First appeared in Western Journal
By Aron Solomon
Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News is over — literally when it was about to start.
The suit had alleged that Fox knowingly spread false information about Dominion’s voting machines and their role in the 2020 presidential election. Dominion claimed that Fox’s coverage of election fraud was inaccurate and defamatory and that it caused significant harm to the company’s reputation and business.
In December 2021, a judge in Delaware allowed the lawsuit to proceed, finding that Fox’s coverage may have been inaccurate. The lawsuit has exposed divisions within Fox and may have implications for the network’s future coverage of elections, particularly if Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination in 2024.
Tuesday’s resolution of the lawsuit came as more of a surprise to us than it should have. As each piece of the Fox defense was removed by the judge over the past month like successive Jenga pieces, it became evident how loud the crash would be at trial.
Yet when, on Sunday, the trial was postponed from Monday to Tuesday, we were surprised, and even more so on Monday when it actually looked like Tuesday would be the launch of a six-week trial. Then, just as we were getting ready to start on Tuesday afternoon, the case was settled for a reported $787.5 million.
As this lawsuit has now become an interesting footnote in legal history, is there anything significant we can learn from it?
The short answer is maybe not.
Those who believe that the result here is a unique indictment of the way Fox News does its journalism fail to recognize that all major TV networks, including Fox, have their own editorial biases and may blur the lines between journalism and entertainment. However, the extent and nature of these biases and how they manifest may vary between networks.
Ultimately, it is up to the viewer to critically evaluate the information presented by any news source and to seek out multiple perspectives to gain a more nuanced understanding of the issues at hand. Personally, I always counsel people to do what has worked well for me in consuming media — listen to and watch sources that challenge your beliefs and where you sit on the political spectrum.
The resolution of this case will, fairly or unfairly, be viewed by many as Dominion prevailing in the lawsuit.
As criminal lawyer David Gelman observes, “Given the pre-trial decisions by the court, it would have been a significant challenge for Fox News to demonstrate at trial that it acted responsibly and did not knowingly spread false information about Dominion’s voting machines.”
On Tuesday, after admonishing Fox for not submitting evidence on time, the judge appointed a special master to examine whether Fox fulfilled its discovery obligations prior to the defamation trial.
The special master, Delaware litigator John Elzufon, would have had the authority to depose anyone he deemed necessary, and all expenses incurred would have been borne by Fox. Elzufon would have been required to submit a written report on the investigation by May 15. Legal history may see this order as that last Jenga piece being pulled out, as the case was settled very soon after.
The resolution of the case should be seen through the lens of what is by far the most important issue here: where journalism ends and entertainment begins.
We have all become so desensitized to the 24/7/365 news feeds we receive that it’s sometimes too difficult for us as consumers of news to question what is fact, what is opinion, and what is a form of journalistic entertainment — the stuff of clickbait and TikTok video clips.
While a six-week trial might have further defined for us where the lines legally begin and end, for now, they remain left to our collective imagination.
About Aron Solomon
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and the Editor-in-Chief for Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, YouTube, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.