Fox News has reached a $787 million settlement with election technology company Dominion Voting Systems, which accused the network of defamation over its coverage of the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Tuesday’s last-minute agreement — reached when opening arguments are expected to begin — means conservative news networks will avoid a high-profile trial.
Court documents have revealed embarrassing behind-the-scenes conversations about how Fox News reported former U.S. President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that the election was marred by widespread fraud.
Dominion filed a lawsuit in 2021 alleging that Fox News deliberately spread false information about its voting machines in an attempt to boost lagging ratings. Trump and his allies claim Dominion voting machines were used to rig the 2020 election, causing him to lose to Joe Biden.
Fox insisted that it was reporting on Trump’s allegations, not supporting them, and that its reporting was protected by constitutional free speech rights. These protections often make it difficult for plaintiffs to win defamation suits in the country.
“The parties have settled their cases,” Judge Eric Davis told the Delaware Superior Court on Tuesday, telling the recently selected 12 jury members to be free to leave.
Dominion disclosed the settlement numbers on Tuesday, and its chief executive, John Poulos, said Fox admitted to lying to its company.
Dominion attorney Justin Nelson said the settlement “represents defense and accountability” and that “lies have consequences”. A lawyer for Dominion declined to answer questions about whether Fox News would publicly apologize or make reforms.
In a statement, Fox said “we acknowledge” the court’s earlier ruling that some of the network’s anchors’ claims about Dominion were false.
“This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards. We hope that our decision to resolve the dispute with Dominion amicably, rather than the acerbity of a divisive trial, will allow the country to move forward on these issues,” the statement said.
The settlement means the network’s owner – conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch – and controversial figures including Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity will avoid having to deliver the much-anticipated testimony.
During the pre-trial hearing, Davis said it was clear that Fox aired false statements about Dominion after the election. However, to prevail at trial, Dominion will have to prove that Fox News did indeed act in bad faith — meaning it knew the information it shared was false or that it displayed a “reckless disregard” for the truth.
The revelations of the pre-trial process have already embarrassed Fox, with some TV personalities and executives privately hesitating over Trump’s election-related claims or expressing their distaste for the former president, while appearing to back them up and praise them on-air he.
Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch described the voter fraud allegations against Trump and his former advisers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell as “devastating” and a “very crazy thing,” according to a document.
During his testimony, Murdoch also admitted that some live-streaming hosts had “endorsed” false claims, but he denied that the entire network was lying, according to court documents filed by Dominion.
Star anchor Tucker Carlson told staff he couldn’t wait to “ignore Trump most nights”.
“I hated him so much,” Carlson said.
Numerous sources showed that networks worried about losing viewers after announcing that Biden had won the key swing state of Arizona on election night. The call angered Trump and many of his supporters.
One of Fox’s top news anchors, Bret Beyer, took note of the audience’s outrage and suggested that the call be withdrawn, or even award the state to Trump.
“We do not want to further anger Trump,” Murdoch said in a Nov. 16 memo.
In court documents, Dominion argued: “Fox knew the truth…it knew the allegations against Dominion were ‘weird,’ ‘crazy,’ ‘ridiculous,’ and ‘crazy.’ However, it leveraged the power of its platform to and leverage to promote this false story.”
Fox, meanwhile, accused Dominion of “picking and taking things out of context.”