It’s still hard to wrap our heads around the biggest media news in recent memory.
For months we’ve been gearing up for the legal showdown between Dominion Voting Systems and Fox News. It’s a battle that actually started brewing two years ago.
That’s why it was so stunning to see it settled in what felt like a snap of the fingers.
Then again, should we be surprised? Fox Corp. big boss Rupert Murdoch has a history of settling cases before they get to trial, and all indications were that Dominion would wipe the floor with Fox News for the six weeks of trial before the jury handed Dominion a resounding victory.
So when you think about it, it would have been shocking if there wasn’t a settlement.
Still, the news was jolting, especially after a jury had been selected.
Perhaps it was the settlement itself that caught followers of this case off guard. Fox News will pay Dominion $787.5 million — far less than the $1.6 billion Dominion was suing for, but more than it probably would have gotten in a verdict and still, according to The Washington Post, “the largest publicly disclosed monetary settlement ever in an American defamation action.”
Most surprising, as well as most disappointing for Fox News critics, was that Fox News did not have to publicly apologize. On-air personalities such as Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Maria Bartiromo can move on as if nothing had happened.
So who actually won the case? Was there a winner? Some see it as a split decision. Dominion got its money and its reputation back. Fox News avoided apologizing and having its executives and stars testify.
Michael M. Grynbaum sees both sides of it in his piece for The New York Times. He mentions how MSNBC’s Joy Reid said, “Great win for democracy? I don’t know about that.”
First Amendment lawyer Martin Garbus told Grynbaum that Fox News hosts such as Carlson and Bartiromo will be seen by some conservatives as “heroes” who “stood up against the liberal world.” Garbus added, “Country lost, democracy lost.”
There’s also Politico’s Jack Shafer, who writes, “Rupert Wins Again.” Shafer writes, “Sure, Fox might throttle back for a few months as it fills the big sack with the settlement cash for Dominion. But you can already imagine Murdoch, after a decent interval, mounting a copy-paper pedestal and giving a ‘Succession’-like speech to the Fox team about it being time to put the bad news behind them and urging them to gear up for the 2024 presidential election as it reverts to its tainted formula of lies and distortions.”
Here are more leftover thoughts, musings and tidbits from the Fox-Dominion case:
Behind the scenes
CNN’s Marshall Cohen and Oliver Darcy wrote, “Inside the historic settlement talks between Fox News and Dominion.”
The two wrote that veteran mediator Jerry Roscoe was celebrating his 70th birthday on a river cruise from Budapest to Bucharest last Sunday when he got a call asking him to mediate the Fox-Dominion case. Bringing in Roscoe, and hopes of an 11th-hour settlement, is what delayed the start of the trial from Monday to Tuesday. Yet the trial was expected to begin when no deal was struck by Tuesday morning.
Roscoe told the CNN reporters, “It was one of the more challenging cases because of the magnitude of the dispute and the visibility. I would not characterize any aspect of this mediation as easy.”
Who’s sorry now?
So what about that non-apology from Fox News?
I keep coming back to, perhaps, the smartest thing I’ve read about this case, from The Atlantic’s David A. Graham, who wrote, “Dominion’s choice to settle comes as a great disappointment to many critics of Fox, and is also probably a smart financial decision. For the critics, this case was about democracy and disinformation and provided an opportunity to hold Fox accountable for years of broadcasting hogwash. For Dominion, it was primarily about business. No matter how lofty the language its spokespeople used, the company didn’t sue to fix the American media landscape.”
Speaking of Fox’s non-apology, Dominion lawyer Davida Brook was asked about it on MSNBC. Here’s what she said: “For better or for worse, the legal system — the laws of defamation — they’re not set up to get you an apology. We could have gone to trial, knocked it out of the park, and we would not have gotten an apology from Fox.”
Brook added, “I’m not really sure what the value of a forced apology would be to (Dominion) at this point. If Fox ever wants to genuinely apologize to Dominion Voting Systems for what they did to them, I know the CEO of Dominion, I’m sure he would listen. But I’m not sure that a forced apology is really going to be that meaningful to him at this point in time.”
Next up? Another voting systems company, Smartmatic, has filed a $2.7 billion lawsuit against Fox News.
After Tuesday’s settlement, Smartmatic attorney J. Erik Connolly said, “Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign. Smartmatic will expose the rest.”
According to Axios’ Sara Fisher, that led to this response from Fox News, a response that Fischer called “remarkable”: “There is nothing more newsworthy than covering the president of the United States and his lawyers making allegations of voter fraud. Freedom of the press is foundational to our democracy and must be protected, in addition to the damages claims being outrageous, unsupported, and not rooted in sound financial analysis.”
Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi tweeted that it was exactly what Fox News “said repeatedly in response to Dominion’s lawsuit—before it threw in the towel and wrote a very large check to make the lawsuit go away.”
Later Wednesday, Fox News put out this statement: “We will be ready to defend this case surrounding extremely newsworthy events when it goes to trial, likely in 2025. As a report prepared by our financial expert shows, Smartmatic’s damages claims are implausible, disconnected from reality, and on its face intended to chill First Amendment freedoms.”
Oh, by the way, Farhi also tweeted Wednesday: “Notable: @foxnews has fired only three people for its campaign of distortions/lies about the 2020 election that led to its $787 million settlement yesterday. And those three told the truth about the election.”
Other notable links about Fox and Dominion:
- The Washington Post’s Philip Bump has a fun and insightful piece: “Putting the massive Fox News settlement in perspective.” (For example, we’re talking more than $787 million. Do you know how many “My Pillow” ads that would be? Bump tells us.)
- The New York Times’ Tiffany Hsu with “What’s Next for Dominion After Its $787.5 Million Settlement With Fox News?”
