For those of us who had hoped that Fox News would be publicly humiliated in the courtroom, Tuesday’s announcement that a settlement had been reached was disappointing but not surprising. The purpose of lawsuits is to resolve disputes, not to provide justice.
And what a settlement Dominion Voting Systems got: $787.5 million, or about 19% of the cash or “cash equivalents” held by Fox Corp. at the end of 2022, according to The New York Times. No, not even Rupert Murdoch has that kind of money sloshing around in a spare pants pocket. It also amounts to half the $1.6 billion in damages Dominion said it had suffered as a result of on-air lies that the company’s machines had switched votes from Donald Trump to Joe Biden in the 2020 election.
Still, it would have been lovely to watch the 92-year-old mogul take the stand and be confronted with internal communications that showed he and other Fox executives and talk-show hosts knew Donald Trump and his supporters were lying about the election being stolen by Dominion and other dark forces but promoted those lies anyway. I also wish that Fox were being forced to apologize for its lies, over and over again, but that was probably never in the cards.
On the other hand, Fox News faces more legal troubles, including a $2.7 billion lawsuit brought by yet another voting technology company, Smartmatic. So unless Fox settles that case as well, this saga is a long way from being resolved. Good.
Some media observers were breathing a sigh of relief that the First Amendment protections for libel would not be put to the test. I’m not among them. As I wrote earlier, this was really a textbook example of “actual malice” — that is, publishing or broadcasting false information despite knowing that it’s false, or demonstrating reckless disregard for the truth. It was not a “landmark case.” I talked about that before the settlement was announced with WBZ-TV (Channel 4) political analyst Jon Keller, who provides a good overview of Tuesday’s events and what they mean.
I’ll close with a post on Mastodon by M.S. Bellows Jr., a lawyer and commentator who gets to the heart of it in a way that’s both illuminating and entertaining:
I’m a former trial lawyer, former prosecutor, and current mediator. I have both represented and sued some of the largest companies in the world. I am very experienced, and VERY good, at what I do.
At trial, Dominion would not and could not have received an apology. Period. The vanishingly rare circumstances in which a court could order a retraction do not exist here.
At trial, Dominion would not have received $787.5 million, which is 45x its highest annual earnings. If a jury awarded it that much, the court almost certainly would have reduced it on remittitur.
This is a superb and stunning settlement. Dominion has hurt Fox badly, exposed Fox’s lies, and done the American public a massive service. If you feel otherwise, fine – but that’s all it is: a feeling. Factually, you are incorrect, and to soothe your feelings you should take recourse to bourbon or cannabis, not social media.
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