The Price of Fake News

On April 18, Fox News agreed to a settlement with Dominion Voting Systems to pay the company $787.5 million. The multi-billion dollar news company was being sued by Dominion for $1.6 billion for defamation after airing conspiracy theories about the company regarding the 2020 presidential election, including switching votes from former president Donald Trump to President Joe Biden. Fox claimed to be reporting newsworthy information from Trump.

“We have to realize that this is about fake news that Fox has been doing for decades,” said SHU professor and coordinator of multimedia journalism Richard Falco. “Their agenda has never been a news organization as much as it’s been to push their political agenda.”

The voting machine sued both Fox News and its parent Fox Corp., claiming that the allegations released by Fox had damaged their reputation and the company as a whole.

Dominion had set out to prove that Fox News acted with malice in releasing the information. In their claim, they had records of Fox executives and reporters agreeing that the theories regarding voting were false prior to airing the information.

According to the Associated Press, reports show that the information was aired to bring back viewers who were no longer in support of the network after they seemed to acknowledge that President Joe Biden won the election.

“The most interesting aspect of the case is how Fox News conspired to lie to its viewers for fear of losing them. In that sense, they are not a news network, but a confirmation bias network,” said SHU chair and professor of political science and global affairs, Steven Michels. “There is a large audience who want to be lied to, as this case proves.”

According to the Associated Press, many First Amendment experts referred to Dominion’s case as one of the strongest they had ever seen, however there still was doubt that Dominion would be able to prove that Fox could be held responsible for airing the conspiracy theories.

The settlement prevented Fox managers and news stars from publicly testifying, including 92-year-old Fox founder Robert Murdoch, and hosts Tucker Carlson, Maria Bartiromo and Sean Hannity.

“While it was a preventative course of action for Fox to settle and avoid an even more substantial loss, I believe that they did have a strong case,” said SHU senior Ashley Bocek. “However, I feel there would also be unintended consequences of prolonging this trial as well, as it could have resulted in a change of libel laws and could potentially weaken the First Amendment rights and protections of the media.”

According to the Associated Press, the settlement does come as a financial burden to Fox News and Fox Corp., while the settlement represents about a quarter of the $2.69 billion that the company reported earning last year.

“As long as people are watching and advertisers are willing to associate themselves with this kind of toxicity, then the company will be fine,” said Michels.

Fox News is currently facing another defamation lawsuit from voting technology company, Smartmatic, for exposing conspiracy theories during the 2020 election that similarly affected the company. The company plans to continue to expose misconduct from Fox as they move forward with the lawsuit.

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