Fox News Suffers Major Setback in Dominion Case
The judge said the case would still need to proceed to trial, for a jury to weigh whether Fox News knowingly spread false claims about Dominion Voting Systems, and to determine any damages.
Fox News suffered a significant setback on Friday in its defense against a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit that claims it lied about voter fraud in the 2020 election.
A judge in Delaware Superior Court said the case, brought by Dominion Voting Systems, was strong enough to conclude that Fox hosts and guests had repeatedly made false claims about Dominion machines and their supposed role in a fictitious plot to steal the election from President Donald J. Trump.
Judge Davis said the case would proceed to trial, for a jury to weigh whether Fox spread false claims about Dominion while knowing that they were untrue, and to determine any damages. The trial is expected to begin April 17.
But he rejected much of the heart of Fox’s defense: that the First Amendment protected the statements made on its air alleging that the election had somehow been stolen. Fox has argued that it was merely reporting on allegations of voter fraud as inherently newsworthy and that any statements its hosts made about supposed fraud were covered under the Constitution as opinion.
“It appears oxymoronic to call the statements ‘opinions' while also asserting the statements are newsworthy allegations and/or substantially accurate reports of official proceedings,” Judge Davis said.
For example, in a “Lou Dobbs Tonight” broadcast on Nov. 24, 2020, Mr. Dobbs said: “I think many Americans have given no thought to electoral fraud that would be perpetrated through electronic voting; that is, these machines, these electronic voting companies including Dominion, prominently Dominion, at least in the suspicions of a lot of Americans.”
The judge said that statement was asserting a fact, rather than an opinion, about Dominion.
RonNell Andersen Jones, a law professor and First Amendment scholar at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, said the judge had signaled that he disagreed with many of Fox’s arguments.
“The case will head to the jury with several of the key elements already decided in Dominion’s favor,” Ms. Anderson Jones said.
Dominion, in a statement, said: “We are gratified by the court’s thorough ruling soundly rejecting all of Fox’s arguments and defenses, and finding as a matter of law that their statements about Dominion are false. We look forward to going to trial.”
A spokeswoman for Fox said the case “is and always has been about the First Amendment protections of the media’s absolute right to cover the news.”
“Fox will continue to fiercely advocate for the rights of free speech and a free press as we move into the next phase of these proceedings,” she added.
Fox has accused Dominion of cherry-picking evidence and argued that the First Amendment protected it because it was reporting on newsworthy allegations.
In Friday’s decision, Judge Davis said damages, if they were awarded to Dominion, would be calculated by the jury. Lawyers for Fox pushed back on Dominion’s claim for $1.6 billion in previous hearings, arguing that the company had overstated its valuation and failed to show it suffered any loss of business.
Fox has argued that Fox Corp, the parent company of Fox News, was not involved in the broadcasting of the allegedly defamatory statements. In the decision, the judge left that question up to a jury.
Source: NYTimes Technology