Fox News Settles Suit, Will Carry on As Before

A $787.5 million flesh wound.

Most readers will be aware fo the broad details of Fox News’ settlement of the lawsuit filed by Dominion but I’ll recap anyway for posterity.

WaPo (“Fox News, Dominion settle defamation lawsuit for $787.5 million“):

Fox News agreed Tuesday to pay $787.5 million to Dominion Voting Systems, settling a lawsuit brought by a company that was repeatedly smeared on air with fantastical claims of helping to rig a presidential election and marking an abrupt end to one of the most consequential and closely watched media cases in decades.

The eye-popping figure — the largest publicly disclosed monetary settlement ever in an American defamation action — averted what could have been an even costlier outcome for Fox and its parent company, Fox Corp., had the suit gone to a jury. Dominion had sought $1.6 billion, and several pretrial rulings had strengthened its claims.

The settlement agreement came with only a grudging acknowledgment by Fox that it had been wrong in repeatedly airing false statements that backed up President Donald Trump’s bogus claims of election fraud after the 2020 election. Fox’s hosts and guests had repeatedly depicted Dominion, the maker of voting machines and software, as at the heart of a conspiracy to change votes to hand Joe Biden the election.

“We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false,” the cable network said in a statement following the news that it would no longer contest Dominion’s allegations in court. “This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards. 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.”

The parties came to a last-minute deal that was announced just after a jury was selected to hear the case and just before opening arguments were slated to begin in a superior court in Delaware — Biden’s home state.

“The truth has meaning,” said a lawyer for Dominion, Justin Nelson, in remarks delivered outside the courthouse. “Lies have consequences.” The settlement agreement, he added, “represents a ringing endorsement for truth and democracy.”

NYT (“Fox Will Pay $787.5 Million to Settle Defamation Suit“) adds:

News of the 11th-hour agreement stunned the full courtroom in Wilmington, where the case was being heard. Gasps filled the air when Judge Eric M. Davis told the jury shortly before 4 p.m. that the two parties had resolved the matter. Lawyers for both sides had been preparing to speak to the jury for the first time, microphones clipped to their jacket lapels.

The settlement spares Fox a trial that would have gone on for weeks and put many of the company’s most prominent figures — from the media mogul Rupert Murdoch to hosts like Tucker Carlson and Maria Bartiromo — on the stand.

The case held the potential to make public a stream of damaging information about how the network told its audience a story of fraud and interference in the 2020 presidential election that many of its own executives and on-screen personalities did not believe. And the network was not forced to apologize — a concession that Dominion lawyers had sought, lawyers involved in the case said.

That last point has disappointed many media critics.

WaPo’s Erik Wemple (“The big hole in the Dominion-Fox News settlement“):

When news of a possible settlement between Dominion Voting Systems and Fox News surfaced on Sunday night, pleas from concerned citizens popped up on social media: Don’t settle this lawsuit, Dominion. Put all the evidence before a jury. Drag Fox News hosts and executives to the witness stand. Grill them on their deceptive programming.

So, the news Tuesday afternoon that the two parties had settled Dominion’s $1.6 billion defamation suit over election disinformation for $787.5 million will disappoint those who longed for a more visceral comeuppance for Fox News. That’s understandable, considering that Fox News has littered the public square with lies and half-baked stories — essentially mini-Dominions — for 26-plus years.

The size of the payout, however, speaks to both the journalistic atrocities and the reams of internal correspondence that Dominion pried from Fox News during the pretrial maneuvering. And yet: It all feels a bit empty.

[…]

A Dominion document filed with the court on Tuesday listed 7,021 trial exhibits, including transcripts of offending programs, internal correspondence among producers expressing doubts about the stuff their bosses were broadcasting, scolding remarks about people committed to doing actual journalism, and a lot more. A good portion of the material relates to the actions of former Fox News host Lou Dobbs, a 30-plus-year veteran of cable news. He figures to be among the winners in this settlement, considering that he won’t have to see his propaganda exposed again in what promised to be saturation coverage.

Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro and Rupert Murdoch are among the others whose spring outlook just got a little brighter.

[…]

The Post’s Jeremy Barr reported that the network will not have to air any retractions or apologies pursuant to the settlement agreement. Which is to say, the resolution requires a great deal of something that Fox News has in wheelbarrows (money) and very little of something it has in teaspoons (editorial integrity).

POLITICO’s Jack Shafer (“Rupert Wins Again“):

If it seems fairly daft to congratulate Rupert Murdoch on settling the Dominion Voting Systems defamation case at a cost of $787.5 million, you probably need to be brought up to speed on how the tycoon excises malignancies when they threaten his core businesses.

Murdoch’s company paid $100 million to celebrities and crime victims in his tabloid phone-hacking scandal in Britain, according to the Washington Post. Another $50 million went one year to women at Fox News who alleged sexual harassment at the conservative network. In another case, $15 million went to a former host who complained about wage discrimination. A “seven-figure payment” went to the parents of Seth Rich, who sued Fox for trafficking a false conspiracy theory about his death. And in 2010, Fox dropped a mammoth $500 million to settle a supermarket-coupon trade secret lawsuit. In 2011, Murdoch completely shuttered his News of the World tabloid to limit exposure in the phone-hacking scandal.

A hundred million here, a hundred million there, might crimp your finances. But in the Murdoch universe, paying such settlements is just the cost of doing business Murdoch-style.

[…]

Like the phone-hacking scandal, like the sexual harassment cases, like the Seth Rich case, like the coupon case, this settlement will allow the Fox media machine to return to cruising speed and even continue its sleazy ways. When Murdoch was shamed over the phone-hacking scandal and closed the News of the World, observers hoped that maybe he or one of his children would amend the company’s manner. But here we are a decade-plus later, and the Murdoch enterprise is just as contaminated as it ever was.

There have already been whisperings that the settlement will tame the Murdoch beast. That Fox News will tread more carefully. That Fox’s shame will bleed into the media diets of their most faithful viewers and they’ll start looking at Fox News with new eyes as the enlightenment burns into their consciousness. Don’t kid yourself. If you had a machine that tossed off the sort of money Fox does, you wouldn’t tamper with it.

The Intercept’s Peter Maass has it right (“Dominion Was Never Going to Save Our Democracy From Fox News“):

The settlement is not a total shocker. Just days ago, there was a flurry of speculation that Fox wanted to settle, with the goal of avoiding a court’s verdict that it had lied with malice when it aired false accusations — from its hosts and guests like Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani — that Dominion had tried to rig the presidential election.

The settlement is unlikely to be welcomed by Fox critics who believed that a guilty verdict would serve a mortal blow to the network’s reputation. The idea was that Fox, on the ropes, should not be allowed to slip away by writing a settlement check and mumbling an insincere apology. As a headline from The New Republic pleaded amid the settlement rumors a few days ago, “Don’t Settle, Dominion! Drag Fox News Across the Coals.” It argued that with a guilty verdict, “we will be able to say, with a certainty we can’t quite claim now, that Fox News lies.”

But Dominion does not exist to serve the public interest or liberal magazines. It is a for-profit company owned by Staple Street Capital, a small private equity firm. Staple Street has fewer than 50 employees and claims $900 million of assets under management (a modest amount in its industry).

[…]

The size of the settlement represents a windfall on Staple Street’s investment in Dominion: Its controlling stake cost just $38.3 million in 2018, according to a filing in the case. While Dominion’s lawsuit has attracted an enormous amount of attention, it’s actually not a large company, as the market for its vote-counting services is limited; its expected revenues in 2022 were just $98 million, according to the filing.

While Dominion and Staple Street have not explained why they agreed to the settlement, the rationale is pretty clear. Their case was strong, but it wasn’t certain that a jury would deliver as much as they were seeking, and it also was not certain how quickly they might see any award, as Fox would likely appeal. 

