Dominion vs Fox News: why voting machine maker was taking station to trial over Trump's rigged election claims

The case centred on whether Fox defamed Dominion Voting Systems, by spreading incorrect claims the company rigged the 2020 presidential election to prevent Donald Trump winning
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Fox News has reached a last minute settlement with voting machine company Dominion Voting Systems, after the company alleged that the news outlet spread harmful claims about the security and reliability of their machines in the aftermath of the 2020 US election.

The Delaware trial for Dominion Voting Systems’ US$1.6 billion dollar defamation lawsuit against Fox News was expected to begin on Tuesday (18 April), after the overseeing judge unexpectedly delayed the start of the trial on Monday. He did not cite a reason for delaying the case.

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It has now been confirmed that at the eleventh hour, Fox News settled for $787.5 Million with the company, around half of what the company was seeking in court. Dominion chief executive, John Poulos, said following the settlement: “Fox has admitted to telling lies about Dominion.”

The case, which centred on whether Fox defamed Dominion by spreading incorrect claims around its machines and the 2020 presidential election, would have seen Fox News heavy hitters like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and potentially even founder Rupert Murdoch take the stand.

In a message posted on Truth Social, Trump urged Fox to stand by his untrue election claims: “If Fox would finally admit that there was large scale cheating & irregularities in the 2020 presidential election, which would be a good thing for them, & for America, the case against them, which should not have existed at all, would be greatly weakened.”

He continued: “Back up those patriots at Fox instead of throwing them under the bus - & they are right! There is sooo much proof, like mass ballot stuffing caught on government cameras, FBI colluding with Twitter & Facebook, state legislatures not used, etc.”

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Here is everything you need to know about the Dominion v. Fox News case.

Fox News stars Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity are among those expected to testify, in a trial focusing on whether Fox defamed a voting machine company by repeating Donald Trump's claims the 2020 election was rigged (Photos: Getty and Adobe Stock)Fox News stars Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity are among those expected to testify, in a trial focusing on whether Fox defamed a voting machine company by repeating Donald Trump's claims the 2020 election was rigged (Photos: Getty and Adobe Stock)
Fox News stars Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity are among those expected to testify, in a trial focusing on whether Fox defamed a voting machine company by repeating Donald Trump's claims the 2020 election was rigged (Photos: Getty and Adobe Stock)

What was the trial about?

The case centred on whether Fox defamed Dominion Voting Systems by spreading incorrect claims that the company rigged the 2020 US presidential election, to prevent former president Donald Trump’s re-election.

Dominion Voting Systems, which provided election machines to 28 US states in the 2020 presidential election, claims Fox News damaged its business when it aired conspiracy theories that those machines were used to rig the election in favour of Joe Biden, the Guardian reports

The judge who allowed the trial to go ahead said the evidence had shown it was “crystal clear that none of the statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true”. Dominion was seeking US$1.6 billion (£1.3 billion) in damages, and Reuters reports an expert report commissioned by the company attributed scores of lost contracts to Fox's coverage.

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Fox News - and the Fox Corporation - argued the channel’s coverage of the 2020 election conspiracy theories was protected by free speech, as outlined in the first amendment of the US constitution. They say their reporters and hosts were reporting on “newsworthy allegations”, made by the sitting president. The company also argues $1.6bn in damages is too high.

What are the Donald Trump claims that Fox News reported?

After his loss to Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump and his supporters made a number of claims of election fraud. One of those was that voting machines, many of which were made by Dominion Voting Systems, had been used to transfer votes from Trump to Biden, The Guardian reports.

In the weeks and months following the election, Fox News repeatedly aired these untrue allegations about Dominion. An NPR analysis compiling footage of some of these claims showed examples, like Trump ally and lawyer Sidney Powell blasting Dominion to Fox News host Maria Bartiromo in November 2020.

"Sidney, we talked about the Dominion software. I know that there were voting irregularities. Tell me about that," Bartiromo said. Powell responded: "That's to put it mildly. The computer glitches could not and should not have happened at all. That is where the fraud took place, where they were flipping votes in the computer system or adding votes that did not exist."

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Speaking on Lou Dobbs Tonight, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said: "The machines can be hacked. There's no question about that. Their machines can be hacked. But it's far worse than that, Lou. Dominion is a company that is owned by another company called Smartmatic... It was formed really by three Venezuelans who were very close to the dictator Chavez of Venezuela and it was formed in order to fix elections."

Yet internal communications and private messages show the network's talent and executives agreed that claims were "ludicrous" and "bs", NPR said. The source of Powell's election fraud claim was "nonsense," Bartiromo had told lawyers under oath. The day before Powell appeared on the show, she sent Bartiromo and other Fox News hosts an email entitled "Election Fraud Info" from a source - who described themselves as a "wackadoodle" - alleging Dominion was the "one common thread" in "voting irregularities in a number of states".

Dominion also immediately shot down any connection to Venezuela and to Smartmatic, but these claims were repeated on another show just days later. Hosts Maria Bartiromo and Lou Dobbs have both since left the network.

Why is the case significant?

The highly-anticipated trial was expected to have broader implications. It was set to test the freedom of the press in the US, and also the reputation of Fox - one of the favoured news sources of American conservatives.

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In a statement issued after the summary judgement, a Fox spokesperson said: “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,” they said.

It also would illuminate how the flow of misinformation may have helped spark the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol in 2021, and continues to fuel Trump’s campaign to regain power in 2024.

The insurrection saw America’s seat of democracy overrun by rioters, with at least seven people losing their lives. Trump's alleged role in inciting the attack was investigated by a number of federal government bodies. The most visible was a congressional committee that spent 18 months looking into Trump's actions.

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The committee held a series of televised hearings laying out their case that his election fraud claims led directly to the riot, accusing Trump of inciting an “attempted coup”, with his repeated claims the election had been stolen from him through widespread voter fraud. 

In December last year, members voted unanimously to refer Trump to the US Department of Justice for prosecution, with recommended charges including conspiracy to defraud the United States; and attempts to incite, assist, aid or comfort an insurrection.

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