Showing posts with label #2020Election. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #2020Election. Show all posts

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Fox News' Settlement and Future Defamation Suits.

Justice William J. Brennan, 1972. 
(Author of opinion in New York Times v. Sullivan.)
Library of Congress, Public Domain.

The Economist today reports on the recently settled defamation lawsuit between Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems for $787.5m over Fox's coverage of the 2020 US election. Dominion accused the network of knowingly spreading lies about its voting machines, resulting in Joe Biden's victory. The lawsuit revealed the extent to which Fox's coverage is shaped by a desire to tell its audience what it wants to hear and by its competition. The case also shed light on the network's tumultuous relationship with former President Donald Trump.

Fox's audience declined after the 2020 election, as Trump urged his supporters to switch to other networks. The network then sought to appease Trump's supporters, giving credibility to false claims made by his lawyers. Fox tried to shift its audience's focus to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, but viewers ultimately did not follow this lead. The network continued to defend Trump during various legal troubles, as its influence on viewers appeared limited.

Despite the significant financial settlement, the lawsuit's impact on Fox News is, in the opinion of the Economist, negligible. The network can afford the payout, which is about a quarter of its estimated revenue last year, and it will not have to air retractions or corrections. As the lawsuit did not receive extensive coverage on Fox, viewers who learned about it elsewhere were likely to take the network's side. Another voting technology company, Smartmatic, is suing Fox for $2.7bn over its 2020 election coverage, which may draw more attention to the problem.

I think the article misses an important potential consequence of this case. The article highlights the network's influence on the American right, but fails to address the broader implications for libel law jurisprudence. Despite Fox News' potentially defensible behavior under  New York Times v. Sullivan, which protects news organizations from defamation suits unless they knowingly published false information or exhibited "reckless disregard" for the truth, the article does not discuss how the case could affect future defamation suits.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch have questioned the basis of New York Times v. Sullivan, and the Fox News case may impact the Supreme Court's willingness to maintain such a powerful shield for the press. The network's repeated dissemination of misinformation, deception, and conspiracy theories could prompt the Court to reevaluate the limits of defamation protections for news organizations.

Overall, the article provides a detailed account of the Dominion lawsuit, Fox News' influence on conservative politics, and the network's relationship with former President Donald Trump. However, it would have been valuable for the piece to discuss the potential consequences of the case for future libel law jurisprudence and the role of the Supreme Court in shaping these outcomes.