First appeared in Western Journal
By Aron Solomon
Tuesday’s settlement in the Dominion Voting Systems defamation suit against Fox News comes with a $787.5 million price tag for Fox.
For a news giant with a $14 billion annual revenue, this settlement falls closer on the spectrum to a serious wrist slap than a penalty that will shake the foundation of its business model.
But Fox is not yet out of the woods, with the network potentially becoming the courtroom prey of a company called Smartmatic.
Dominion and Smartmatic are both voting technology companies that filed defamation lawsuits against Fox over claims made by the network regarding the 2020 presidential election. While there are similarities between the two lawsuits, there are also some key differences.
One major difference is the amount in damages sought. Dominion’s lawsuit against Fox sought $1.6 billion in damages, while Smartmatic’s lawsuit is seeking $2.7 billion. Again, still not the dollar figure that is going to bankrupt Fox if this goes to trial and it loses, but there is absolutely a cumulative effect to these suits.
Another difference is the scope of the lawsuits. Dominion’s lawsuit named several Fox News hosts and contributors, as well as the network itself, while Smartmatic’s lawsuit only names a few individuals. Dominion’s lawsuit also alleged that Fox knowingly spread false information about Dominion’s voting machines, while Smartmatic’s lawsuit alleges that Fox spread false information about the company’s involvement in the election.
Despite these differences, there are striking similarities between the two lawsuits. Both Dominion and Smartmatic alleged that Fox News spread false information about their companies, and both lawsuits accused the network of damaging their reputations.
Attorney Mark Davis looks at these cases through a uniquely legal lens: “Overall, while there are some differences between the Dominion and Smartmatic lawsuits against Fox News, both cases highlight the potential legal liability of allegedly spreading false information and the importance of holding media outlets accountable for their reporting.”
As to the earlier notion of the cumulative effect of these lawsuits, the impact is in part financial but also centered on the Fox News brand.
The financial piece is easy to quantify — two serious financial hits in one quarter from settlements or verdicts impact Fox’s bottom line. Yet this unenviable position pales in comparison to the far more vague and esoteric brand impact.
From the perspective of Fox News, its ultimate goal is to provide the American people with factual news, not entertainment. Fox sees itself as a platform for diverse perspectives, voices and views, always providing relentless reporting and bold thoughts and opinions. It prides itself on being an innovator in sophisticated news-gathering methods, always searching for new ways to inform and engage audiences in both traditional and new media.
Yet these lawsuits show how Fox’s foundation has been shaken since the 2020 election. Far fewer people than before see Fox News as the organization wishes to be seen, which is something that Fox can afford much less than this week’s large Dominion settlement payout.
Fox needs an improbable win against Smartmatic to turn the tide. It doesn’t even need to be an actual win in which Fox News beats the charges leveled against it. It needs to get out of this lawsuit in better shape than when it extracted itself from the Dominion suit.
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.