Beginning on Monday, Fox News executives and celebrities will be called to account in a Delaware courtroom for their part in sowing doubt about the 2020 presidential election and causing the gaping wound that still exists in the nation’s democracy.
Jurors in the $1.6 billion lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox must decide whether the network defamed the voting machine manufacturer by airing false reports claiming that the election was rigged against then-President Donald Trump, even though many at the network privately doubted the false claims being advanced by Trump and his allies.
But the bigger picture looms large.
The trial will test the press freedom and the standing of the conservatives’ preferred news organization.
Additionally, it will provide light on the dissemination of false information that contributed to the emergence of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and continues to fuel Trump’s hopes to regain power in 2024.
In the coming weeks, witnesses include Rupert Murdoch, the founder of Fox News, and hosts Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity.
Opening comments are slated for Monday, barring a last-minute settlement.
RonNell Andersen Jones, a law professor at the University of Utah, described this as “Christmas Eve for defamation scholars.”
If the trial were a competition, Fox News would enter the field with a losing record, injured key players, and a soured relationship with the referee.
Fox is being pursued by pre-trial court decisions and humiliating information about its top stars.
According to court documents made public over the previous two months, Fox executives, producers, and personalities privately disagreed with Trump’s assertions that the election was rigged.
However, according to Dominion, Fox News was reluctant to confront its viewers with the reality because it feared offending them, especially in light of the network’s adverse reaction when it announced Democrat Joe Biden as the winner in Arizona on election night in November 2020.
Some decisions made by the presiding judge, Eric Davis, have made things easier for Dominion. Davis stated in a summary judgment that it was “CRYSTAL clear” that the corporation was not guilty of the alleged fraud.
Because of this, trial time won’t be required to disprove them at a time when millions of Republicans are still skeptical of the 2020 election results.
According to Davis, it is also evident that Dominion’s reputation has been harmed, but a jury will have to decide if Fox violated the law by acting with “actual malice” and, if so, how much it cost the company.
Fox witnesses will probably state that they believed the accusations against Dominion were newsworthy, but Davis has made it plain that this is not a defense to defamation, and he will make sure the jury is aware of this.
New York law shields news organizations from libel for their editorial opinions. However, Davis meticulously went through 20 instances on Fox when claims against Dominion were aired before deciding that everyone was entirely or partially regarded as a statement of truth and open to a potential libel charge.