Bryan Zepp Jamieson
April 19th 2023
My kneejerk reaction to the news yesterday that Fox and Dominion had settled their defamation suit for $787.5 million was disgust. “Take the money and run,” I muttered to myself.
But then I told my knee to shut up and started thinking. First; the settlement is monumental, just huge. Has there ever been a settlement in a suit this big in history? There are class-action settlements that were far bigger, ranging from Enron ($7.2 billion) up to the 1998 Big Tobacco settlement of $206 billion.) But those were class-action suits, with plaintiffs in the hundreds (Enron) to the millions (Big Tobacco. This was one small company with 200 employees and annual revenues around $17 million a year. The biggest personal injury settlement I could find was for $60 million (a gas station manager injured by a train derailment). But even there, there was a permanent, crippling injury that would require lifetime care. A small company taking on a media giant usually, if it were very, very lucky, results in the media giant saying, “Here’s five million, kid. Now go away.”
So make no mistake: three quarters of a billion dollars is a titanic settlement, and shows just how hopeless Fox’s defense was just on the face of it.
Fox made one of the most witless efforts of putting a good face on it that I’ve ever heard of. Their official statement following the settlement read, “We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems. We acknowledge the court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false. This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.”
Journalists reading it on air burst in to open laughter. “Highest journalistic standards?” Fox News? Oh, that ship has sailed, hit an iceberg, hit it ten more times, and then sunk without a trace!
The fact that Fox didn’t have to agree to tell their viewers they had deliberately and knowingly lied to them about the election all along bothered a lot of people, who surmise (correctly) that Fox will simply not even tell their viewers about the settlement or the circumstances that caused it to be so huge. And while there is no cult so corrupt, so ridiculous, and so compromised that it can’t keep and maintain its cadre of True Believers, Fox will experience attrition, for a variety of reasons.
The thing is, all that stuff from the discovery process is out there. The admission that the election theft claims were fabricated; the admission that they lied about the election in order to maintain ratings, the admission of open contempt for Donald Trump and his followers. They are claims made against Fox; they are admissions right out of Fox’s official representatives in the discovery process. There’s no unringing that bell.
It was a hideous (read ‘wonderful’) mistake on the part of Fox. As Robert Harrington over at The Palmer Report noted, “Fox made a huge mistake by not settling early. Had they come forward with the $787.5 million in the early days of the suit, they could have avoided all of the revelations of lies they told. Internal squabbling and nuggets like Tucker Carlson’s ‘passionate hatred’ for Donald Trump came to light as a direct result of the summary judgement. Had Fox News settled early none of those revelations would be general knowledge. According to Dominion lawyer Stephen Shackleford, there were no further shocking revelations to be told, no bombshells yet undetonated. In short, Fox screwed themselves with their own myopia.”
Some other right wing media outfits, hoping to supplant or even replace Fox, are telling their followers that Fox lied, but they won’t lie. (Obviously this doesn’t include OANN or Newsmax, who are facing their own lawsuits for lying about the election.)
You know that loudmouth in the bar, or the obnoxious uncle at the family gatherings who is always rabbiting on about how Trump is the “real” president? They are going to be talking to people who have indisputable evidence that Fox and the rest lied. Trump supporters have already all but vanished from social media outside of fringe areas like Truth Social and Twitter. There’s going to be a strong element of attrition as these people are finally facing reality.
The True Believers will become ever more insular and more cut off from mainstream society. But they will have muted themselves, reduced to agreeing with one another that everything is one vast conspiracy.
There’s a reason flat-Earth theories never gained any credence. There is just too much evidence. The “stolen election” cult will find themselves in a similar position. I suspect that, as with flat-Earthers, eventually a majority of “followers” will be con artists looking for easy marks amongst their indisputably stupid new-found brethren, and trolls who profess such a belief just to be annoying and aggravating.
Meanwhile, an avalanche of reality awaits. Dominion has suits pending against former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, and MyPillow founder Mike Lindell—and now have the resources to press a full legal suit, even if the individuals named won’t be able to pay more than pocket change. Dominion might ‘settle’ for the admission of malicious falsehoods that they didn’t get from Fox.
And Fox itself faces an even bigger defamation next year from Smartmatic, which has their own huge discovery process going on now, and access to all of the discovery performed by Dominion. $2.7 billion. Fox won’t get away with a mere $750m on that one. They will have to settle, not just for a huge number, but for public admissions of wrong-doing. They may even have to shop Trump, who first launched the conspiracy theory that they “flipped” votes in Georgia and Wisconsin (Smartmatic had no machines in either state, or any contested state for that matter).
By then, Trump may be on trial for the Georgia vote tampering and quite possibly for his role in taking classified materials and then lying about it. His approval ratings, already in the twenties, may plummet to single digits by then, removing the one cudgel Fox and the rest might have to try and threaten and bluster their way out of it.
The settlement isn’t a death blow for Trump and Fox, but it has weakened them and left them open for the actions that will be a death blow.
And the rest of the “advocacy journalism” crowd just got an important lesson in accountability. Lie maliciously, get sued, get sued big time.