Last minute delay in Fox-Dominion defamation trial

[UPDATE: The two parties have reached a settlement in which Fox will pay Dominion $785.5 million.

This settlement is not the end of the legal woes for Fox.

Fox still faces several legal battles related to its decision to broadcast false claims. Smartmatic, another voting equipment company, is suing the company for $2.7bn. Abby Grossberg, a former Fox employee who worked for Bartiromo and Carlson, is also suing the company, alleging she was coerced into giving misleading testimony.

The network also faces a separate lawsuit from a shareholder who is seeking damages and argues that executives breached their fiduciary duty to the company by causing false claims about the election to be broadcast.

Fox has also admitted that it told lies about the election. It is not yet clear what public apologies Fox will give on the air, if any. The details of the settlement once released may clarify that point.]

The defamation trial of Dominion against Fox News was supposed to get underway yesterday but on Sunday the judge in the case postponed it until today. No reasons were given for the delay, leading to speculation that lawyers for both sides were trying to negotiate a deal. It is not unusual for deals to be struck on the eve of a trial as both sides play a game of chicken to see whether the other will make the first move, signaling weakness. Although the judge on Monday said that the trial would start today, it may be that a deal has been reached by the time people read this post.

It seems likely that if the idea of a deal was broached, it was by Fox since the amount of pre-trial information released has been pretty damning to them. But what might have pushed them over the edge is the fact that the judge ruled that Rupert Murdoch could be forced by Dominion to testify. This came in the wake of Fox admitting that it had misled the judge by downplaying Murdoch’s role in the company , by claiming that he was not an officer but had mostly an honorary role, which seemed to tick off the judge.

Fox News formally apologized to the judge in the Dominion defamation case, taking responsibility for the “misunderstanding” regarding Rupert Murdoch’s role at the network that led the judge to launch an investigation into potential legal misconduct by Fox, according to a letter obtained by CNN.

In the letter, which was dated Friday and filed with the court, Fox attorney Blake Rohrbacher said the right-wing network “never intended to omit information” and that its inaccurate representations about Murdoch’s formal role at Fox News were “not meant to mislead the Court or evade the question.”

“We understand the Court’s concerns, apologize, and are committed to clear and full communication with the Court moving forward,” Rohrbacher wrote, later adding that, “we should have provided to the Court a complete and prompt response to the Court’s questions concerning the identities of all of Fox News’ officers. We apologize and never intended to avoid responding to a question from the Court.”

Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis seethed over the matter at a pretrial hearing Tuesday, saying, “my problem is, it’s been represented to me more than once that he’s not an officer of Fox News.” At another hearing the next day, he told Fox’s attorneys, “I need people to tell me the truth, and by the way, omission is a lie.”

The judge also warned Fox’s lawyers not to play games to try to prevent Murdoch from testifying.

Murdoch is chairman of Fox Corporation, the parent of the rightwing Fox News network, while his eldest son Lachlan holds the role of executive chairman and chief executive. Other high-profile Fox presenters who had been expected to testify in person included its star host, Tucker Carlson, and Sean Hannity, a close non-official adviser to Trump.

Davis has previously warned the network’s attorneys not to make him “look like an idiot” in their efforts to keep the nonagenarian off the stand.

The judge, who said he had previously received a letter stating that Murdoch could not travel to the trial in Delaware because of Covid, said the mogul’s announcement that he was engaged to be married for a fifth time (since called off) with plans to travel between his homes in Los Angeles, Montana, New York and London show that “he’s hardly infirm”.

Although the revelations of all the internal communications at Fox have provided multiple examples of their two-faced behavior, having all their well-known key players having to squirm in public under the examination of Dominion’s lawyers must be something that Fox and Fox’s lawyers are desperate to avoid.

Nevertheless, a settlement deal could yet be brokered at any time, with a possible price tag mooted at about $500m less of a thorny issue than Dominion’s demand for a public apology from Fox.

“Any settlement will be very generous but the [Murdoch] empire can take and absorb such a shock; it has paid out more than $1bn over the last decade relating to phone hacking,” says Claire Enders, a co-founder of Enders Analysis and a longtime Murdoch watcher.

“Murdoch is someone who settles, quickly, efficiently and is extremely pragmatic in his settlements. Shareholders would find it a relief [but] it also spares a desire to put Mr Murdoch and others on the stand, de-risking any potential embarrassment from a public grilling.”

The main sticking point to a deal may not be the amount of money Fox offers but the kind of apology that Dominion wants Fox to give. They will undoubtedly want it to be full and disseminated as widely as they did the lies about Dominion but that will be hard for Fox to swallow, given how much they fear the wrath of Trump and Trump’s rabid followers who continue to say that the election was stolen.

We should not forget that there are other defamations cases pending, such as by the other company Symantec, and other people such as Rudy Giuliani, Mike Lindell, and Sidney Powell.


  1. KG says

    I very much hope Dominion don’t settle, but presumably they will primarily decide on the basis of what’s best for the company financially, which could well be a fat payment from Fox without any risk of losing the case.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    Second that. #dontsettledominion !
    It would be fascinating to see the somersaults Fox would do to keep Rupert out of the witness box.

