In a blow to Fox News, a Delaware judge ruled Friday that a jury should decide a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit claiming that the channel broadcast numerous false statements about voter fraud after the 2020 election.
Judge Eric Davis concluded that Dominion Voting Systems, which makes election equipment, had proven that Fox aired a series of false claims about the company, but that depositions, internal emails and text messages had not established whether Fox acted with “actual malice” by carrying statements on its air that it knew were false or likely so.
The evidence is “CRYSTAL clear that none of the Statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true,” Davis wrote. Fox’s false statements included assertions that the company was controlled by Venezuela and implemented a bizarre algorithm to boost Democrats’ vote count under certain conditions, the judge said.
Some uncertainty remained about who at Fox authorized specific broadcasts and what those people knew or believed at the time, Davis continued.
“The Court does not weigh the evidence to determine who may have been responsible for publication and if such people acted with actual malice – these are genuine issues of material fact and therefore must be determined by a jury,” the judge wrote in his 81-page ruling.
Fox reacted to the ruling by insisting that the company is standing up for free-speech principles.
“This case is and always has been about the First Amendment protections of the media’s absolute right to cover the news. Fox will continue to fiercely advocate for the rights of free speech and a free press as we move into the next phase of these proceedings,” the company said.
A spokesperson for Dominion welcomed Davis’ ruling. “We are gratified by the Court's thorough ruling soundly rejecting all of Fox's arguments and defenses, and finding as a matter of law that their statements about Dominion are false. We look forward to going to trial,” the firm said.
Davis has set jury selection for April 13 and the trial to begin in April 17 in Delaware Superior Court in Wilmington, assuming that the sides don’t reach a financial settlement in the meantime.
The trial is expected to feature testimony from top Fox personalities including Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and others. The pre-trial litigation has already uncovered documents showing that the hosts and anchors did not believe many of the charges being leveled on their programs and that, in the wake of President Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 race, the company was desperately looking for ways to keep its Trump-supporting viewers from defecting to rivals like Newsmax and One America News.
Dominion filed the suit in 2021, contending that Fox gravely damaged the voting company’s reputation by repeatedly airing false charges about it even after being given details about the misstatements.
In recent court filings, Fox’s attorneys argued that the network wasn’t endorsing the claims leveled by Trump and allies like Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, but was simply conveying newsworthy statements being issued by important public figures. The judge rejected those arguments.
“Fox dedicates little to its argument on falsity. It claims that ‘[t]he question is whether the press reported the “true” fact that the President made those allegations,’” Davis wrote. “However, falsity refers to the content of the statement, not the act of republishing it. Therefore, the question of falsity is whether the content of the allegations was true, not whether Fox truthfully republished the allegations.”
Davis also said Fox’s reports and interviews often aired the claims without rebuttal or context, further undercutting the network’s arguments.
“The evidence does not support that FNN conducted good-faith, disinterested reporting….FNN’s failure to reveal extensive contradicting evidence from the public sphere and Dominion itself indicates its reporting was not disinterested,” the judge wrote.