On Tuesday, as the case rushed toward opening statements, Fox News negotiated a last-minute deal with Dominion Voting Systems, paying more than $787 million to terminate a massive two-year legal battle that dramatically destroyed the right-wing network’s reputation.
The $787.5 million settlement between Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems is the highest publicly known defamation payout involving a media corporation in US history.
The agreement was made public just hours after the jury was sworn in at the Delaware Superior Court. Rumors of a settlement circulated in the courtroom as the proceedings abruptly came to a standstill for over three hours after a lunch break, with no explanation, while the sides reportedly hammered out an agreement.
“The parties have resolved their case,” Judge Eric Davis said before dismissing the 12-member jury, crediting them with providing the impetus for the parties to reach a settlement, effusively praising the lawyers on both sides, and dismissing the so-called media “trial of the century” before it even began.
The historic settlement “represents vindication and accountability,” according to Dominion lawyer Justin Nelson. “In order for our democracy to last another 250 years, and ideally much longer, we must all share a dedication to facts… Today is a resounding victory for truth and democracy.”
In a statement, the right-wing network said it “acknowledge[s] the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false,” referring to Davis’ recent ruling that 20 Fox News broadcasts from late 2020 contained blatantly false assertions that Dominion rigged the presidential election. A Dominion spokesman told CNN that Fox will not have to confess on-air that it promoted misinformation about Dominion.
The $787.5 million payout is roughly half of the $1.6 billion that Dominion initially sought, though it is nearly 10 times the company’s valuation from 2018, and roughly eight times its annual revenue in 2021, according to court filings.
The last-minute arrangement means that the carefully followed case is concluded and will not go to trial.
By reaching an agreement with Dominion, Fox News executives and prominent on-air personalities will avoid testifying about its 2020 election coverage, which was riddled with claims about voting fraud.
Fox Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch, his CEO son Lachlan Murdoch, and prominent Fox hosts such as Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson were among those called as witnesses.
Damning emails, messages, and deposition evidence made public during the litigation indicated that these officials, along with many others at Fox, privately stated in 2020 that the Dominion vote-rigging charges were ridiculous.
But the falsehoods were broadcast anyhow.
Rupert Murdoch felt election denial was “really crazy,” even as Fox personalities pushed the same arguments to millions of viewers. Carlson claimed he “passionately” opposes Donald Trump, calling his administration a “disaster.” On-air accusations of a stolen election were described as “kooky,” “dangerously reckless,” and “mind-blowingly nuts” by Fox presenters, producers, fact-checkers, and top executives.
As the case approached trial, these discoveries prompted months of scathing headlines for Fox. By settling now, Fox denied Dominion the opportunity to further reveal its deception through a weeks-long trial.
“This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards,” Fox said in a statement Tuesday. “We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues.”
Fox News and Fox Corporation – its parent company, which was also a defendant – maintain they never defamed Dominion, and say the case was a meritless assault on First Amendment press freedoms.
Speculation about a settlement has reached a fever pitch in recent days, especially when the court ordered on Sunday a one-day postponement in the opening of the trial, which was scheduled to begin on Monday.