A last-second settlement between Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems this week is reverberating throughout the political and media landscape.
Experts and observers have said the deal, which was struck in dramatic fashion just moments before opening arguments in the trial over Dominion’s lawsuit was set to begin, could have major implications for the future of Fox specifically and defamation settlements paid by American media companies more generally.
While it remains unclear exactly how the settlement, which awarded the voting software company almost $800 Million, will affect Fox’s financial health and reputation, here is a look at the biggest winners and losers from the historic deal.
Fox executives and hosts at the center of the suit
Tuesday’s deal perhaps most notably shields Fox’s leading executives and household-name talent from being thrust onto the witness stand to testify in open court about the internal strife and fear at the company following the 2020 election.
Dominion sued Fox in 2021 for $1.6 Billion over its airing of false claims about its software being promoted by former president Trump and his allies.
Depositions and private communications of Fox’s top leaders and hosts taken as part of Dominion’s legal discovery showed them dismissing Trump’s claims of voter fraud and worrying how fact-checking may upset the network’s audience.
Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis, who had been overseeing the case, indicated in pretrial hearings he would not stop Dominion from calling Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of Fox Corp., to testify as a live in-person witness during the trial.
Settling the case keeps Murdoch, and other top hosts like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, who were expected to be called, from having to testify on the record about Trump’s bogus claims of voter fraud and how the network handled the post-election period.
Dominion’s bottom line
Though it did not get the $1.6 billion payday it was seeking when it initially filed its suit in the spring of 2021, Dominion still walked away this week with one of the largest settlements in a defamation lawsuit in history.
The $787.5 million payout from Fox is about half what Dominion initially demanded, but still far more than the $80 million the company was valued at when private equity group Staple Street Capital bought a controlling stake in the company in 2018, according to a filing during the case.
And it’s multiple times higher than Dominion’s annual revenue, which was estimated at about $100 million last year, per data provider Pitchbook.
Dominion said in an unsealed report that it sustained $921 million in damage to its business, $88 million in lost profits, and $600 million in lost future profits due to Fox’s coverage.
For comparison, a recent Fox Corporation filing showed the company had about $4.1 billion “of cash and cash equivalents” at the end of 2022, according to a recent The New York Times report.
“The truth matters,” Dominion attorney Justin Nelson said during a press conference after the agreement was reached. “Money is accountability and we got that today.”
Media covering the case
Dozens of reporters, photographers and news staff traveled to downtown Wilmington, Delaware, this week in anticipation of the closely watched case. Tuesday’s deal means the reporters gathered there suddenly have no trial to cover and were sent home early from what had the potential to be a six-week ordeal chock-full of embarrassing headlines for Fox.
News of the settlement was covered prominently on the front page of the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.
Still, the settlement is likely to fade from the headlines in the coming weeks. The settlement was only briefly covered on Fox’s air on Tuesday, and a story on the outlet’s website did not mention the dollar figure attached to the settlement.
For the past several months, the Dominion lawsuit has produced a slew of ratings and traffic-boosting headlines for media outlets across the country, many of which are sure to focus intensely on the fallout from the historic settlement.
Media coverage was key to Dominion’s strategy in the case, as noted by Dominion attorney Devida Brook, who thanked the media for their coverage of the case outside the courthouse on Tuesday.
On Wednesday morning, a truck carrying an electronic sign reading “Rupert Murdoch Knew” commissioned by the liberal media watchdog Media Matters for America continued to circle the Delaware courthouse, but only a handful of television cameras were left there.
“You could argue that Dominion wins but the public loses,” former CNN media reporter Brian Stelter tweeted on Tuesday.
Fox’s bottom line
Even for a multi-billion dollar company, $787.5 Million is a lot of money.
Fox Corp., which owns and operates Fox News, is also facing lawsuits from shareholders on the company’s board who are upset with the network’s coverage of the 2020 election and the resulting litigation it has sparked.
Shareholder Robert Schwarz alleged in a lawsuit filed in Delaware Chancery Court earlier this month that Murdoch and other board members breached their fiduciary duties to shareholders by failing to uphold the company’s ethical reputation.
Fox Corp. brought in $4.61 billion in revenue in the last quarter of 2022, and a net income of $321 million.
The network is also facing a multibillion-dollar lawsuit from Smartmatic, another voting systems company, over its coverage of Trump’s claims.
With the Dominion matter settled, the Smartmatic case will likely gain more traction while legal experts have noted the Dominion settlement could set the stage for another hefty payout by Murdoch’s crown media jewel.
Anyone who was expecting an on-air apology or retraction from Fox
Missing from the settlement agreement was a widely speculated stipulation that Fox would have to issue an on-air apology to Dominion for airing false claims about the company.
A source with knowledge of the deal confirmed to The Hill this week no such apology or retraction was part of the agreement.
In a statement after the settlement was struck, Fox acknowledged “the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.”
During a round of media interviews overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday, representatives for Dominion said they were happy with the terms of the settlement.
A Dominion spokesperson told The Hill on Tuesday that “an apology is about accountability, and today Dominion held Fox accountable.”