripped apart my Republican Party. I’m really distressed about that. But perhaps now we can begin that process of rebuilding based on a foundation of truth, based on a foundation of integrity, so we can move forward.” Without expressly mentioning Trump, he implicitly referred to him in the interview: “I believe that most people are good, but a lot of people have been misled. I think when they figure out that they have been misled and who they have been misled by, they’re going to hold them accountable.”

The Georgia secretary of state, who managed to get re-elected despite Trump’s opposition, also had a message for his party colleagues: “It’s time for politicians to wake up, have a strong backbone and talk to people. Get out there and don’t be afraid [...] If you don’t have the courage to get out there and share the facts, you’re just taking up space.” But fear of Trump continues to dominate the Republican Party. Raffensperger is one of the few Republicans who have criticized Trump’s election lies. Other senior party figures have preferred to remain silent.

The secretary of state of New Mexico, Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver, agreed that the Fox-Dominion settlement helps counter the damage done by Trump’s election lies. “Elections have consequences... and so do election lies. The harm done by election lies/denialism since 2020 is immeasurable, but this settlement against Fox News provides accountability & sends a strong message we’re happy to see,” she tweeted.

At every rally and public appearance, Trump has repeated the false claim that the 2020 presidential election was rigged. In a way, it is the cornerstone of his political project, serving to vindicate himself and attack the legitimacy of President Biden. And while it’s difficult to draw conclusions from Trump’s silence, it is noteworthy that he paused his frenetic activity on his social network Truth Social after the settlement was announced and has, so far, avoided mentioning the case. It’s hard to imagine that Trump will change his story, even if the tale has been definitively weakened by the Dominion-Fox settlement. The winner of the settlement was not in Wilmington on Tuesday, but he has a house there and a train station is named after him: Joe Biden.

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