WILMINGTON, DELAWARE – Fox News today opted to settle with Dominion Voting Systems in order to avoid a drawn-out, embarrassing trial over the network’s lies about the 2020 election. But no amount of money can erase the ruinous reputational damage to Fox from months of pretrial filings.
Just as the long-awaited trial over Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion lawsuit was set to move to opening statements, the proceedings unexpectedly paused for several hours. Upon returning to the courtroom, the judge announced a settlement.
“The parties have resolved the case,” Judge Eric M. Davis told the jury, thanking them for their service that day. “Without you, the parties would not have been able to resolve their situation.”
The trial presented a rare moment of accountability for Fox -- and perhaps the greatest threat to the network since its founding. Fox has steadily amassed power and profit over the last several decades, using virulent rhetoric, unhinged commentary, and baldfaced fabrications to create a media juggernaut with expansive influence over the conservative movement, the Republican Party, and the United States at large.
Fox hired a small army of lawyers to help defend what’s left of its honor but in the end decided that preemptively paying up was worth limiting further looks behind the curtain at the network.
But even without the trial, the network has been completely exposed for what critics like Media Matters have long shown that it is: a shameless Republican propaganda organ that prioritizes profit and politics over anything resembling journalistic ethics.
Dominion’s filings in the case, based on reams of internal network documents, text messages between Fox staffers, and depositions, have revealed that Fox executives, hosts, and producers knew at the time that the stolen election narratives the network peddled following the 2020 presidential election were false; that the network’s promotion of these conspiracy theories came amid internal fears that viewers would abandon Fox for its Trumpier competitors; that executives cracked down on “news” side staffers who tried to report facts about election fraud to the network audience; that network chief Rupert Murdoch and star host Tucker Carlson privately disparaged Trump; and that Murdoch effectively used the network as a super PAC to help Republican political candidates.
For Fox, there’s no way to reverse the public disclosure that the network’s employees are propagandists who knowingly lie to its viewers.
This isn't the first hit Fox has taken in recent years.
Bigoted commentary and conspiracy theories by Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham drove major brands away from their prime-time broadcasts, leaving commercial breaks filled with ads for election denier Mike Lindell’s My Pillow company.
And Fox’s promotion of white nationalist conspiracy theories, its anti-vaccine advocacy, its fusion with Donald Trump’s White House, and its January 6 revisionism triggered wave after wave of damning headlines from other outlets that depleted the network’s mainstream credibility.
The Dominion lawsuit has always posed a much greater threat to Fox’s bottom line than just a settlement
The embarrassing saga couldn’t have come at a worse time for Fox, which is currently negotiating or preparing to negotiate with three of its biggest carriers. As Media Matters President Angelo Carusone detailed on Twitter last week, the network hopes to jack up its already overpriced carriage rates in order to offset ad losses and boost profits.
The Dominion lawsuit has also spurred shareholder actions against Fox Corp., Fox News’ parent company. Dominion’s filings suggest that Fox Corp. board members violated their fiduciary duty and top executives neglected their responsibilities, and the behavior seemingly flouts Fox Corp. shareholders’ understanding of responsible corporate governance, as Media Matters detailed. This breach has already resulted in at least one shareholder lawsuit against the Murdochs and other board members, and numerous law firms are also seeking plaintiffs. Fox’s settlement will not stop that process — it will put the company at risk of more shareholder lawsuits.
And looming beyond the Dominion settlement is an even larger $2.7 billion lawsuit against Fox from Smartmatic, another voting services company that suffered similar false attacks from the network following the 2020 election. In February, a New York state appeals court ruled against Fox’s motion to quash that lawsuit, raising the probability that it, too, could go to trial.
It’s a perfect storm for Fox, and all because the network’s malfeasance and depravity finally caught up to it.