WILMINGTON, DELAWARE — Well that’s that. Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems reached a major settlement on the first day of their blockbuster $1.6 billion defamation trial, in which the cable news giant paid $787.5 million to avoid a lengthy and potentially devastating process.
The enormous payout to Dominion makes this the largest media settlement in history. This settlement dwarfs the last largest in a media case: ABC News’s $177 million payout to Beef Products Inc.
The Fox News settlement was more than four times that amount.
Mediaite asked law professor and top First Amendment expert Jeff Kosseff is this is indeed the largest media settlement in history.
“By far,” he replied.
And for good reason: Fox News promoted false claims about the elections tech company in the aftermath of the 2020 election. During that time, as shown in the discovery phase of this trial, election conspiracy theories ran rampant on air despite network hosts and executives acknowledging privately that they were false.
It’s exceedingly rare that a defamation claim against a major media outlet ever makes it to trial, particularly one against a colony in Rupert Murdoch’s empire. The Australian media titan is no stranger to hefty settlements before cases make it to discovery. This case was different, which prompted rampant speculation that Dominion was holding out for more than just money – perhaps groveling on-air apologies from Fox News stars like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, or the defenestration of Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, a particularly careless purveyor of these election lies, or even Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott, the leader of the network.
In the end, Dominion settled for an enormous bag of cash. (It doesn’t actually come in a bag. Probably a cargo plane or, more likely, a wire transfer). The company also negotiated two more important concessions: first, the public revelation of the dollar amount in the settlement, which is rare, and second, a mealy-mouthed admission of guilt from Fox News.
“We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems. We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false,” Fox News said in a statement.
Dominion’s characterization of the concession was a little more colorful.
“Fox has admitted to telling lies about Dominion that caused enormous damage to my Company, our employees, and our customers,” said CEO John Poulos. “Nothing can ever make up for that.”
Those salivating at the prospect of Fox News hosts being forced to admit the 2020 election lies were indeed lies might be disappointed by this development.
But in the end, Poulos has a point. Fox News may not have admitted it lied, but the proof is in the payout: The network paid nearly $1 billion to avoid having its own false claims laid bare before a jury. We were remarkably close to seeing Fox’s dreadful coverage of the 2020 election put on trial. The network escaped that embarrassment, but the conclusion is the same: Fox’s promotion of 2020 election lies was a $787.5 million failure. Don’t trust me, trust Fox, which admitted as much and is literally paying the steep price.
Amid the chaos outside the courthouse in Wilmington, Delaware where this very brief trial took place, I received and read through Fox’s statement on the settlement. The latter half stood out to me:
“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.”
Ok, are you done rolling your eyes? Good. Thing is, the dispute of the 2020 election is far from over. Fox News may have survived the Dominion case, but another dangerous one looms. Smartmatic, a Florida-based election tech company, is suing Fox for $2.7 billion. That case, having survived a motion to dismiss, now careens towards a trial.