The long-awaited trial in Dominion Voting Machines’ defamation case against Fox News was scheduled to begin on Tuesday. Both the courtroom and the overflow area were packed. Then the start of the trial was delayed. When the jury did finally enter the courtroom, it was only so that the judge could thank them as he read out a last-minute announcement that the two sides in the lawsuit had reached a settlement. Fox News agreed to pay out a settlement of $787 million, but other than that payment, there does not seem to be any other significant penalty.
For everyone who was looking forward to reading reports of Rupert Murdoch or Tucker Carlson on the stand, the settlement is a major disappointment. That disappointment is only compounded by the fact that although Fox’s attorneys issued a statement admitting, “We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false,” there is absolutely no requirement that Fox ever admit this on air.
Tucker Carlson won’t be apologizing. Laura Ingraham won’t be apologizing. None of them will be forced to read their texts and emails expressing hatred for Donald Trump and disdain for their own audience from the witness stand. Fox viewers are unlikely to ever hear anything about Dominion again except some favorably worded claim that the lawsuit is over. They will, of course, continue to hear Fox News support claims about fraud in the 2020 election.
Dominion v. Fox News is over. But does it change anything?
The Fox News statement on the outcome of the proceedings is really limited to a single paragraph. It says how pleased Fox News is to reach this agreement, that it did make false claims about Dominion, and somehow, “This settlement reflects FOX’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.” Because paying out three-quarters of a billion after being forced to admit you lied is how Fox displays those “standards.”
The statement also says, “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.”
That might be the appropriate sentiment if these were two divorcing parents concerned about the effect their bickering might have on the kids. This is the largest cable news network in the nation on trial for lies it told while forwarding an attempt to overturn a presidential election. The nation desperately needed that “acrimony” when that meant drawing out Fox News’ executives and pundits confessing their role in promoting those lies.
That’s not going to happen. Right now Carlson is no doubt coming up with a way to claim that Fox News—and more importantly, Carlson—won the suit. Nothing to see here, back to all the lies we were telling about Ukraine, Hunter Biden’s laptop, and the trans agenda.
So far as Fox viewers are concerned, this never happened. That one sentence in a press release that Fox News did not read in the air is as close as they’ll ever come to a confession.
Still, $787 million is nothing to sneeze at … except that for Fox, it almost is. It’s about 5% of Fox News’ total revenue for 2022, and while the public statements don’t have any schedule for those payments, it’s unlikely they’ll simply cut a check. Dominion will likely be taking its cash over a period of years. Fox News doesn’t want to pay this money, but they pay Carlson $35 million a year, and still end up with better than $2 billion in earnings before taxes. So they’ll squeak through. After all, this is a company that seems to have survived endless lawsuits over sexual harassment of its employees, just one of which cost it $90 million.
Will being slapped for $787 million be enough to keep Fox News from lying about other topics? Of course not. For one thing, the standards for defamation of a public figure are so high that they can lie about anyone in public office with impunity. When it comes to Fox’s regular attacks on people of color and the LGBTQ+ community, it’s even harder for any party to establish standing that would create a serious threat.
All of this sounds like bad news because it’s bad news. When it comes to getting Fox News to admit its duplicity on air in a way that it can’t walk back, Dominion was likely the best shot that will come along in a long while.
However, there is one small ray of sunshine remaining when it comes to voting machine companies going after news outlets that eagerly lied about fraud in the 2020 election. That’s because other voting machine maker Smarmatic’s case against other conservative news outlet Newsmax is still on. A ruling back in early February denied Newsmax’s last hope of dodging the bullet.
As Bloomberg Law reports, Judge Eric Davis stated that Newsmax made allegations about Smartmatic’s voting machines and company that were “so inherently improbable that only a reckless person would have put them in circulation.”
“Newsmax either knew its statements regarding Smartmatic’s role in the election fraud narrative were false,” Davis wrote in his statement, “or at least it had a high degree of awareness that they were probably false.”
Given what just happened with Fox News, no one should get their hopes up that Newsmax’s stars, who are some guy, and also probably some other guy, will ever have to appear on a witness stand. Newsmax is likely to rummage in the couch and find some change, or some Republican billionaire, willing to cover their lies.
It’s also a pretty good bet that even if they do go to court, and even if they confess to operating at the express written consent of Vladimir Putin for the purposes of turning the United States into Nova Putinia, no one will notice.
After all … it’s just Newsmax.
Smartmatic also still has their case against Fox News. Maybe they won’t be in such a hurry to settle.
Markos and Kerry are joined by Aaron Rupar today to discuss what he is seeing in the right-wing media landscape. Rupar is an independent journalist whose Public Notice Substack is a must-read for those who want to know how truly outrageous the conservative movement is. We are addicted to his Twitter account, with its never-ending stream of Republican lunacy all captured on video.