  3. Matt G says

    Thirded. This has been an attack on the company AND democracy. If Dominion cares about the latter (dare I hope…), they should pursue this to its rightful conclusion.

  4. Dunc says

    I also would like to see this go to trial, but I would be surprised if it does. Dominion are in the business of making money, not protecting democracy.

    What I do think is worth remarking on this that we’re all sitting here hoping that a corporation will make an arguably foolish commercial decision to pursue an expensive civil lawsuit in order to preserve the tatters of democracy from the idea that news publishers can knowling promulgate politically motivated lies with complete impunity. That’s a pretty sad state of affairs. In a functioning state, you’d think there would be both laws about such things, and a consensus that those laws should be vigorously enforced. Or, at the very least, a pretence of such.

  5. says

    @4 “Dominion are in the business of making money, not protecting democracy.”

    Somewhat ironic, seeing the business that they’re in.

    My guess is that financial considerations for Dominion will win out (let’s just call it what it is: another failure of unregulated capitalism). Further, Fox will cough up a sizable payment but will not have to admit to lying or guilt of any kind. At best, there will be a not-pology along the lines of “We’re sorry if some of our viewers got mistaken impressions, blah, blah…”

  6. says

    Dominion appears to have been bought out by its executives and an investment bank. It is possible that they re-aligned their business just to become a vehicle for a massive lawsuit against fox. There is less incentive for them to settle.

  7. flex says

    I think it could go either way, with a slight bias toward Dominion wanting to see the lawsuit through, regardless of the money Fox throws at them. Fox is probably willing to throw a lot of money, but they won’t want any public concession of wrongdoing. Dominion may be asking for a requirement that Fox not only publicly concede that their hosts lied to their viewers, but that Fox themselves issue a certain number of announcement to their viewers during those same programs using verbiage approved by Dominion.

    It appears, from what I read at least, is that the founders of Dominion still run the company and they may feel personally slighted by the hit to the reputation of the company they spent a lot of time growing. They are also a Canadian company, which may also have an impact on their corporate culture. Not that Canadians are automatically ethical, but there is a cultural difference.

  8. says

    Because of Fox’ deplorable lying in discovery, the judge has all but declared them guilty and the remaining song and dance will be about getting the jury to award damages. It’s going to be especially interesting when the lawsuits against Powell abd Giuliani hit -- basically “Fox already admitted they knew you were lying and report that you admitted that you have no evidence. You are going to be a very broke individual.”

  9. birgerjohansson says

    Marcus Ranum @ 8
    (Purring like the cat in Tom and Jerry, when the mouse is trapped)

  10. Tethys says

    If we are daring to hope, I’m hoping Dominion follows Gretchen Carlson’s advice, refuses to settle, and takes this all the way to destroying the Murdochs and their media network.

    I would cheer for more pissed off judges ordering investigations into the crooked oligarchs and their teams of lawyers, and handing out severe penalties for every single lawyer and every talking head who has participated in furthering the big lie.

  11. ardipithecus says

    Another lawsuit, this time filed by a shareholder, accusing Rupert and other officers of failure to protect the reputation of the company by focusing on short term ratings instead of long term reputation. Ain’t we got fun.

    (PS -- I think Dominion is very much concerned about protecting democracy inasmuch as their product is worthless without it. What the owner’s philosophical position is is anybody’s guess.)

  12. Dunc says

    I think Dominion is very much concerned about protecting democracy inasmuch as their product is worthless without it.

    Their product just requires elections, not a functioning democracy. Dictators and corrupt regimes love elections.

  13. says

    Their product just requires elections, not a functioning democracy. Dictators and corrupt regimes love elections.

    Even Hugo Chavez loved elections.
    Too soon? I’ll get my coat.

  14. billseymour says

    The settlement was a big deal covered by all the TV news that I watched tonight:  DW News, BBC World News America, my local TV news, NBC Nightly News and PBS Newshour.  Dominion’s lawyers made some really strong statements about how this was a win for honesty in journalism; but I doubt that anything much will change; and folk who get all their information from FOX will certainly never hear those statements.  All they’re likely to hear is a statement of the “mistakes were made” variety.  I find this very depressing.

  15. ardipithecus says

    Dominion’s product is based on integrity and honesty. To merely tabulate votes without reliable accuracy would be a different product, maybe one with a lot less emphasis on security.. Maduro might be in the market for something like that, but Putin already has his system up and running.

  16. Holms says

    Harm to Fox is still harm to Fox, even if there was the chance of even more harm to Fox. Given the net income of Fox News hovers in the low hundreds-of-millions per quarter, this payout roughly wipes out two quarters of profit. This warms my heart.

    And as others say, more suits loom.

  17. says

    According to Forbes, Murdoch himself is worth 17.6 billion, so roughly, this settlement is literally the fractional part of his fortune (not that he’s personally on the hook for it- just a matter of scale and perspective).

    Like I said, another failure of unregulated capitalism.

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