Fox News’ pricey settlement shows cost of misinformation, local experts say

Published: Apr. 18, 2023 at 10:28 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Local political and journalism experts weighed in after Fox News reached a $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems, averting a highly anticipated defamation lawsuit trial that was to begin Tuesday (April 18).

Dominion sought to prove that Fox News acted with malice or reckless disregard for the truth when the network spread the lie from former President Donald Trump and Trump’s allies that Dominion voting machines were tampered with to steal the 2020 presidential election.

“We can disagree about politics, that’s fine. We’ve always done that since the country’s been founded. We cannot disagree about basic facts,” said Dillard University political analyst Robert Collins. “You do not have the right to accuse someone of voter fraud unless you can actually produce irrefutable evidence that voter fraud actually happened.”

Dominion claimed its reputation was damaged when some of the network’s personalities spread phony conspiracy theories about the machines. If the case had gone to trial, popular conservative commentators Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity could have been made to take the stand, along with Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch.

“It would have dragged a lot of dirty laundry -- a lot of internal dirty laundry -- about Fox News (that) would have been exposed to the public,” Robert Collins said. “A lot of media analysts such as myself wanted to see the case actually go to trial. Because I think if the case would have gone to trial, important questions about misinformation, disinformation could have been answered, as far as what is the responsibility of commentators?”

Lisa Collins, a journalism professor at Loyola University, said the case outcome could strengthen media outlets’ guardrails against publishing or airing misinformation.

“Fox News picked a lane,” she said. “And there are court filings that show that reporters and producers and some talent were not in full agreement with this kind of presentation that Fox News was airing.

“The best defense against libel is the truth. That’s what Dominion said: ‘We know what’s true, and Fox News didn’t tell the truth.’”

The Fox News network issued a statement after the settlement that said, in part: “We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems. 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.”

Fox News still faces another defamation lawsuit from a separate voting technology company, Smartmatic.

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