Rupert Murdoch’s Fox has agreed to pay $787.5mn to settle a landmark defamation case in which it was accused of broadcasting false accusations of US election fraud, according to a lawyer for voting machine maker Dominion.
A judge on Tuesday announced the “parties [had] resolved their case” following a last-minute deal reached on the cusp of a six-week trial in Delaware, which centred on claims aired on Fox News in the wake of Donald Trump’s election loss in 2020. Opening arguments were set to begin in the afternoon.
Fox will pay $787.5mn — almost half of the $1.6bn in damages sought by Dominion, lawyer Justin Nelson said in a press conference outside the courthouse in Wilmington, Delaware. A spokesperson for Fox did not immediately verify the figure, which would represent one of the biggest defamation awards in US history.
“The truth matters,” Nelson told reporters. “Lies have consequences.” He added that the accusations aired by Fox had caused “grievous harm to Dominion and the country” and that citizens of the US “must share a commitment to facts”.
Fox said in a statement: “We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems,” and acknowledged that the court had previously found “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.”
John Poulos, chief executive of Dominion, said Fox had “admitted to telling lies” about his company, but declined to comment on whether he had sought an apology from Rupert Murdoch as part of the settlement.
Shares of Fox Corp fell 1 per cent in after-hours trading in New York.
Fox News, the conservative news organisation, and its owner Fox Corp had been sued by Dominion in 2021, over on-air statements accusing the manufacturer of rigging its devices to award votes to president Joe Biden, of paying bribes to election officials, and of working for the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.
The judge had ruled in March that the 20 statements in question were false and that the US constitution’s first amendment offered no free-speech protection to those deliberately broadcasting lies.
He had left it up to the jury — picked from the heavily Democratic New Castle county in which the court is situated — to decide whether Fox anchors had acted with “actual malice” in repeating the claims on air, and what damages Dominion suffered.
Despite attempts by Fox’s lawyers to prevent his appearance, Murdoch, who is 92, was set to be called to testify in person, as were several Fox stars, including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham.
The media tycoon had acknowledged during testimony behind closed doors that some Fox anchors had gone too far and “endorsed” claims of election fraud, as opposed to merely repeating allegations made by others.
Evidence gathered in the months preceding the trial also provided an unflattering glimpse into Fox’s newsgathering process, revealing that several central figures did not believe the election fraud allegations made on air but were afraid to challenge them for fear of losing viewers to more radical outlets, such as Newsmax and OAN.
Several legal experts said Fox would have faced an “uphill battle” at trial, as its defence relied on proving that the likes of Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro — the presenters whose shows most prominently featured many of the statements in question — did not know for certain that the allegations were untrue at the time.
However, many also questioned the calculations behind Dominion’s demand for $1.6bn, pointing to the fact that the company did not seem to have lost much business as a result of the allegedly defamatory claims.
While the settlement brings the lawsuit filed in Delaware Superior Court to a close, it leaves Fox open to separate claims from shareholders accusing it of being in breach of fiduciary duties, one of which has already been submitted to the Court of Chancery.
Dominion is also pursuing claims against a number of individuals including former Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, who made multiple allegations against the company in November 2020.
Stephen Shackelford, the lawyer who was due to give opening statements for Dominion before the settlement was reached, suggested the company would now move ahead with the other cases.
“Money is accountability, and we got that today from Fox,” he said, “but we are not done yet”.