Fox News' credibility as a 'news organization' has been 'blown to smithereens': conservative
On Friday, March 31, Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis rejected a motion for summary judgment from attorneys for Fox News — who were hoping to avoid going to trial in Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against the right-wing cable news outlet. Davis' ruling, much to Fox News' disappointment, means that the civil case will be going to trial.
It remains to be seen how jurors will ultimately rule. Defamation, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1964 ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan, is very difficult to prove. Dominion has an uphill climb in the case, as the company has to prove "actual malice" on Fox News' part. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's lawsuit against the New York Times is a prime example of how difficult defamation is to prove; unable to show "actual malice," she lost the case.
Nonetheless, Dominion has a mountain of evidence in its case. Lawyers for Dominion are arguing that Fox News defamed the company after the 2020 presidential election by promoting the false, thoroughly debunked, and discredited claim that Dominion's voting equipment was used to help now-President Joe Biden steal the election from then-President Donald Trump. And Dominion has presented, as evidence, actual texts and e-mails from Fox News hosts admitting that Trump attorneys' election fraud claims were total nonsense.
In a scathing Washington Post opinion column published on April 3, Never Trumper Jennifer Rubin stresses that Davis' ruling was incredibly damning of Fox News.
The judge wrote, "Through its extensive proof, Dominion has met its burden of showing there is no genuine issue of material fact as to falsity…. The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that is CRYSTAL clear that none of the Statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true…. FNN did in fact publish the statements to its viewers."
According to Rubin, "Overall, Davis' ruling means that even before the first witness is heard in Fox's defamation trial, the jury will be told the network repeatedly published false statements about Dominion that injured its business reputation. That is not exactly saying that Fox acted with malice, which Dominion's lawyers will have to prove to win the case. Still, a jury might well come to that conclusion considering that the entity didn't bother to check out an outrageous, obvious lie. Dominion now starts with a powerful advantage: Who’s going to believe anything Fox says at this point?"
Under New York Times v. Sullivan, sloppy or careless reporting does not constitute actual malice. Nor does inflammatory commentary. But Dominion, in its lawsuit, is arguing that Fox News went way beyond sloppiness or carelessness in late 2020 and early 2021 — it knowingly promoted flat-out lies.
Media Matters CEO Angelo Carusone discussed Davis' ruling with Rubin, telling the Post columnist, "The ruling is as significant for Fox News as it is for the whole of right-wing media. For Fox, the ruling underscores their incredibly weak legal position and dramatically increases the likelihood that they, Fox, will lose at trial…. Regardless of how this shakes out legally, Fox is on its heels, which means the right-wing echo chamber is currently without its conductor at a moment when it needs it the most."
Rubin argues that however the jury ultimately rules in the case, Dominion has seriously damaged Fox News' credibility.
"Fox's arguments appear weak," Rubin explains. "It claims there's a difference between not knowing something is true and knowing it's false. But running something without any evidence that it is true sounds like the very definition of malice — i.e., reckless disregard for the truth…. There now exists a legal record of its dishonesty. The public should now understand that Fox personalities are willing to say things they know are false as part of a business model to keep viewers glued to its propaganda machine."
The columnist continues, "The pretense that Fox is a real news organization is being blown to smithereens — as is a great deal of the right's narrative about everything from stolen elections to race to immigration. Discredit Fox, and you discredit a huge portion of the right-wing echo chamber and the MAGA pols who thrive in it. Credible media, elected officials and voters can now stop treating Fox as a legitimate news outlet. If Fox doesn't believe its own propaganda, why should anyone else?"
Jennifer Rubin's full Washington Post column is available at this link (subscription required).
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