Fox News has settled a blockbuster case brought by Dominion Voting Systems, but the network’s legal headaches are not over yet.
A separate lawsuit from voting systems company Smartmatic similarly accuses Fox of maliciously giving Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani a platform to air false claims about the 2020 presidential election.
But unlike Dominion, Smartmatic is suing multiple hosts and Giuliani as individuals, in addition to Fox. The company is seeking at least $2.7 billion in damages, more than three times the size of Fox’s recent $787.5 million settlement with Dominion last week. And the case will be tried in New York state court, rather than Delaware.
“Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign,” Erik Connolly, an attorney for Smartmatic, said in a statement shortly after the agreement with Dominion was announced.
“Smartmatic will expose the rest. Smartmatic remains committed to clearing its name, recouping the significant damage done to the company, and holding Fox accountable for undermining democracy.”
A trial in the Smartmatic case would still be months away, if not years. No date has been set, but Fox lost its first bid to toss Smartmatic’s suit, allowing the case to move onto discovery.
“We will be ready to defend this case surrounding extremely newsworthy events when it goes to trial, likely in 2025,” a spokesperson for the network said this week. “As a report prepared by our financial expert shows, Smartmatic’s damages claims are implausible, disconnected from reality, and on its face intended to chill First Amendment freedoms.”
Still, some observers see the Smartmatic case ending in a similar fashion to how Dominion’s lawsuit did last week.
“I don’t see really any legal or factual way for Fox to have a different result in the Smartmatic litigation than it had in Dominion,” said Rodney Smolla, president of Vermont Law and Graduate School, who served as a lawyer for Dominion in its defamation case.
“I know it issued the press release yesterday, saying it looked forward to defending itself, but my instinct is that’s just settlement posturing,” he added. “It doesn’t reflect a realistic view of the law or facts.”
Fox defended itself in Dominion’s suit in part by asserting that it was protected under a First Amendment “neutral report” privilege, arguing the allegations made by Trump and his associates, like attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, were newsworthy and Fox had a journalistic duty to present them.
But Smartmatic’s case is in New York, where that neutral reporting privilege has previously been rejected. When Fox asserted such a privilege in Dominion’s case, the judge found the New York precedent was “binding on this court” and rejected that defense, adding that even if it did apply, Fox could not leverage it because they did not conduct “good-faith, disinterested reporting.”
Fox is nonetheless expressing confidence in its chances in court against Smartmatic, insisting that the voting systems company cannot tie any damages it may have suffered to Fox’s segments, because the voter fraud claims at issue were promoted in many other places.
The Smartmatic case is just the latest chapter in a string of legal battles and negative headlines for the nation’s largest cable network over its coverage of former president Trump and the 2020 election.
Days ahead of the Dominion settlement, Fox for an undisclosed amount settled another defamation case brought by a Venezuelan businessman against the network and host Lou Dobbs, who has since left the network. That suit referenced claims that the businessman rigged the presidential election using Smartmatic and Dominion voting machines.
Notably in its statement on the settlement with Dominion, Fox acknowledged “the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.”
“This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards,” the network added.
How the pair of big-money lawsuits will affect the network’s reputation with its massive, largely conservative viewers remains to be seen.
Nielsen Media Research data shows Fox has not experienced any significant dip in its outsized audience share during the Dominion suit and its leading ad executives have said its revenues have been unaffected by the lawsuits it faces.
“While the left seems to be following and delighting in the lawsuit, among the Americans most impacted by Fox, conservatives and Republicans, most aren’t really tuning in,” said Chris Jackson, pollster and senior vice president of U.S. public affairs at Ipsos.
Still, legal experts say the Dominion settlement could serve as another watershed moment for both Fox and media coverage of controversial matters of public debate.
“Having settled in such a public way for such a big number, it’s going to be even more difficult for Fox to find a jury that isn’t at least somewhat aware of this earlier settlement on a very similar issue,” said Chris Mattei, an attorney who helped win a historic $1.5 billion defamation case against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on behalf of the families of Sandy Hook victims.
“It feels to me like the case against Jones and the case against Fox are very important moments in combating what is becoming an ever-increasing threat of disinformation spreading through the country.”
–Updated at 6:31 a.m.