Admittedly, Fox’s settlement with Dominion Voting Systems has benefits as well as drawbacks in establishing accountability for ill-motivated journalism. Yes, it’s the largest ever payout to settle a media defamation lawsuit, and yes, it will help the subsequent libel claims against Fox for amplifying and validating the Big Lie. Most importantly, the discovery phase of the lawsuit was not muzzled (put under seal), so it is a matter of public record that Fox knew it was lying to its viewers regarding rigged voting machines flipping votes to Biden, and more. Still, the payout will not deter Fox from continuing its venomous, reckless and profitable practices, leaving us misinformed and divided.
Defamation is an intentional tort and punitive damages are available. Here actual malice (knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard of truth) is easily shown: beyond the damning emails, there is audio of a Trump official talking with a Fox Producer acknowledging that there was no evidence of fraud (see Amy Goodman interview with Angelo Carusone, democracy now.org, April 21, 2023); thus obliterating Fox’s defense of neutral reporting, showing that Fox was actually in cahoots with team Rump in spreading known lies. Punitive damages are aimed at deterring egregious conduct. In the final quarter of 2022 Fox reported earnings of $4.61 billion. It sure seems like Fox got off cheap.
$787.5 million is the biggest ever payout in a media libel case but it will not deter Fox – which, in an effort to calm the markets, announced right after the settlement that it will get a more than $200 million tax break from the payout (business expense) and that it is asking for a $1 increase per cable subscriber, which will yield them some $980 million more in profit.
Rupert Murdoch is a ruthless media mogul who has always used his money and blackmail tactics to lord over people (see PBS Frontline 2012 documentary Murdoch’s Scandal). He has paid before, agreeing to pay: more than $900 million to settle fraud and antitrust lawsuits; hundreds of millions to settle the British massive phone and email hacking scandal; and, more than $200 million to prevent allegations of widespread sexual harassment at Fox from being heard in court. He paid $1.7 billion to settle his 1999 divorce from his second wife.
Libel lawsuits related to the Big Lie are just getting started. Dominion is bringing defamation claims against other news networks and against Big Lie enablers including Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and My Pillow CEO Michael Lindell. Once again, wherever the disgraced former President goes, misery, disgrace and litigation follow.
Fox faces a $2.7 billion defamation claim from Smartmatic, another election tech company; it is also facing shareholder derivative lawsuits for violating its fiduciary duty. The pretrial rulings, discovery and payout in Dominion v. Fox will hurt its defense in the Smartmatic case but Fox viewers won’t hear a thing in this respect, remaining in their Foxhole/bubble.
Critics have asked: why didn’t Dominion demand an acknowledgment of wrongdoing and an apology from Fox? Because they were paid not to. This exposes why private lawsuits can’t bring down Fox. In private lawsuits money speaks louder than acknowledgements or apologies. But society needs more. The lies about Dominion were the foundation for the Big Lie, which was the basis for the January 6 riot. Of course the FCC should be protecting the public from media abuses, but that isn’t in the cards. The fox is guarding the henhouse, once again.
Fox and Rump enabled each other in an echo chamber of lies and divisive greed. Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said sunlight is the best disinfectant, only transparency can root out corruption and enable accountability. This seems sadly antiquated in an era when NDA’s (non-disclosure agreements) are used to enforce ‘voluntary’ silence. Under contract. Take the money and keep quiet. No trial, no record, no precedent.
Murdoch’s Fox has paid before and will keep paying to keep damning evidence under wraps and to keep its profits soaring. Expect the record payout in the Dominion case to be broken in the Smartmatic case. But of course those living in such a divided society pay the heaviest price for Fox’s business practices.