What to expect in the Dominion defamation lawsuit against Fox

Opening statements to begin Tuesday, with Dominion saying that Fox deliberately spread false election fraud claims.

Men in suits exit sliding doors under the word "courthouse"
Lawyers for Fox News leave a courthouse in Wilmington, Delaware, on April 13 after jury selection began [Eduardo Munoz/Reuters]

Fox News and its parent company, Fox Corporation, are currently the subjects of a $1.6bn defamation lawsuit, alleging they deliberately pushed false claims about the Colorado-based company Dominion Voting Systems and its role in the 2020 presidential election.

Opening statements in the case are set to start on Tuesday after a one-day delay in the US state of Delaware. Dominion is seeking damages for harm caused to its reputation and business, after Fox aired false allegations that the voting machine company was involved in widespread election fraud.

What is the case about, what do we know so far, and what can we expect with the trial set to kick off next week?

What is Dominion arguing?

Fox News aired false claims that, during the 2020 election, Dominion voting machines were rigged as part of an effort to steal the election from former President Donald Trump.

No widespread fraud occurred during the 2020 election, but Trump and his supporters pushed those claims as justification for efforts to overturn the election results.

In a defamation lawsuit filed in March 2021, Dominion alleged that Fox had known those claims to be false but continued to emphasise them in its coverage because it was profitable to do so.

Dominion said that Fox “sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion in the process”.

In the process, Dominion added, Fox propelled the little-known voting machine company to public infamy, damaging its business and prompting harassment towards its employees.

What does Fox say?

Lawyers for the Fox Corporation have pushed against those allegations, saying that Dominion has provided “zero evidentiary support” to back up the claim that high-level executives at the Fox Corporation, the parent company of Fox News, played a role in creating or promoting the false claims.

“Dominion repeatedly asked Fox News executives, hosts, and staff whether Fox Corporation employees played a role in the publication of the statements it challenges,” they wrote. “The answer — every single time, for every single witness — was no.”

Fox’s legal team has warned that a successful case against it could weaken the distinction between parent companies and subsidiaries.

It has also argued that the Fox News network included Dominion’s perspective in its coverage of the fraud claims, which were inherently newsworthy because they were being promoted by lawyers for the then-president of the United States.

In addition, Fox’s lawyers have expressed concern that Dominion’s case could set a precedent of corporations suing news outlets over what they see as unfavourable coverage.

Is Fox News the only company being sued?

No, Fox News is not the only company facing legal scrutiny over allegations made about Dominion Voting Systems.

In August 2021, Dominion filed similar defamation lawsuits against right-wing outlets such as One America News Network and Newsmax Media Inc, as well as Patrick Byrne, the founder and former CEO of Overstock.com, for spreading false statements about the voting machine company.

However, the case against Fox has loomed especially large, and Fox chairperson Rupert Murdoch was questioned under oath earlier this year.

According to excerpts of a deposition unsealed in February, Murdoch acknowledged that Fox News commentators such as Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro and Sean Hannity had advanced false allegations about voter fraud.

“Yes. They endorsed,” said Murdoch.

An earlier filing also showed that some of the network’s largest stars had privately raised doubts about the “stolen election” narrative, even as they emphasised it in their coverage.

What is the latest in the Fox court case?

Earlier this week, Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis issued a rebuke of lawyers for Fox News, following revelations that they may have withheld information and misrepresented Murdoch’s role in the company.

“What do I do with attorneys that aren’t straightforward with me?” Davis asked, as he suggested sanctions for the Fox team.

Fox has pushed back against those claims, stating in an email to Al Jazeera that Murdoch “has been listed as executive chairman of FOX News in our SEC filings for several years and this filing was referenced by Dominion’s own attorney during his deposition”.

Davis turned down a request to hold separate trials for Fox News and the Fox Corporation.

Jury selection began for the trial on Thursday. That process was expected to conclude by Monday, when lawyers for both sides will make their opening statements to the 12-member panel.

Who will testify in the trial?

The trial is expected to last between five and six weeks and will likely include testimonies from Murdoch and Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott.

A number of Fox News hosts such as Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro are also expected to testify.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters