Already on election night, Trump and his group began claiming that the presidential election had been “stolen” from him. In the days and weeks that followed, Fox News, Trump’s domestic and judicial broadcaster, repeatedly claimed that there was “enormous evidence” that the software was responsible for electoral fraud and incorrect vote counting. The Democratic leader of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, has been alleged to be linked to the company, and even former socialist president Hugo Chávez has been linked to the Canadian-based Dominion.
Dominion collected dozens of such statements from the station’s moderators, but also from guests like Trump’s attorney Rudolph Giuliani, and submitted them to defamation proceedings. Dominion also filed lawsuits against Giuliani and other guests from Trump’s camp.
Between defamation and freedom of expression
According to experts interviewed by the New York Times, this is an extremely unusual legal process. Most defamation suits involve a single contested statement. But a whole package is brought here. In general, these lawsuits are often quickly dismissed because the First Amendment comprehensively protects free speech. This is exactly what Fox News is also referring to and claims, according to the New York Times, that these statements were at least relevant to the news.
APA/AFP/Jeff Kowalsky Different urns are used in the US
To make matters worse, Fox can claim that the real facts were only known later. Dominion must therefore convincingly demonstrate in the lawsuit that Fox knowingly spread lies – and that is no easy feat.
Actual process in progress
These media cases are often settled out of court to spare both sides the costly spectacle of a lawsuit, writes the New York Times. And hardly anyone dares to sue a media giant like Fox with first-class lawyers.
However, everything now appears to be heading for a lawsuit: the lawsuit is worth $1.6 billion, and over the summer, the case before a Delaware state court developed steadily. There are no signs of comparison, writes the paper, citing insiders. Both sides combed through documents, emails and text messages to arm themselves for a trial. Testimonies have already been made.
Murdoch in sight
In late June, a judge denied a motion by Fox that would have barred parent company Fox Corporation from the case, according to the New York Times. And with that, Fox presidents Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan, who serves as CEO, were also targeted. Shortly thereafter, Fox replaced its outside legal team on the case with one of the most well-known trial attorneys in the country. The New York Times sees this as a sign that Fox executives are starting to believe the case will go to trial.
Screenshot court.delaware.gov From Delaware court records
According to the paper, the suit now targets the top of the Fox media empire and thus the Murdoch family. The theory behind this is that top executives at Fox deliberately forced testimonies about the alleged election-rigging shows to withhold pro-Trump TV ratings, or even to win back even more right-wing networks that even more widely publicized Trump’s allegations.
Election night and its aftermath
A point of contention for this is said to have happened on election night: Fox News surprisingly announced before other TV stations that Trump was inferior to his competitor and then to US President Biden in the state of Arizona. According to media reports, the reports were followed by agitated calls from Trump’s Fox camp, at the same time that the station’s ratings had – temporarily – collapsed.
According to the New York Times, Lachlan Murdoch was not denied the report as requested by Trump, but the Fox CEO asked detailed questions about the analysis system. A spokeswoman for Fox News said it was “ridiculous” to claim that the network subsequently tried to steal viewers from the “far-right fringe,” as Dominion alleges in the lawsuit.
Second-choice tech company also sued
According to the New York Times, Fox’s lawyers also tried to prove the network’s claims. A targeted search was carried out to determine whether there were Dominion connections to Venezuela, as Giuliani had claimed. However: It is assumed that Trump’s former lawyer was not referring to Dominion at the time, but to the company Smartmatic, which also specializes in voting technology. This was founded by two Venezuelan exiles in Florida. In the contested states, however, this company did not participate in the electoral process.
picturedesk.com/Zuma/Tucker Carlson Tonight Giuliani as a regular on Fox News
Smartmatic has also sued Fox News and Giuliani, among others, and here too there has been a lot of excitement in recent weeks with early legal successes on the one hand and counterclaims on the other.
It’s not just a financial issue.
Dominion, for its part, is not only suing for damage to its reputation, but also because the company had to increase security measures after death threats and stonings at headquarters. They want to have those costs back, as well as the business losses incurred, amounting to several “hundreds of millions” through legal action. The New York Times speculates that Fox will argue that $1.6 billion in damages is excessive and will try to negotiate it.
But probably more serious than the financial issue are the principles that are negotiated in a possible procedure. Dominion is trying to make a connection between the untruths being spread and the January 6, 2021 invasion of the Capitol. “These lies have not only harmed Dominion,” the company said in its complaint. “You have damaged democracy. They undermined the idea of credible elections.”
“It must be a deliberate lie”
“The damage that Dominion has suffered from the lies Fox spread is unprecedented and irreparable because millions of people have believed and believe those lies,” the New York Times said in the lawsuit. And with that, Fox, by far the most powerful conservative media company in the United States, faces a serious financial and reputational blow.
But that’s not all: the consequences of spreading untruths that undermine trust in democracy are also discussed. This may be the most important First Amendment judgment in generations, the paper said.
However, there is still one major legal hurdle: “It’s not enough to spread the big lie,” RonNell Andersen Jones, a law professor and researcher at the University of Utah’s SJ Quinney School of Law, told the New York Times: “It must be a conscious lie.”