Dominion’s $1.6 Billion Defamation Suit Against Fox News Moves Ahead

Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch of Fox at the 2018 Allen & Co. conference
A Delaware judge ruled that Dominion Voting Systems could include Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch (l., at the 2018 Allen & Co. conference) and CEO Lachlan Murdoch (r.) in its defamation suit. (Image credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A $1.6 billion defamation suit brought by a voting machine company against Fox News last year regarding claims by the network of widespread voter fraud during the 2020 presidential election is moving forward after a Delaware judge said the network’s parent company, Fox Corp., could be included in the suit, just days before Fox hired a veteran trial lawyer to take over the case.

Dominion Voting Systems sued Fox News in March 2021, claiming the network defamed it in reports that the technology company was behind alleged and unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud during the election, in which President Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump. Dominion has also filed similar lawsuits against two other networks — OAN and Newsmax — while another voter tech company, SmartMatic, sued Fox in February 2021 for defamation around its election coverage. that suit also appears to be still pending. 

In a ruling in Delaware Superior Court on June 21, judge Eric Davis said Dominion “adequately pleaded” that Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch and chairman Rupert Murdoch played “a central and public role in the management and oversight of Fox News” and could be included in the suit. 

“Limiting the ability of the press to report freely on the American election process stands in stark contrast to the liberties on which this nation was founded and we are confident we will prevail in this case as the First Amendment is the foundation of our democracy and freedom of the press must be protected,” Fox News Media said in a statement on the Delaware Court ruling.

Fox News Media

Dan Webb (Image credit: Fox News Media)

Shortly after that ruling, on June 30, Fox hired Dan Webb, executive chairman of Chicago-based law firm Winston & Strawn and a seasoned trial lawyer, to head up the case, which some news outlets took as an indication that Fox plans to go to trial. Fox has denied that Webb’s hiring had anything to do with the earlier ruling. 

In a statement, Fox News Media said Webb’s appointment adds depth to its legal team “ensuring the protection of the First Amendment and the fundamental right to a free press remain intact.” 

According to the Los Angeles Times, which first reported on his hiring, Webb is a seasoned trial lawyer and has taken on several high-profile cases over the years. Most recently, he was special prosecutor for Cook County, Illinois in its case against former Empire actor Jussie Smollett, who was convicted of hiring two men to stage a hate crime against him in 2019. Webb also has tried several First Amendment cases, which the paper said would jibe with Fox’s anticipated defense strategy in the case. Citing sources familiar with the network, the Times said Fox plans to argue that its reporting on claims of voter fraud by Trump and other pundits is protected speech. 

Dominion has claimed that despite evidence to the contrary, Fox News continued to push the voter fraud narrative in an effort to boost ratings. Throughout election day, Trump and his allies continuously criticized Fox for reporting that Trump’s lead in certain states was slipping. But the last straw apparently came after the channel called the key state of Arizona for Biden prior to midnight, infuriating Trump and his team. Although the prediction was correct, Trump and his followers continued on a path alleging the election was tainted by widespread voter fraud.

According to the suit, Fox began connecting Dominion to voter fraud claims on November 8, and “in the weeks and months that followed, Fox News made Dominion the focus of the conversation.” 

Although Fox News journalists had reported that there was no evidence of fraud that could sway the election, Dominion has claimed that several network program hosts helped perpetuate claims the election was stolen by allowing Trump allies to continue to push that theory and promote claims that Dominion played a role in rigging results on air. Subsequently, the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency failed to find any evidence that voting systems used in the 2020 election were tampered with.  

The tech company alleges that in order to boost ratings, Fox News and its executives provided a platform for guests that its hosts knew would make false statements, agreed with those statements on air, and published those statements as facts. 

“Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch allegedly made a ‘business calculation’ to spread former President Trump’s narrative through Fox News even though they did not personally believe it,“ Dominion claimed in the suit. “Thus, Fox Corporation’s employees and officers allegedly had ‘direct responsibility’ for airing the statements about Dominion.” ▪️

Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.