Dominion Voting System’s $787.5 million settlement agreement with Fox News, among the largest settlements in the history of defamation law, is disappointing.
To anyone anxious to see Tucker Carlson and Rupert Murdoch squirm on the witness stand, the settlement announcement felt like a canceled buffet, a bologna sandwich where one wanted a steak.
Fox’s settlement admission that it made false claims about Dominion and a “stolen election,” while technically an acknowledgment of wrongdoing, is not nearly enough. Even firing Tucker Carlson is not enough.
Dominion should have stuck by its initial goal of an on-air admission or apology from Fox. Without an on-air admission, now that the case has settled, 90 million Fox viewers will remain unaware that Fox knowingly lied to them, and did so repeatedly. A significant percentage of the US population will remain forever ignorant that Fox played them for profit, locking them in an echo chamber of nationalistic rage until it exploded on the steps of the US capital.
Fox and the Big Lie
The heart of Dominion’s defamation case was that Fox News orchestrated and published stolen 2020 election claims after it knew them to be false, repeatedly scapegoating Dominion Voting Machines in the process. Dominion introduced explosive documentary evidence showing how key Fox anchors and executives told each other that Trump’s stolen election claims were a joke, but told their viewers something quite different. Fox luminaries texted, emailed, or commented to each other that Trump’s stolen election lies and the fraudsters supporting them were “Ludicrous” and “totally off the rails”(Tucker Carlson); “F'ing lunatics” (Sean Hannity); “Nuts” (Dana Perino); “Complete BS” (Fox Producer John Fawcett); “Kooky” (anchor Maria Bartiromo); “Mind Blowingly Nuts” (Raj Shah, Fox Corporation VP); and, “There is NO evidence of fraud. None” (Bret Baier).
And yet, these same luminaries continued to promote Trump’s stolen election lies on-air, just to attract rabid viewers. Tucker Carlson didn’t tell Fox viewers that Trump was “off the rails.” Instead, he donned his trademark injured puppy face, poured his hurt eyes into the camera, and cried, “The stolen election was the single greatest crime in American history with millions of votes stolen in a day. Democracy destroyed. The end of our centuries old system of government.”
Fox viewers, believing their votes stolen and their democracy destroyed, were understandably triggered.
Cooked testimony, anyone?
The settlement also throws cold water on a hot accusation by Fox News Senior producer Abby Grossberg. Grossberg, no longer with Fox, filed a lawsuit of her own against Fox, and detailed how Fox’s legal team coerced her into giving false testimony in the Dominion case.
After Grossberg reviewed a transcript of her testimony, she submitted a correction (errata) sheet referencing “impermissible coaching and coercion by Fox attorneys,” and inserted missing context and corrections into several of her answers. Grossberg says Fox lawyers encouraged her to give false and evasive answers against Dominion, and to frequently answer, “I don’t recall.” During extensive deposition coaching sessions, Grossberg says Fox’s lawyers shook their heads whenever she gave an unsatisfactory - but truthful - answer, and asked again.
Grossberg’s claims, based on working conditions at Fox, stand alone. They will proceed or fall on their own merit, irrespective of Dominion’s settlement. Hopefully the public will someday hear the details about how Fox lawyers attempted to strong-arm Grossberg’s testimony, though it is doubtful Fox viewers will ever hear about it, even if it proceeds to trial.
Rulings Against Fox Could Support Other Claims of Liability
By settling the case, Fox has acceded to various rulings made by the trial judge, including the falsity of Fox anchors’ repeated claims. Prior to settlement, Judge Eric Davis ruled conclusively that the evidence made “crystal clear” that none of Fox’s statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election were true.
That ruling, unalterable because settled, could serve as a nice foundation for other plaintiffs injured by Fox’s false claims, including surviving family members of the five police officers who died on J6.
Apparently cognizant of its own culpability in promoting the J6 attack, Fox had asked the Dominion judge to bar all references to J6 at trial, practically an admission of liability. Too bad democracy and the rule of law have never been recognized as a plaintiff, as both were grievously wounded, and both were left with wobbly legs going into the 2024 election.
Despite Fox claiming that it was only reporting what was “newsworthy,” fraud and defamation have never been protected under the 1st Amendment. The Dominion case made clear that Fox peddles falsehoods for profit, injury to democracy be damned.
Less clear is what to do about it.
Under the theory that coups are rarely attempted just once, and the damage to democracy incalculable, Fox’s role in J6 should be investigated.
In addition to Dominion, and potentially Smartmatic, Fox should be made to compensate any witnesses it strong-armed. It should also compensate families of people who died during the J6 crush at the capital, and pay to repair the structure instead of letting taxpayers foot the bill.
Most importantly, to preserve the role of free speech in a democracy, Fox viewers should be informed that the “news” stimulating the pleasure center of their brains feels compulsive and gratifying because it is propaganda, not truth, to be consumed as entertainment, not news.