Resources for Teachers and Students
FOR THE WEEK OF APR 24, 2023
Quote an editorial or opinion column about the case, with your reaction.
Briefly summarize other court or law enforcement news.
List at least two ways that most newspapers are unlike cable news networks.
Fox News Network blinked at the start of a landmark defamation trial against it. The cable network last week agreed to a $787-million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems, which accused Fox of willfully spreading conspiracy theories that linked its ballot-counting machines to vote rigging in the 2020 presidential election. The Toronto-based company, saying its reputation was badly harmed, filed a $1.6-billion lawsuit two years ago. It accused the broadcaster of repeatedly inviting guests who lied about the election results by sharing claims and conspiracy theories Fox knew were untrue. The alleged motive was avoiding the financial risk of alienating pro-Trump viewers.
Fox's abrupt move came hours after jurors had been picked in Delaware Superior Court, with opening arguments by each side coming next. "We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues," the New York-based network said. Fox News doesn't have to publicly apologize. On Dominion's side, lawyer Justin Nelson commented: "Today represents a ringing endorsement for truth and democracy. Lies have consequences. The truth does not know red or blue."
It's the latest twist in a case posing a major test of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, raising questions about whether defamation law adequately protects misinformation campaign victims. The sudden settlement avoids testimony by prominent Fox figures, including those who privately expressed concerns about the truth of claims on its shows. The expected witness list included Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox Corporation, and TV hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Maria Bartiromo.
It was jokingly called "the Media Trial of the Century" by the Poynter Institute, a journalism training. Jurors would have decided whether Fox acted with "actual malice" — a legal standard meaning it knowingly aired lies or recklessly disregarded obvious evidence that the statements were false. Fox said that it just reported on newsworthy allegations from Trump and his lawyers and that its journalism was constitutionally allowed as free speech. The network Fox still faces a $2.7-billion defamation suit from another voting technology firm, Smartmatic.
Dominion leader says: "Truthful reporting in the media is essential to our democracy." – John Populos, chief executive officer, after settlement
Next plaintiff says: "Dominion's litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox's disinformation campaign. Smartmatic will expose the rest." – Spokesman for that Florida election tech firm
Columnist says "Fox News isn't a news organization. It's a greedy business that freaked out when some Fox News reporters actually told the truth about Trump's lies, and then it proceeded to broadcast the lies." – Maureen Dowd, The New York Times
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