[…]

The high hopes that were riding on the trial reflected the exasperated state of the longtime — and so far unsuccessful — effort to counteract the deceptive and racist programming that has been Fox’s hallmark since its founding in 1996 by Rupert Murdoch, who is now 92 years old and oversees the network with his eldest son, Lachlan (both were deposed and were expected to testify in the trial). Despite years of criticism from journalists and politicians — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., memorably described Fox as a “hate-for-profit racket” — the network has prospered. While most advertisers have fled its airwaves, Fox remains profitable because the bulk of its income consists of exorbitant payments from cable and satellite providers (so-called carriage fees). Despite several years of attempts to pressure those companies, there has been little success, though a renewed push is underway.

“Cable and satellite providers have to stop paying Fox News the carrying fees that are really Fox’s bread and butter, far more than ad revenue,” noted The New Republic. “If the jury finds against Fox, pressure must mount for that to end as well.”

These hopes, while widely held among Fox’s detractors, constitute the kind of magical thinking that circled around earlier efforts to undo the lies and violence of the Trump era. Just as the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller failed to deliver the knockout blow that was hoped for by its supporters, the now-settled lawsuit filed by Dominion is unlikely to alter the nature of Fox News, as the network has escaped the legal, moral, and financial punishment of a judicial verdict. We probably shouldn’t be surprised by this outcome: One terrible limb of American capitalism was always unlikely to save us from another terrible limb.

Aside from the weird leftist framing, Dominion acted rationally: it got offered a huge, certain, quick payout and was not going to gamble it on an uncertain payout that might never come. The purpose of a defamation suit is to undo damage to one’s reputation and recover damages. Dominion did that in spades.

As to Murdock and Fox, the broad facts here are widely available to anyone who cares to know them. While OTB readers might have enjoyed getting more juicy details, all of you already have a firm opinion on the network’s arrangement with the truth. Those who continue watcing at this point know they’re being lied to and either don’t care or welcome it.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Media, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mikey says:

    Aside from the weird leftist framing, Dominion acted rationally: it got offered a huge, certain, quick payout and was not going to gamble it on an uncertain payout that might never come. The purpose of a defamation suit is to undo damage to one’s reputation and recover damages. Dominion did that in spades.

    This. Yes, we all wanted Fox dragged across the coals and forced to admit before God and country that they’re a pack of lying lowlife scum, but this lawsuit was never going to result in that. Dominion is worth maybe $50 million and they got over $750 million. OF COURSE they’re not going to turn that down.

    An attorney friend of mine put it this way (paraphrasing slightly): The only thing civil suits can get is money. Not justice, vengeance, fulfillment, or anything else–just money.

    10
  2. Argon says:

    One wonders if cable operators need to carry Fox ‘News’ channel. Al Jazeera actually reports real news in better depth than most US news channels but can’t get a foothold in most markets.

    5
  3. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    I had hoped that a public admission and apology would be part of the settlement, but no one can blame Dominion for what they did…take almost $800M from Fox News for their stock-holders. Not bad for a company that typically makes about $17M a year.
    But I do have a quibble with your sub-head. I think that Fox will be emboldened and will be worse than before. For a company worth $18B, $800M ain’t much. It’s like losing $4 out of that $100 bill in your pocket. And the majority of their viewers won’t even know that it happened.
    No, I predict the damage that Murdoch properties do to our country will only get more worser.

    5
  4. grumpy realist says:

    Fox et al. are pushers. There are unfortunately too many people in the U.S. who want to be told that nothing is their fault and there’s a whole bunch of minorities/women/LGBT people/liberals who are secretly conniving against them. Fox provides the enthusiastic reinforcement of that belief.

    Fox viewers don’t care about truth. They just want their drug.

    5
  5. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    @daryl and his brother darryl:
    And Dominion DID do a huge service to everyone outside the Fox News bubble. They exposed the craven depravity and mendacity of Fox management and their hosts, in court filings, for all to see.
    The next thing I’d like to see is for the US Government to ban Fox News from Government TV’s based on it’s rampant mis-information and the damage that does. But there’s probably as much hope for that as there was for a public admission being part of the settlement.

