Fox and Fox News on Tuesday settled a defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems for $787.5 million, averting a trial putting one of the world's top media companies in the crosshairs over its coverage of false vote-rigging claims in the 2020 US election. The settlement, which legal experts said was the largest struck by an American media company, was announced by the two sides and the judge in the case at the 11th hour.
The jury had been selected earlier in the day and the trial poised for opening statements in Wilmington, Delaware. Dominion had sought $1.6 billion in damages in the lawsuit filed in 2021.
Dominion CEO John Poulos called the settlement “historic.” “Fox has admitted to telling lies about Dominion that caused enormous damage to my company, our employees and our customers,” Poulos said in a statement.
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“Truthful reporting in the media is essential to our democracy,” Poulos said.
At issue in the lawsuit was whether Fox was liable for airing the false claims that Denver-based Dominion’s ballot-counting machines were used to manipulate the presidential election in favor of Democrat Joe Biden over then-President Donald Trump, a Republican.
Tuesday’s settlement spared Fox the peril of having some of its best-known figures called to the witness stand and subjected to potentially withering questioning, including executives such as Rupert Murdoch, the 92-year-old who serves as Fox Corp chairman, as well as on-air hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro.
Fox anchor Neil Cavuto broke into his news show “Your World” about 4:30 pm Eastern Time to report the settlement. A statement by Fox was read on air.
“We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems,” the statement said. “We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false. This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards. We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues."
Shares of Fox Corp closed up slightly at $34 per share, but were down 1 per cent in after-hours trading following disclosure of the settlement amount. Fox has cash on hand to pay for a settlement. It committed $3 billion to buy back shares in the first quarter after revenues beat estimates.
Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch told Wall Street analysts in February that the company had about $4 billion cash on hand. Dominion lawyers declined to answer questions about whether Fox News would apologize publicly or make changes.
Fox News is the most-watched US cable news network.