By Nicole Trinkl
A $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News by Dominion Voting Systems filed in March 2021, claiming that Fox News was spreading false election claims during and after the 2020 Presidential Election, has led to a landmark case. Dominion Voting Systems Inc v. Fox News Network LLC could significantly impact how news commentators report on the news moving forward. The case could also reinforce what news organizations will be held liable for when they spread false information.
According to a redacted case document, the false claims that Fox News spread about Dominion Voting Systems included that Dominion rigged the 2020 Presidential Election, Dominion's voter machines’ software and algorithms manipulated vote counts, Dominion is owned by a Venezuelan company that rigged the elections for dictator Hugo Chávez and Dominion paid government officials illicitly to use their voting machines.
According to The Independent, Fox News Channel responded to these claims by saying they are “incredibly proud of [their] team of journalists who continue to deliver breaking news from around the world and will continue to fight for the preservation of the First Amendment as Dominion attempts to suppress basic rights protected by our Constitution.”
Fox News Correspondents, including Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, are all under fire for spreading false statements about the 2020 election and defamatory claims about the Dominion Voting System on air. For example, in a Fox News Election segment, Carlson implied that polling errors led to voter suppression.
“We don’t know how many votes were stolen on Tuesday night,” Carlson said. “We don't know anything about the software that many say was rigged. We don’t know. But here’s what we do know. On a larger level, on the highest level actually, our system is not what we thought it was. It is not as fair as it should be.”
According to NPR, when Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News Network, was asked by a Dominion attorney whether Fox News endorsed the idea of election fraud, he declined saying that the network itself does not endorse false election claims, but acknowledged that some commentators of the network did.
According to The Washington Post, Dominion Voting System also sued Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Lindell for their unsubstantiated allegations against Dominion Voting Systems.
Powell and Giuliani, former Trump-affiliated attorneys, spread several conspiracy theories, including that Venezuela manufactured Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic voting machines to rig the elections. Although some Fox hosts and executives doubted the legitimacy of statements like these, Dominion claims Fox News aired these false claims anyway.
According to the redacted case documents, internal private text messages from Fox correspondents later revealed that they did not necessarily support or believe everything they were saying on their shows and were concerned more on the show’s views than the accuracy of what they were reporting. Carlson even mentioned wanting to get Fox News reporter Jacqui Heinrich fired for fact checking a tweet Trump posted that mentioned false claims about the Dominion Voting System.
“Please get her fired. Seriously. What the f—? I’m actually shocked,” Carlson texted to Hannity. “It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It's measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”
Other private messages revealed several instances where Fox News correspondents contradicted what was happening with what they were saying on air. In one example, Carlson admitted to not believing Powell's false election claims but still saying the contrary on his show.
In response to Powell's election claims, Carlson told his producer, Alex Pfeiffer, that "Sidney Powell is lying."
In another instance, as reported on USA Today, Hannity said in a deposition that he "did not believe it for one second" when referring to Powell's false election claims.
According to The New York Times, Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis is still deciding whether to grant either party a summary judgment since the pretrial hearing on March 21. A summary judgment would resolve the lawsuit without the case having to go to court. Fox asked Judge Davis to dismiss the case, saying the First Amendment should protect their actions. If the judge does not grant a summary judgment, a trail is scheduled to begin on April 17.