The most anticipated media trial of recent years was averted at the last minute Tuesday, when Dominion Voting Systems settled the defamation case it had brought against Fox News.
Dominion had been seeking $1.6 billion in damages. The company argued that its business had been badly hurt by conspiracy theories around the 2020 election — theories that, Dominion contended, had been advanced on Fox shows even though key people at the network knew them to be false.
The voting technology company and Fox ultimately settled on Tuesday, for $787.5 million.
The enormous sum spoke to the gravity of the case.
Here are the other main takeaways.
Dominion was bought off
The settlement robbed ardent media-watchers of the spectacle of a long trial. But it also robbed the public of a more definitive account, delivered publicly and under oath, of exactly what happened inside Fox News.
Importantly, Fox will not apologize, on-air or anywhere else, for the alleged defamation.
Instead, the network merely said in a Tuesday statement: “We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.”
The statement also noted that the settlement avoided “the acrimony of a divisive trial.”
In short, Dominion had argued that Fox had helped propagate claims of election conspiracy which producers, hosts and executives knew were false.
In support of those claims, it had including in legal filings details such as host Tucker Carlson telling his producer that then-Trump attorney Sidney Powell — a key force behind many of the election conspiracy theories — “is lying.” Another Fox host, Laura Ingraham, called Powell “a bit nuts.”
On-air, Fox talent was far less scathing of the false claims. The network would later contend it was properly reporting on allegations that were newsworthy.
Critics of the network and other media observers expressed disappointment about the deal.
On Twitter, liberal writer Molly Jong-Fast highlighted an article noting that Fox would not be required to apologize and added, “This is why a lot of us feel like Fox won.”
“What you didn’t get was an apology,” anchor George Stephanopoulos told Dominion’s CEO John Poulos on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Wednesday.
Poulos argued that Dominion felt it had got “accountability” in the settlement.
Rupert Murdoch, Fox stars were spared a turn in the witness box
The potential trial drew enormous attention in part because of the possibility of some of the biggest names at Fox — including its driving force, Rupert Murdoch — testifying.
Murdoch was set to be one of the first witnesses called by Dominion, while network stars Carlson, Sean Hannity and Maria Bartiromo were also expected to be called.
Murdoch, in a deposition, had previously agreed that some of his hosts had “endorsed” theories around voter fraud. Hannity, also in a deposition, had said he did not believe Dominion had rigged vote counts “for one second.”
The pretrial process also turned up texts and other private messages that were damaging in a more general sense. The most memorable may have been a text from Carlson — who presents himself as a fervently pro-Trump host — saying “I hate him [Trump] passionately.”
Fox’s vast settlement at least buys the avoidance of further awkward questioning under oath.
Legal fights are not over
The huge settlement announced on Wednesday does not bring an end to legal battles over the 2020 election — on either side.
Fox is also being sued by another election company, Smartmatic, which is seeking around $2.7 billion. Fox contends the two cases are very different and that it will vigorously defend itself if the Smartmatic case eventually comes to trial.
Meanwhile, a lawyer for Smartmatic said in a Tuesday statement, “Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign. Smartmatic will expose the rest.”
On the other side of the legal ledger, Dominion still has ongoing cases against a number of entities and individuals including Newsmax, One America News Network (OAN), Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Powell, and MyPillow founder Mike Lindell.
Those entities and individuals deny wrongdoing.
The money is huge for Dominion — not so much for Fox
The huge settlement, even allowing for lawyers’ fees, will be a massive payday for Dominion.
Dominion is a private company, so its finances are not as transparent as publicly traded corporations. But its annual revenues have been estimated at around $40 million.
It’s a very different story at Fox. Critics hoping that the company will be hobbled by the settlement will be disappointed.
Fox News is part of Fox Corp., which recorded a net profit of $321 million just in the final quarter of last year.
The financial markets reflected how slight the damage will be for the corporation.
On Wednesday, the first full day of trading after the settlement, shares in Fox Corp. were down only slightly, having fallen by approximately one-quarter of a percent at 3 p.m. Eastern.
The case is highly unlikely to burst the Fox bubble
Fox News, launched in 1996, was underestimated at its genesis and has defied various predictions of doom ever since.
It remains, by a considerable distance, the most watched cable news channel.
On Monday evening, Carlson had the network’s highest rated show, pulling in almost 3.2 million viewers. Other Fox shows aside, no other cable news offering surpassed MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, which was roughly 700,000 viewers shy of Carlson.
The network gave perfunctory coverage to the Dominion settlement, even as rival cable networks and other news sites splashed the big news.
To many people, Fox’s conduct around the election-related conspiracy theories was indefensible.
But it’s a massive stretch to imagine its audience will drift away in any significant numbers — if at all.