October 3, 2023

Fox News suffered a major setback Friday in its defense of a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit alleging it lied about voter fraud in the 2020 election.

A Delaware Superior Court judge said the case, brought by Dominion Voting Systems, was sufficient to conclude that Fox hosts and guests made repeated false claims about Dominion machines and their role in the fictional conspiracy , to steal the election of President Donald J. trump card.

“The evidence formed in this civil action,” Judge Eric M. Davis wroteIndicates that it “is a crystal It is clear that none of the Dominion-related statements about the 2020 election are true. “

Judge Davis said the case would go ahead and the jury would weigh whether Fox knowingly spread false claims about Dominick and determine any damages. The trial is expected to begin on April 17.

But he dismissed much of the core of Fox’s defense: the First Amendment protection for speech on its broadcasts that claims the election was somehow stolen. Fox has argued that it is only reporting allegations of voter fraud, which are inherently newsworthy, and that any statement by its sponsors about the alleged fraud is covered by the Constitution as opinion.

“It seems contradictory to refer to these statements as ‘opinions’ while also asserting that they are newsworthy allegations and/or substantively accurate reports of official proceedings,” Judge Davis said.

For example, on “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” which aired on November 24, 2020, Mr. Dobbs said, “I don’t think many Americans think about electoral fraud through electronic voting; that is, these machines, These electronic voting companies, including Dominion, especially Dominion, at least in the suspicion of many Americans.”

The statement was an assertion of fact, not opinion, about Dominion, the judge said.

Under defamation law, Dominion must prove that Fox either intentionally spread false information or had a brazen disregard for the truth, meaning it had reason to believe the information it spread was false.

Many legal experts said Dominion provided ample evidence that Fox’s hosts and producers knew what they were doing.

Ronell Anderson Jones, a law professor and First Amendment scholar at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney School of Law, said the judge has indicated he disagrees with many of Fox’s arguments.

“The case will go to a jury, and several key elements of the jury have already favored Dominion,” Ms. Anderson-Jones said.

Dominion said in a statement: “We are satisfied with the court’s decision to reject all of Fox’s arguments and defenses and find their statements about Dominion legally false. We look forward to going to trial.”

A Fox spokeswoman said the case “has always been about First Amendment protections for the media’s absolute right to report news.”

“Fox will continue to vigorously advocate for the rights to free speech and a free press as we move into the next phase of these processes,” she added.

Both sides are asking the judge for summary judgment, meaning a ruling in their favor based on the evidence the parties have presented so far, including at a pretrial hearing last week. Dominion argued that text messages and emails between Fox executives and hosts proved that many knew the claims were false but aired them anyway.

Fox accused Dominion of cherry-picking evidence, arguing that it was protected by the First Amendment because it reported newsworthy allegations.

In Friday’s ruling, Judge Davis said that if Dominion was awarded damages, the damages would be calculated by a jury. Lawyers for Fox rejected Dominion’s $1.6 billion claim at an earlier hearing, arguing that the company overstated its valuation and failed to prove it suffered any loss of business.

Fox argued that Fox News, the parent company of Fox News, was not involved in the dissemination of the allegedly defamatory remarks. In the decision, the judge left that question to the jury.

The case is the most high-profile case yet to test whether allies of former President Donald J. Trump will be held accountable for spreading lies about the 2020 election. The prosecution of those who were at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 has focused on petty criminals and low-level agitators.

The big revelation was hidden in the lawsuit documents. In the weeks before and after the 2020 election, hundreds of pages of internal emails and messages, some of which were redacted, showed that many Fox executives and hosts did not believe the false claims they were spreading about voter fraud and were critical of Trump. Mr. and his legal counsel.

Popular primetime host Tucker Carlson described Trump in a text with his producers as a “demonic force, saboteur.” In another message to host Laura Ingraham, Mr. Carlson said Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Sidney Powell, had lied about the fraud allegations, but “our viewers Good people, they believe it.”

The deluge also revealed panic at Fox News in the weeks following the election. Leaders including the network’s chief executive, Suzanne Scott, and its parent company’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch, worry that when it rightly refers to Arizona as Little Joseph When Joseph R. Biden Jr. , it will infuriate viewers who believe the network has betrayed Mr. Trump.

As some of those viewers switched to more right-wing channels such as Newsmax in the days after the election, Ms Scott told Mr Murdoch in an email that she intended to “shift but keep an audience that loves us and trusts us”. “We need to make sure they know we’re not giving up on them and remain their advocates,” she added.

In his testimony, Mr Murdoch admitted that some Fox News hosts had “endorsed” false allegations of fraud. He added that he “wants us to condemn it more forcefully after the fact.”

There’s also a recent complication to that lawsuit: A former Fox News producer filed her own lawsuit against the company this month, alleging that the network’s lawyers coerced her into giving misleading testimony in the Dominion case. Fox News fired producer Abby Grosberg, who worked for host Maria Bartiromo and Mr. Carlson, after she filed a complaint.

On Monday, Ms. Grossberg’s attorney filed her errata, which witnesses use to correct errors in their testimony. She revised her comment to say she didn’t trust the Fox producers she worked with because they were “activists, not journalists, and imposed their political agenda on the show.”

Judge Davis’ ruling sets the stage for one of the most important media trials in recent history, with Fox executives and anchors likely to be called to testify in person.

In recent hearings, the judge said he was impatient with Fox’s lawyers and their efforts to oppose Dominion’s efforts to put the evidence on record. He said Friday that he believed Dominion was correct in asserting that Fox was not “reporting in good faith and disinterestedly.”

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