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A judge presiding over Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News denied the network’s request to dismiss the case on Thursday, claiming that Fox “intended to avoid the truth.”
The electronic balloting firm filed suit against Fox News and others following the 2020 election over allegations that the company engaged in vote fraud against then-President Donald Trump by allegedly programming machines to switch votes from him to then-Democratic challenger Joe Biden. The allegations were initially made by members of the 2020 Trump campaign’s legal team.
In a May filing for a motion to dismiss, Fox News claimed that its network hosts and correspondents were merely covering “both sides” of the election when reporting on those allegations and giving air time to lawyers for the campaign who made them including Rudy Guiliani and Sidney Powell, both of whom are also facing defamation suits from Dominion.
“A free press must be able to report both sides of a story involving claims striking at the core of our democracy — especially when those claims prompt numerous lawsuits, government investigations, and election recounts,” the motion said.
“When a sitting President of the United States and his legal team challenge a presidential election in litigation throughout the nation, the media can truthfully report and comment on those allegations under the First Amendment without fear of liability. Plaintiffs’ defamation lawsuit against Fox News threatens to stifle the media’s free-speech right to inform the public about newsworthy allegations of paramount public concern,” the motion continued.
Others argued that major cable news networks for years broadcast conspiracy theories surrounding Trump’s alleged “collusion” with Russia during the 2016 election — allegations proven to be false — without repercussion.
But on Thursday, Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis ruled that Dominion has made a “reasonably conceivable” defamation claim, while Law & Crime noted further that at this stage of the case, “he is legally obligated to remain at least somewhat deferential to the accusations lodged by Dominion against FOX.”
“For purposes of the Motion, the Court must view all well-pled facts alleged in the Complaint as true and in a light most favorable to Dominion,” Davis wrote while referencing the legal standard for motions to dismiss.
Therefore, “[a]t this stage, the Court usually does not consider facts outside the Complaint,” he added, which suggests that he is accepting at face value Dominion’s claims for the time being.
Davis also noted in his ruling that Fox continued to allow “lies” to be broadcast on the network:
Fox continued to promote known lies on its broadcasts, websites, social media accounts and subscription service platforms. Mr. [Lou] Dobbs, Ms. [Maria] Bartiromo, and Mr. [Sean] Hannity also continued to give Ms. [Sidney] Powell and Mr. [Rudy] Giuliani a platform to disseminate lies about Dominion by hosting them on their shows. Mr. Dobbs, Ms. Bartiromo and Mr. Hannity likewise endorsed and repeated those lies.
But at the time, it wasn’t at all clear that those claims were, in fact, misleading or false, which appears to be Fox’s position.
“The news media has the right in a democracy to inform citizens by reporting and commenting on a President’s allegations challenging the security of our elections,” the network noted in its May motion.
Davis, however, pushed back on that, writing that the “neutral reportage doctrine” made by the network “seems to run contrary to United States Supreme Court precedent as it seems to create a nearly unqualified privilege” for the media.
“The neutral reportage defense would not warrant dismissal here even if the defense were available. To assert and benefit from this defense, a defendant must show that the defendant accurately and dispassionately reported the newsworthy event,” Davis wrote. “Dominion’s well-pleaded allegations, however, support the reasonable inference that Fox’s reporting was not accurate or dispassionate.”
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