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What’s Going on With the Delay in Fox News’ Defamation Trial Over 2020 Election Lies?

The trial for Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox News, over 2020 election fraud claims, is imminent—though it’s been delayed by a day—but arguably the most important findings of the case have already been decided: Yes, the network aired false claims, and yes, it knew those claims to be false at the time. Ding, ding, ding!

While not quite news to those of us who consume actual news, it’s still satisfying to see it laid out in black-and-white legal documents signed by a judge. Ahead of the trial, Judge Eric M. Davis issued a summary judgment in favor of Dominion on the element of falsity. That means that the jury will not need to waste its time considering the question of whether statements aired by Fox were actually false, because they definitely were. The pants of Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and all their so-called friends were absolutely on fire, and every reasonable human being knows it.

“The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that is CRYSTAL clear that none of the Statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true,” the judge wrote.

In fact, Fox News’ own fact-checking department, known amusingly as the “Brainroom,” confirmed so in mid-November 2020. According to the in-house fact check quoted by the judge, there was no evidence of widespread fraud, no switched or deleted votes, no nefarious connections between Dominion and Democrats, and no software issues. And nothing fishy was going on with Sharpie pens! (Good lord, I had forgotten about the Sharpie nonsense.)

Internal conversations released in the lead-up to the trial revealed that Fox executives and personalities knew all this but were worried about losing viewers to the likes of Newsmax if they didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear. In embarrassing detail, they discussed their willingness to give viewers more of what they wanted—even if what those viewers wanted was to be lied to in confirmation of their own warped worldview. Forget integrity; the bottom line was at stake!

That the judge confirmed these and other factual assertions ahead of trial is extremely unusual, not to mention damning for a network with “news” in its title. Truth, or even the possibility of it, is the go-to defense in defamation or libel cases. If a defendant can prove the supposedly defamatory statements in question were true, or even might have been true, the case is much more difficult.

“Plaintiffs almost never win on the issue of falsity before the trial even begins,” wrote Washington Post writer and reformed conservative Jennifer Rubin in a column fittingly headlined, “Fox News Has Been Blown to Smithereens.”

“Usually, there is some defense that the facts were plausibly true — or at least that the comments were opinion (therefore, not actionable),” she continued.

With the question of fact or fiction already settled, the remaining legal issue for the jury to decide is whether Fox acted with actual malice, which the Supreme Court has defined as knowledge something is false and showing reckless disregard for the truth.

Out of respect for the first amendment, it’s an extremely high bar to clear to prove libel or defamation, so it’s anyone’s guess whether Fox will have to pay through its extremely long nose or not. It’s also still possible that the case ends up settled out of court, as disappointingly anticlimactic as that would be. Reuters says an unnamed source told them that Fox is still looking to settle, and with the matter of falsity already put to bed before the trial even began, they may be feeling extra willing to negotiate rather than lose even worse in court.

Fox has continually blasted Dominion’s claim of $1.6 billion in damages, and Dominion has seemed confident in trying their luck at that in court—maybe Fox is finally starting to think they might as well just pay up. Could anyone blame them for trying to settle, if that’s what’s going on? This case has been one embarrassing disaster after another, regardless of the eventual outcome. Will Fox’s own viewers care? I’m not sure they’ll even know the extent to which they’ve been lied to and insulted if they stay insulated in their own right-wing mediaverse. If Fox itself hasn’t covered the trial, it might not even exist for them.

But for the rest of us, at least it’s been pretty fun to watch.

(featured image: Disney)

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Erika Wittekind (she/her) is a contributing writer covering politics and news and has two decades of experience in local news reporting, freelance writing, and nonfiction editing. Hobbies and special interests include hiking, dancing in the kitchen, trying to raise empathetic teen boys, and keeping plants alive. Find her on Mastodon at