In a rare example of good news, Fox News is increasingly looking like they will be forced to explain their coverage of dominion voting systems and the election conspiracy theories they espoused on their network. In a ruling for the Delaware Superior Court, Judge Eric M. Davis ruled that the infamous right-wing network may have acted with “actual malice” in its reporting and that the defamation suit by Dominion Voting Systems against the network could proceed.
What Does This Mean?
Actual malice, as cited by the judge, is a direct reference to a legal precedent set by the Supreme Court in New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), a case in which the Court unanimously ruled that the New York Times was not guilty of libel. The Court reasoned that the petitioner, L.B. Sullivan, failed to show any intent to harm his reputation or any “reckless disregard” for whether or not what was written about him was true.
This standard established that unless public officials could show that the media outlets they were suing knew what they were printing was false or acted as though it didn’t matter, they couldn’t receive any damages. This standard is considered exceptionally high and rarely goes in the petitioner’s favor. However, Dominion’s suit might be the exception.
In the ruling for the Superior Court, Judge Davis cited news reports that Fox News staffers, particularly Rupert Murdoch himself, knew that many of the conspiracies that Fox broadcast on its platform were false. Namely, thanks to those reports suggesting that Murdoch denounced the idea that the election was stolen. Judge Davis further pointed to other Murdoch-owned press outlets debunking the 2020 election conspiracy theory, suggesting that Murdoch not only agreed with them but that he knew that Fox was lying.
In his ruling, Judge Davis explained that:
With the case proceeding, it is increasingly likely that Fox will try to settle. Though it is not guaranteed. If Fox chooses to face the suit directly, they will face discovery, putting the right-wing network in an awkward and compromising position. If said discovery falls in support of Dominion, then Fox could be on the hook for a massive price of $1.6 billion if an alternative set of damages are not established.
While it is unlikely that a court would allow for such a massive cash prize for Dominion, any failure in this case outside of a pre-discovery settlement would prove disastrous for Fox’s reputation and its parent company, News Corps. Nor would it be unprecedented for right-wing news organizations to suffer due to their election coverage.
Newsmax, the infamous right-wing news organization, has faced similar issues as Fox, with the same judge rejecting the network’s attempt to throw out Dominion’s defamation suit against them. Putting the network in the exact same place as Fox. Former Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani are all facing similar suits by Dominion and have also lost their motions to dismiss.
While it is unclear what will happen, the fact that a judge has suggested that actual malice has been present in not just one instance of right-wing media but in multiple cases sets a dangerous path forward for the right at large. It also incentivizes Dominion to pursue damages to the fullest extent possible. Unless Fox and its ilk can turn the case around soon, they are in for one hell of a ride. And I, for one, am looking forward to seeing where it will end.