WILMINGTON, Del. – Fox Corp. and its cable networks agreed Tuesday to pay $787.5 million to Dominion Voting Systems to settle a defamation lawsuit over false claims that Dominion’s machines swayed the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
The settlement, which came after a 12-member jury had been seated for trial in the case in Delaware Superior Court, averted a weeks-long trial that could have seen top Fox TV hosts and network boss Rupert Murdoch publicly testify.
The deal, which will cost Fox nearly half of the $1.6 billion that Dominion originally demanded, was struck as opening arguments were delayed for hours amid speculation that the parties were discussing a resolution of the case.
Dominion CEO John Poulos, joined by members of the Dominion Voting Systems legal team, speaks to members of the media outside the Leonard Williams Justice Center in Wilmington, Delaware, on April 18, 2023.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images
Dominion CEO John Poulos told reporters outside court that the settlement was “historic.”
“Fox has admitted to telling lies about Dominion that caused enormous damage to my company, our employees and the customers that we serve,” Poulus said.
“Nothing can ever make up for that. Throughout this process we have sought accountability and believed the evidence brought to light through this case underscored the consequences of spreading lies. Truthful reporting in the media is essential to our democracy,” he said.
Superior Court Judge Eric Davis called into the courtroom the jury and 12 alternate jurors shortly before 4 p.m. ET. to announce that they would not have to hear any testimony or review any evidence.
“The parties have resolved this case,” Davis told them.
“Without you, the parties would not have been able to resolve their situation … although it’s short, not the six weeks you’ve expected, you have done your duty,” the judge said.
Justin Nelson (2R), joined by fellow members of the Dominion Voting Systems legal team, depart the Leonard Williams Justice Center in Wilmington, Delaware, on April 18, 2023.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images
In a statement, Fox News Media said, “We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems.”
“We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false,” Fox News Media said. “This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards. 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.”
The suit by Dominion, which sells voting machines and election software, had argued that Fox News and its sister network Fox Business “intentionally and falsely” blamed Dominion for the 2020 loss of former President Donald Trump to President Joe Biden by airing unsubstantiated claims about the company.
Fox had said in court filings that its hosts’ statements about Dominion were protected by the First Amendment. The company also said Dominion had not shown that the statements were made with so-called actual malice, which is the threshold for civil defamation claims.
Lawyers for Fox said nothing as they left court when asked for comment on Tuesday.
The settlement avoids, for the moment, the risk of Murdoch and Fox hosts facing hostile questioning in public over the claims made about Dominion on the conservative news networks after the 2020 election.
The planned witnesses in the case had included Tucker Carlson, Mariia Bartiromo, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Pirro.
Also slated to testify was Lou Dobbs, who had his Fox Business show canceled in 2021.
Fox lawyers depart after Dominion Voting Systems and Fox settled the defamation lawsuit over Fox’s coverage of debunked election-rigging claims, in Wilmington, Delaware, April 18, 2023.
Mark Makela | Reuters
Fox faces a similar defamation lawsuit by another voting machine company Smartmatic over the company’s work during the 2020 election.
Smartmatic’s attorney J. Erik Connolly, in a statement, said, “Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign.”
“Smartmatic will expose the rest,” Connolly said. “Smartmatic remains committed to clearing its name, recouping the significant damage done to the company, and holding Fox accountable for undermining democracy.”
Dominion also has pending defamation lawsuits related to false claims about the 2020 election against Newsmax Media, One America News Network, Overstock founder Patrick Byrne, My Pillow Mike Lindell, former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, the attorney Sidney Powell and others.
Stephen Shackelford, a lawyer for Dominion attorney, said outside the court on Tuesday, “Money is accountability. And we got that today from Fox.”
“But we’re not done yet. We’ve got some other people who have some accountability coming toward them,” Shackelford said.
He did not respond when CNBC asked if he expected settlements in other defamation cases Dominion has filed.
(With inputs from CNBC)