Fox News agreed on Tuesday to pay Dominion Voting Systems nearly $800 million to avert a trial in the voting machine company’s lawsuit that would have exposed how the network promoted lies about the 2020 presidential election.
The stunning settlement emerged just as opening statements were supposed to begin, abruptly ending a case that had embarrassed Fox News over several months and raised the possibility that network founder Rupert Murdoch and stars such as Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity would have to testify publicly.
“The truth matters. Lies have consequences,” Dominion lawyer Justin Nelson told reporters outside a Delaware courthouse after Superior Court Judge Eric Davis announced the deal.
Outside of the $787.5 million promised to Colorado-based Dominion, it was unclear what other consequences Fox would face. Fox acknowledged in a statement “the court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false,” but no apology was offered.
“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,” Fox said. Its lawyers and representatives offered no other comment or details about the settlement.
Asked by a reporter whether there was “anything to this other than money,” Dominion CEO John Poulos did not answer.
The deal is a significant amount of money even for a company the size of Fox. It represents about one-quarter of the $2.96 billion the company reported earning last year before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — a figure often used to approximate a company’s cash flow.
The settlement also follows a $965 million judgment issued last year against Alex Jones by a Connecticut jury for spreading false conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook school massacre.
Coupled with other lawsuits in the pipeline, the agreement shows there is a real financial risk for conservative media that traffic in conspiracy theories. What remains unknown is how much of a deterrent this will be. Even as the Dominion case loomed this spring, Fox’s Tucker Carlson aired his alternate theories about what happened at the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
Dominion had sued Fox for $1.6 billion, arguing that the top-rated news outlet damaged the company’s reputation by peddling phony conspiracy theories that claimed its equipment switched votes from former President Donald Trump to Democrat Joe Biden. Davis, in an earlier ruling, said it was “CRYSTAL clear” that none of the allegations about Dominion aired on Fox by Trump allies were true.
Dominion set out to prove in the lawsuit that Fox acted with malice in airing allegations that it knew to be false, or with “reckless disregard” for the truth. It presented volumes of internal emails and text messages that showed Fox executives and personalities saying they knew the accusations were untrue, even as the falsehoods were aired on programs hosted by Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs and Jeannine Pirro.
Records released as part of the lawsuit showed that Fox aired the claims in part to win back viewers who were fleeing the network after it correctly called hotly contested Arizona for Democrat Joe Biden on election night. One Fox Corp. vice president called them “MIND BLOWINGLY NUTS.”
During a deposition, Murdoch testified that he believed the 2020 election was fair and had not been stolen from Trump.
“Fox knew the truth,” Dominion argued in court papers. “It knew the allegations against Dominion were ‘outlandish’ and ‘crazy’ and ‘ludicrous’ and ‘nuts.’ Yet it used the power and influence of its platform to promote that false story.”
But Fox’s legal problems may not be over. It still faces a defamation lawsuit from another voting technology company, Smartmatic. Its lawyer, Erik Connolly, said Tuesday that “Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign. Smartmatic will expose the rest.”