A judge on Thursday rejected an attempt by Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News Media to dismiss a $ 1.6 billion defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems over the network’s coverage of the company’s role in the 2020 presidential election.
In the ruling, Judge Eric M. Davis of the Superior Court of Delaware, in which Fox is incorporated, wrote that he had rejected Fox News Media’s proposal to dismiss the lawsuit because it was “reasonably conceivable that Dominion has a defamation claim.”
Dominion, an election technology company, sued Fox News Media in March, accused it of fabricating lies that ruined its reputation and business. More than two dozen states, including several carried by former President Donald J. Trump, took advantage of Dominion, a Denver-based company founded in 2002, in last year’s election.
Together with another voice-tabling company, Smartmatic, Dominion was at the center of a baseless pro-Trump conspiracy theory about fake voting machines that gave President Biden the election. The false allegations were made by the president and his advisers, including Rudolph Giuliani and Sidney Powell, who appeared on the Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network.
In May, Fox filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that Dominion’s lawsuit threatened the news media’s first right of amendment to chronicle and assess newsworthy claims.
In his ruling, Judge Davis challenged the arguments put forward by Fox, including that its staff reported in a neutral manner on statements made by the then president’s advisers, and that allegations made on its channels were opinions and thus constituted protected speech.
The judge wrote that he was not convinced by Fox’s “neutral reportage” and “opinion” arguments. He added that the company either “knew that its statements about Dominion’s role in election fraud were false” or that it “had a high degree of awareness that the statements were false.”
Judge Davis also noted that Dominion had protested in writing against Fox’s coverage, apparently without success. Dominion’s claims in his complaint, he wrote, “support the reasonable conclusion that Fox intended to keep Dominion’s side of the story out of the narrative.”
A spokeswoman for Dominion said in a statement: “We are pleased to see that this process is moving forward to hold Fox accountable.”
In a statement on Thursday, a Fox spokeswoman said: “We remain committed to defending ourselves against this baseless lawsuit and its widespread attack on the First Amendment.”
The 52-page ruling contained examples of statements made on programs hosted by Mario Bartiromo, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro and Lou Dobbs, whose Fox Business Network program was canceled in February.
The judge wrote that these hosts had made platforms available to people who spread the false narrative of election fraud involving Dominion, and that the hosts’ own statements sometimes weighted the baseless allegations. Also in the court’s decision to allow the case to proceed was the fact that other Fox journalists had publicly stated that the allegations of widespread voice fraud were false.
“The imminent presence of dissenting colleagues thus further suggests that Fox, through staff such as Mr. Dobbs, was knowledgeable or reckless in reporting the allegations,” Judge Davis wrote.
Aside from a successful appeal of the ruling, Dominion now has the power to compel Fox to present internal documents related to the issues raised in the case, and to have its employees testify in filing.
Don Herzog, who teaches First Amendment and Defamation Law at the University of Michigan, said in an interview that Fox was facing a decision: It could be resolved, which could be seen as an admission of wrongdoing, or it could go through the discovery process, which would publish its internal communications.
Timothy Zick, a professor at William & Mary Law School who specializes in First Amendment law, said Fox would be more encouraged to decide the case. “The danger for them is that a lot of embarrassing email correspondence and other documents will come out if they do not decide the case,” he said. Mr. Zick added that Dominion may not have been willing to settle down.
The prospect of the publication of Fox’s internal communications regarding its coverage of the 2020 election follows the latest publication of text messages sent by his hosts to Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s last chief of staff in the White House, during the January 6 attack on the Capitol. On their shows this week, hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham shouting the defense the messages that made the close relationship between the network and Mr. Trump’s administration alive. Mr. Hannity and Ms. Ingraham said nothing in their text messages differed from their public statements.
Fox faces another high-stakes legal battle over its election coverage over a defamation suit filed in February by Smartmatic.
The day after Smartmatic filed suit, Fox Business Network abruptly canceled “Lou Dobbs Tonight.” Mr. Dobbs, a loyal supporter of Mr. Trump, hosted the channel’s most watched show.
In his case, Smartmatic quoted a false statement made by Mrs Powell on “Lou Dobbs Tonight” that Hugo Chávez, the former president of Venezuela, had a hand in the creation of the Smartmatic technology and designed it to fit , the treated, could have been changed undetected. (Mr. Chávez, who died in 2013, had nothing to do with Smartmatic.) Dobbs had also referred to the alleged voice conspiracy as “cyber Pearl Harbor,” and borrowed a phrase that had been used by Ms. Powell.