    2
  6. gVOR08 says:

    FOX had a weasel worded story on the settlement up yesterday evening. I checked about midnight and it was gone. Not a word on the website right now. Yup, business as usual, and probably some new internal communication rules.

    2
  7. MarkedMan says:

    @daryl and his brother darryl: I think this is a heckuva lot more significant than it lets on. Fox just agreed to pay 15 times what the company would be worth if they bought it outright. This isn’t “you break it, you bought it”, this is “you break it, you buy it 15 times over but we still get to keep it”. And it is known that they did this. How many lawyers are out there looking for clients who could get that kind of payout? This could be asbestos all over again.

    3
  8. Michael Cain says:

    @Argon:

    One wonders if cable operators need to carry Fox ‘News’ channel.

    It’s a complicated problem with lots of moving parts. At least back when I worked for giant cable/telecom companies, Fox only sold their channels as a bundle including lineup placement requirements. If that’s still true, a cable operator can only drop the bundle, not just Fox News. If dropping the bundle causes subscribers to drop cable service, it may also affect how much the operator has to pay for non-Fox content (general rule of thumb, more subscribers gets the operator a lower fee per subscriber). Content with advertising always reserve some of the ad slots for the local operator. Replacing the Fox bundle with alternatives that draw fewer eyeballs reduces the cable company’s revenue from their own ad sales.

    2
  9. Scott says:

    My understanding that a public admission of guilt would damage Fox’s defense in the Smartmatic case which is coming up and could be just as expensive.

    1
  10. Scott says:

    @daryl and his brother darryl: From my observation, the military bases no longer put on the news in the hospital and clinic waiting rooms. It is HGTV and cooking shows.

    2
  11. Scott says:

    @Argon: I don’t have cable service anymore but get plenty of news through my Fire Stick: Al-Jazeera, NHK, Sky, DW, Euronews along with PBS, ABC, NBC, CBS, Yahoo, Bloomberg, Cheddar, Scripps and more. Haymarket runs a video news clip service from just about everyone. Of all the networks, I think CBS is running the most traditional: hosted 30 minute news shows, repeated throughout the day with the excellent John Dickerson hosting a traditional evening hour news program. Between that and PBS Newshour, I get my fill of news without bloviating talking heads.

    3
  12. steve says:

    Agree that Dominion made the right decision. However, I think you are wrong about one thing. Most viewers of Fox wont believe they were lying. They will believe that all the stuff that Fox people said in public is leaked lies to hurt the chances of Fox winning. They will believe Fox continues to be the main source telling the truth and they only settled to save money because the case was rigged against them. The judge is secretly related to the Clintons or something. As much as you dont want to think of those people as a cult, and maybe they dont fit a rigid definition, it really helps if you think of them as a cult. A cult will always find a way to deny reality and justify its beliefs.

    Steve

    7
  13. al Ameda says:

    Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro and Rupert Murdoch are among the others whose spring outlook just got a little brighter.

    Indeed.
    Just in time for the release of “Trump 2024 – Finish Off America”

    3
  14. Kathy says:

    The big question is: what lesson did Fox, the Prince of Darkness, his sons, and Fox’s imitators/competitors learned from the Dominion lawsuit?

    Very likely not to make specific accusations about particular persons or companies, because then they can sue for boatloads of money. The lies have to be more amorphous and far less specific. As has been said, Democracy did not sue Fox.

    Subsidiary lessons is to be less candid about one’s true opinions and belief in media that leave behind evidence, like text messages and emails. It’s fine to think that El Cheeto is a moron whose facial anus spews the same BS as his anal one, and his Kraken lawyers are more of the same, but don’t put it in writing. If you’re sued anyway, you’ll have a stronger case. You know, one where you don’t provide the plaintiff with an abundance of evidence against you.

    6
  15. Jax says:

    @Kathy: Hahahahaha……”facial anus”……no wonder I can barely stand to look at his face. 😛 😛

  16. Jay L Gischer says:

    @steve:

    A cult will always find a way to deny reality and justify its beliefs.

