As the defamation case Dominion Voting Systems filed against Fox News advances, the network’s lawyers recently took a standard step and asked a judge to rule in Fox’s favor and dismiss the case. To the surprise of no one, that motion was denied late last week.
But what made the developments striking were the relevant details. NBC News reported:
A judge denied granting summary judgment to Fox News in its attempt to get Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit thrown out Friday, meaning the case will go to trial in mid-April. Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis handed Dominion a major win, too, when he agreed that the challenged statements are false.
“The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that is CRYSTAL clear that none of the Statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true,” Davis wrote in his ruling. (Note, it was the judge who bolded the word “crystal” and put in all caps.)
Jonathan Peters, a media law professor at the University of Georgia, told The Washington Post that the decision was “disastrous” for Fox and it’s worth appreciating why.
On the surface, no one seriously expected the judge to grant the network’s request and throw out the case. But the lawyers tried the routine step anyway, and the fact that the case is now headed to trial was itself a setback for the network.
But at trial, the assumption was that Dominion would have to prove that the network aired false and harmful statements about the company. On Friday, the judge in the case said Dominion’s lawyers need not bother — because the evidence on this point is already clear.
“Through its extensive proof, Dominion has met its burden of showing there is no genuine issue of material fact as to falsity,” Davis wrote. “Fox therefore had the burden to show an issue of material fact existed in turn. Fox failed to meet its burden.”
In other words, there was a list of things the company and its lawyers needed to prove in order to prevail in this case. As of Friday, that list is shorter.
So what’s left to litigate? NBC News’ report added, “The jury will be asked to consider whether Fox News journalists acted with actual malice — knowing falsity or reckless disregard for the truth — in publishing the claims, and whether damages are due. They will also be asked to weigh the involvement of Fox Corp. in the publication of the alleged defamatory statements.”
If this seems like the latest in a series of setbacks for the network, it’s not your imagination. To briefly recap, a recent court filing presented evidence that suggested Fox News promoted bogus election claims they knew to be false, on purpose, in order to placate its audience and make money. We also learned, among other things, that News Corp. Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch acknowledged under oath that some prominent Fox News hosts “endorsed” baseless claims the network knew to be wrong.
Last week, as part of a pretrial hearing, the judge made public even more evidence, including the fact that Fox’s fact-checking and research division determined that conspiracy theories surrounding Dominion Voting Systems were false. The bogus theories went on the air anyway.
The same disclosures featured a December 2020 email that Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott sent to Meade Cooper, the executive vice president of prime-time programming, complaining about a segment in which an on-air anchor told viewers the truth about some of Trump’s bogus voter fraud claims. “This has to stop now,” Scott wrote. “The audience is furious and we are just feeding them material. Bad for business.”
Fox News has denied all wrongdoing and is vigorously contesting the lawsuit. The trial is scheduled to begin in Delaware on April 17.