- Also in the Times, chief television critic James Poniewozik with “Everybody Knows What Fox News Is Now.” Poniewozik wrote, “All this, trial or no trial, makes clear what Fox News really is. It’s a service provider. That service is the maintenance of a reality bubble and the deference to beliefs that Fox’s hosts helped shape. Seen this way, the Dominion case wasn’t so much about Fox telling its audience what to believe. It was about the audience telling Fox what Fox needed to believe — or at least, what it needed to give the appearance of not not believing.”
- Los Angeles Times’ senior entertainment writer Meg James with “Fox News-Dominion settlement doesn’t end crisis for Rupert Murdoch’s empire.”
- Brian Stelter’s column for Vanity Fair: “Fox News, Unapologetic and Unwavering, Steams Ahead After Staggering Dominion Settlement.”
- The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona with “How Fox’s Massive Dominion Payout Could Spell Doom for Newsmax and OAN.”
- The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, weighed in with an editorial. The board wrote, “As much as the media ached for a Fox defeat in court, they ought to thank the company for settling. A verdict against the network might well have hurt the rest of the press by making it harder to defend against defamation claims.” The editorial went on to say, “The media cheering for Fox to lose were in effect cheering for a verdict that could have meant more lawsuits, many of them meritless, against journalists. Their hatred of Fox and conservatives is so strong that they ignored their self-interest.” The Journal’s editorial board was rather easy on Fox News, with its harshest criticism not being all that harsh: “One journalistic lesson of the Dominion case is not to indulge crank claims because your audience wants to hear them.”
Do you have any leftover questions on the Fox-Dominion case? Let me know. I can be reached at email@example.com. I’ll round up some of the top questions and answer them in an upcoming newsletter.
And now onto the rest of today’s newsletter …
Just another Lee paper
For this item, I turned it over to my Poynter colleague, media business reporter Angela Fu.
For decades, The Buffalo News was sheltered from the worst of the newspaper industry’s decline, thanks to its status as billionaire Warren Buffett’s only daily paper. Even as Buffett acquired more papers, he kept the News separate.
Everything changed in 2020, when Buffett sold his newspapers to Lee Enterprises.
In the past four months, The Buffalo News has had $1 million cut from its newsroom budget, lost four veteran journalists, and was told its design desk and print production would be outsourced. The cutbacks come after an exhausting year spent covering multiple tragedies, including a mass shooting and a deadly blizzard.
Now, staff at The Buffalo News are left fearing what Lee Enterprises has planned for the future.
“Sometimes it feels like the writing is on the wall. We’re trying to write a different script,” said enterprise reporter Mark Sommer. “But there’s only so much we can control, and we’re aware of that as well.”
I interviewed a dozen current and former Buffalo News employees about the cuts and what could be next for the newspaper. You can read my story here.
Ben Smith left his job as the media columnist for The New York Times at the start of 2022 to help co-found the news site Semafor. Since then, the Times has not replaced Smith.
There was recent buzz that Washington Post media writer Sarah Ellison was in the mix, and perhaps even the favorite, to replace Smith as the Times’ “Media Equation” columnist. That, however, will not be happening.
The Post announced Wednesday that Ellison will become a national enterprise reporter. The Post says she will focus “on the intersection of democracy, politics and media, with the mission of examining the institutions and individuals that shape our fractured society.”
The Post also said Ellison also will write about “the forces that contribute to a political culture in which Americans increasingly do not share a common set of facts, chronicling how polarizing messages are forged and amplified through influential cultural figures, politicians, traditional news organizations and new media platforms.”
So where does that leave the Times and its search for a media columnist? That’s unknown. Vanity Fair’s Charlotte Klein reported in January that Ellison, former CNN media reporter Brian Stelter and Puck media columnist Dylan Byers all had conversations with the Times, but that Byers took himself out of the running.
But here we are three months later, the job remains open and what once appeared to be a leading candidate (Ellison) is taking on a different role at the Post.
So, today is the day you might lose your verified blue checkmark on Twitter.
According to this tweet from Twitter Verified, Twitter is removing the legacy verified check marks today unless users pay for the check mark through Twitter Blue.
Originally, the blue check mark was meant to let users of the social media site know that the account was verified and credible. But when Elon Musk bought Twitter, he announced that changes would be coming and that if users wanted a blue check mark, they would have to pay for it.
The assumption now is that the blue check mark will lose credibility if just anyone can pay to have an account verified.
- The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian with “With a heavy weight on his shoulders, Evan Gershkovich is standing tall.”
- In this clip from the sports media podcast he does with Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand, New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand talks about upcoming layoffs at ESPN.
- For Technologizer, Harry McCracken with “The End of Computer Magazines in America.”
- After a sabbatical, The Atlantic’s Ed Yong with his first piece in The Atlantic since last September: “Long COVID Is Being Erased — Again.”
- For National Geographic, Jennifer Barger with “Sober tourism is a growing trend — here’s how it can transform your trip.”
- This is, without a doubt, the strangest story I’ve read in quite some time. It just gets weirder and wilder with each sentence. So weird that I just had to pass it along. The BBC’s Kelly Ng with “New Zealand feral cat-killing competition for children axed after backlash.”
More resources for journalists
- Subscribe to Local Edition by Poynter faculty Kristen Hare, to find out what’s working in local news and fresh opportunities for local reporters.
- Telling the Stories of Faith and the Faithful — New York City, May 12 (Seminar) — Register by April 21.
- Transform your newsroom’s reporting on crime and criminal justice with our 24-week online seminar. Apply by April 21.
- Editorial Integrity and Leadership Initiative — (Sept. – April, 2024) (Hybrid) — Apply by May 15.
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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