    This isn’t wrong. It just isn’t general enough. Most humans are this way. Pretty much all of them are this way once in a while.

    I have trained myself hard to face truth regardless of my feelings. And every once in a while, I catch myself doing this.

    I’m not taking their side. I just think it’s valuable to understand what one is up against.

    1
  17. CSK says:

    @Jax:
    Trump does have an anus mouth. It’s one of his many, many disturbing features.

    2
  18. just nutha says:

    @Argon: My mom didn’t watch Faux News for “the news.” She watched it because it was the only place she could get “The Truth” from an unbiased viewpoint. Think she’d watch Al Jazeera? Guess again.

    1
  19. gVOR08 says:

    I see long lists of successful suits against FOX, many be ex-employees. The biggie before now was the UK phone tapping case which, IIRC, cost them about a hundred million. To them this is a cost of doing business they decided long ago to accept.

    I note this is top of front page on NYT. In my local FL semi-pro newspaper it’s four paragraphs on A5. Tampa Bay Times, a bit longer story, but A6. No FOX devotee will be forced to find out about any of this. The few hints they get will be easy to rationalize. They’ve developed great skills at motivated reasoning. This was all driven by demoncrats and the deep state and anyway it’s only the Dominion machines and the lefty judge wouldn’t let FOX challenge that.

    Kevin Drum noted FOX CORP stock barely moved after the settlement. It’s been running about 34, dropped to 33 and is now climbing at 33.5.

    Dominion got well, the country is still under threat.

    2
  20. just nutha says:

    @Kathy: Also, a corollary to the Golden Rule: If you have adequate gold, you also get your own facts and truth, in addition to rules.

  21. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    @gVOR08:

    Tampa Bay Times, a bit longer story, but A6.

    This seemed odd to me, so I went to their website.
    Every story above the Dominion story, on their site, is a Florida story.
    So a decidedly local/regional focus to their news coverage.

    1
  22. MarkedMan says:

    The more I think about this, the more I think the settlement was all about keeping Fox News employees off the stand. Dominion was proven to have a market value of $50M in 2018. It would be stretching things to say it would have doubled in value in 5 years, but let’s call it $100M. I don’t see how you could be awarded damages at more than 8 times what the company is worth. Sure there are punitive damages but I gotta believe there is a good chance they end up paying substantial less than $787M and they could have dragged it out for years. Heck, they could have gotten off entirely.

    2
  23. dazedandconfused says:

    @Kathy:

    I suspect henceforth FOX’s Hannity/Tucker ilk will be under some adult supervision…but not so much as to disrupt the wonderfully profitable BuSiness model. The shareholders may demand a plated head or two and some of the commoners will be presented. Perhaps one of the royal family, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

    1
  24. Lounsbury says:

    @gVOR08: Drum has a poor understanding of stock market. Fox mother co pricing already was reflecting the well-understood weakness of their legal position.

    One has to look at Fox mother co pricing since the Dominion first public filings (I suppose that was December 22 or so), the nasty ones that got some of their best discovery results into the public record.

    That shows you the impact, the settlement falls within expected values so doesn’t move the stock price. What would have moved the stock price is either a value outside of range, either low or high.

    There was no plausible result from Dominion suit itself that put Fox News at existential risk level.

    @MarkedMan: As well as potential ongoing disclosure damage relative to the other cases, Smartmatic.

    Whereas sans settlement however potentially entertaining the trial might have been to the attendees, any judgment would get appealed and delayed to death (look at the bungler Jones, whereas Fox is actually generally competent).

    @Kathy: People are sloppy, it is very well known you should not put risky things in writing, but we do. Because how is discovery ever going to get at that if I am using non-corp platform, they gotta know where to ask (so leads the background thought as natural sloppiness kicks in). As texting with colleague is sponteneous. And normally Fox buries discovery. Except this time they faced up with really damn good legal team (one has to hope Smartmatic’s firm and legal team is half as good) that not only played discovery really damn well, with great follow-through, they also got their stuff on the record for leverage and as it turned out synergy with others.

    1
  25. dazedandconfused says: