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A settlement is, by definition, a negotiation — both parties get to walk away from the feud with at least some of what they wanted.
That remains true in the case of Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems, which averted a trial with an 11th-hour deal Tuesday. But the losses are hardly evenly split. The key players in the case are off the hook, legally.
But Fox’s “win,” if you can call it that, has more to do with what it avoided — a lengthy trial that put its closely guarded inner workings under a very public microscope — than what it gained. Dominion’s win isn’t quite as lavish as it had hoped, but it’s still a payday that a company of its size could only dream of a few years ago.
On a spectrum of losing-est to winning-est, let’s break down how everyone fared:
The Biggest Loser: Fox Corp
Fox Corp and its right-wing news channel easily take the cake for biggest loser in all of this. In addition to paying out $787.6 million to Dominion, the network that once fancied itself the “fair and balanced” news channel has had to account for a trove of embarrassing text messages and emails that came out in the discovery process.
Those texts put Fox’s ostensibly pro-Trump talent, including Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, on blast about how much they actually hate the former president and don’t believe in his election fraud claims (which were demonstrably false).
It’s not clear how much of the payout — one of the largest defamation settlements ever — will be covered by Fox’s insurance.
Fox’s liability for spreading 2020 election lies doesn’t end with Dominion. The network still has to fight another defamation lawsuit from yet another voting tech company, Smartmatic, which is seeking $2.7 billion in damages — nearly double what Dominion had sought.
Money aside, Fox had to acknowledge the court’s ruling that “certain claims about Dominion” that Fox perpetuated on-air were in fact false. By forgoing a trial, Fox is dropping its dispute of the court’s findings that found it was not acting in good faith as a journalistic enterprise when it amplified conspiracy theories about Dominion rigging the election in Joe Biden’s favor.
Its one concession in all of this is that it isn’t required to admit any of that to its viewers. Fox also gets to avoid putting the boss, Rupert Murdoch, or any of its anchors on the stand.
The Medium Loser: Wilmington, Delaware
The town, population 70,000, was all geared up for a six-week trial that would have brought in hordes of journalists to patronize its hotels, bars and restaurants.
With the settlement, they’re all packing up to return to New York and DC.
The Neutral-to-Positive Winner: Dominion Voting Systems
For more than two years, Dominion spent untold amounts of money building a defamation case against one of the most popular TV networks on the planet.
It was asking for $1.6 billion. It’s getting about half of that. But for a company that’s valued somewhere between $30 million and $80 million, it’s quite a deal. Even after it pays all of its lawyers.
Tuesday’s settlement “represents vindication and accountability,” Dominion lawyer Justin Nelson said. “For our democracy to endure for another 250 years, and hopefully much longer, we must share a commitment to facts… Today represents a ringing endorsement for truth and for democracy.”
The Medium Winners: Jurors
Twenty-four people, 12 jurors and 12 alternates, were about to be a part of the most consequential defamation case of the modern era.
Yes, it would have been the ultimate cocktail party anecdote. But they’d also have to sit through six weeks of trial, maybe more, and forever bear the emotional weight of the consequences of their history-making ruling.
The Biggest Winner: Staple Street Capital
A New York private equity firm that hardly anyone has heard of is making out as the ultimate winner in the settlement.
Staple Street spent just under $39 million to acquire a roughly 76% stake in Dominion Voting Technology in 2018 — a good two years before the Denver-based voting tech company would become a target of the far-right’s conspiracy theories, and well before Dominion became the David to Fox New’s Goliath when it brought the defamation charges.
The settlement is roughly 20 times the amount Staple Street paid for its Dominion stake, according to Reuters.
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