Fox will have to go to court to defend its coverage of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, a judge ruled Friday, dismissing the cable network’s attempt to block a $1.6 billion defamation case brought by the maker of Dominion voting machines from being decided by a jury.
In a 130-page opinion, Delaware State Court Judge Eric Davis denied motions by Fox News and its parent company Fox Companybut agreed with Dominion’s assertion that claims made about its devices – that they were rigged to steal votes from then-President Donald Trump – were false.
“The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that it is CRYSTAL clear that none of the statements relating to Dominion regarding the 2020 election are true,” Davis wrote.
He added a jury in the trial which was to begin April 17, would decide whether Fox acted with “actual malice” or “reckless contempt”, by repeatedly airing the false accusations against Dominion, and whether the company suffered damages as a result.
Earlier this week, Dominion released a proposal list of witnesses that if accepted by the court, Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan would be interviewed live during the trial, along with primetime Fox stars Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham.
In a affidavit in January, Rupert Murdoch told attorneys he believed some Fox anchors had gone further than simply airing the false election claims and instead “endorsed” the conspiracy theories being pushed by the Trump campaign.
He added that Fox “did more than just host” guests such as Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, a supporter of false claims that the Dominion machines were rigged, but instead gave them a “platform”. . Murdoch also testified that he had “not seen any evidence that [Dominion] rigged anything” and that he believed the election “wasn’t stolen.
Fox’s attorneys had argued that the network was reporting allegations by a sitting president and that those statements were protected by the constitution’s First Amendment. However, Davis cited the New York State Court of Appeals to conclude that “charges of criminal activity, even in the form of an opinion, are not constitutionally protected.”
Reacting to the judge’s ruling, Dominion said: “We are satisfied with the court’s thorough ruling categorically rejecting all of Fox’s arguments and defenses and finding as a matter of law that their statements about Dominion are false. We look forward to going to trial.
In a statement, Fox said, “This case is about and always has been about First Amendment protections of the media’s absolute right to cover the news.”
He added that Fox would “continue to staunchly defend the rights to free speech and a free press as we enter the next phase of these proceedings.”