Dominion Voting Systems is suing Fox News for defamation over the network’s 2020 election coverage. Under normal circumstances, other news organizations would circle the wagons with Fox to fight against a $1.6 billion lawsuit that threatens to chill their First Amendment pursuits.
But Fox News is conservative — and a ratings giant that beats the likes of CNN and MSNBC. So Dominion has basked in often favorable news coverage about the legal battle that is bad for the news business.
Give Dominion credit for engaging a legal team that knows how to make news. Last month, the legal team released a 179-page Dominion brief — including redactions — that featured texts and other communications sent as Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch, anchors, and decision makers realized former Vice President Joe Biden had won the election, Trump did not, and their viewers would not take the news kindly.
I wrote last month about the panic that spread at Fox HQ as big shots feared an exodus of viewers to news outlets more favorable to Trump’s big lie.
Today, I want to address the other issue — that Dominion’s decision to sue Fox News for its reporting is bad for journalism.
The Dominion lawsuit maintains, “It is legally irrelevant that many — but not all — of the accused statements relate to false charges made by a guest and not a host. Fox is deemed the ‘publisher’ of every statement those guests aired against Dominion.” That’s just crazy talk.
For one thing, Fox talent challenged bogus claims made by election deniers.
Most important, if this argument prevails, it will have a chilling effect on journalism, particularly coverage of presidential elections. If editors want to ignore a story, here’s a grand excuse wrapped with a bow on it.
And what are the chances that critics of an election — on either side — will be guests on cable news?
Fox News, after all, reported on charges made by a sitting president — which makes the allegations, as the network’s preliminary statement argued, “obviously newsworthy allegations that the press must report regardless of whether they are true or false.”
The trial is set to commence April 17 in Delaware.
So why is Dominion suing Fox? Fox attorney Erin Murphy told me, “[W]e’ve been wondering that from the beginning. The real source of their complaint, the allegations here, they didn’t originate with Fox. They originated with the [then] President of the United States and the lawyers representing him and they certainly said some things that I can appreciate Dominion wanting to sue over.”
Would Dominion be within its rights to sue newsmakers who uttered the statements the company finds defamatory — say, Trump, or his whacky attorney pals Sidney Powell or Rudy Giuliani?
It would be “an absolutely different case” to sue “the individuals who were actually leveling the accusations,” Murphy responded.
So why is Dominion suing the messenger?
Debra J. Saunders is a fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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