Fox-Dominion Trial: Defamation Case Opening Statements

A person walks by the Fox News sign at the News Corporation building in New York City on April 12, 2023.

Andrew Kelly | Reuters

Wilmington, Del. – Opening arguments will begin Tuesday in a defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems that accuses Fox News of spreading falsehoods that the company rigged the 2020 election.

Dominion, which sells voting machines and election software, was originally accused of knowingly broadcasting falsehoods about the company to boost its ratings.

The network “deliberately and falsely” blamed Dominion for former President Donald Trump’s loss to President Joe Biden by airing unsubstantiated claims about the company, including that it interfered in the vote count, Dominion alleged.

Fox’s on-air reports about Dominion are protected by the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech and the press. The network also argued that Dominion’s lawsuit did not establish that the claims were aired with “actual harm,” which must meet the legal standard for defamation.

The case’s unusual circumstances — most defamation cases are settled out of court, and few require in-person testimony from a parade of well-known media figures — combined with the 10-figure demand for damages created a cacophonous media frenzy. But it’s unclear what impact the lawsuit will have on Fox’s reputation or its bottom line.

Dominion has also filed defamation suits against Trump’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani, his former campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, right-wing news networks and others. Another election technology company, Smartmatic, has filed similar defamation suits seeking billions of dollars in damages.

But the case against Fox has drawn attention in recent months — especially to Fox Corp. Following the release of personal messages and testimony from top Fox News talent and executives, including Chairman Rupert Murdoch and commentator Tucker Carlson.

The communications have become defamatory in a legal battle that reveals how some Fox employees and other high-level figures reacted behind the scenes to the events that followed the 2020 election. News is fast variation Some Fox personalities’ personal comments were made on the air at the same time as the election fraud claims.

The trial is expected to last up to six weeks. But the inexplicable delay in proceedings, and reports Behind-the-scenes negotiations between Fox and Dominion cast doubt on whether the lawsuit would go to trial.

The two sides clashed Monday over how much money was actually at stake, with Fox saying Dominion had reduced its damages claim from $1.6 billion and Dominion insisting “the damages claim still stands.”

Part of the case has already been decided: Judge Eric Davis ruled last month that the statements flagged by Dominion were factually false. “The evidence produced in this civil action clearly demonstrates that none of Dominion’s statements about the 2020 election were true,” Davis wrote.

His ruling clarified that a trial jury would decide who was responsible for publishing the false statements and whether those individuals acted with actual malice. That legal standard is to prove that the claims were knowingly false or published with reckless disregard for the truth.

The preview for the trial is already marked by major twists and turns, which only heightens public interest.

A judge ruled earlier this month that Murdoch, 92, and his son, Fox Corp CEO Lachlan Murdoch, could be compelled to testify in court. Other witnesses included Carlson, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott, Sean Hannity and other prominent TV figures at Fox.

In a preliminary hearing last week, Davis acquitted Fox and its parent company for withholding evidence from Dominion during the discovery process. NBC News reported.

Recordings made by former Fox producer Abby Grossberg in 2020 of Giuliani and Fox anchor Maria Barthiromo talking about voting software have not been turned over to Dominion, according to NBC. Grossberg sued the network Last month, Dominion alleged that he was coerced into giving false testimony in the case.

A Fox spokeswoman said after the hearing, “We prepared Ms. Grossberg’s supplemental information when we first learned of it.”

This is growing news. Check back for updates.

Kevin Breuninger reports from Wilmington, Delaware. Lillian Rizzo reports from Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

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