A jury will now decide whether defamation was done with 'actual malice' and, if so, how much the voting machine company is due in damages...
By Ernest A. Canning on 4/1/2023, 1:41pm PT  

"Through its extensive proof, Dominion has met its burden of showing there is no genuine issue of material fact as to falsity. Fox therefore had the burden to show an issue of material fact existed in turn. Fox failed to meet its burden," the Judge found, before using italics and all-caps to emphasize the central point. It "is CRYSTAL clear that none of the [Fox] Statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true."

In a no-uncertain terms defeat for Fox, the 130-page Order [PDF] handed down on Friday by Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis found, as a matter of law, that the Fox "News" Network (FNN), during its post-election coverage of the 2020 Presidential Election, published four categories of false statements about Dominion Voting Systems. No evidence was presented by the Republican propaganda outlet to counter those material facts.

The court also found, as a matter of law, that Fox' statements amounted to "defamation per se," a finding that establishes that damages are to be presumed in the voting machine company's $1.6 billion dollar lawsuit.

All of the Fox motions for Summary Judgement to dismiss the case were "DENIED" by the court. Dominion's motion for Summary Judgement on Liability were "GRANTED in part and DENIED in part."

Barring a settlement by the parties, the case is now scheduled to proceed to trial in mid-April. Some of Fox' top stars, including Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Maria Bartiromo are believed likely to be called to the stand as witnesses...

The categories of defamatory statements made by Fox on air and on its website after the 2020 election included false claims that Dominion (1) "committed election fraud", (2) "manipulated vote counts through its algorithms", (3) "is owned by a company founded in Venezuela to rig elections in favor of Hugo Chavez", and (4) "paid kickbacks to government officials who used its machines."

Those findings establish all but one element of Dominion's defamation action against FNN. But Fox cannot be held liable for defamation unless, in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark First Amendment ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), the false claims were made with "actual malice", to wit: "with knowledge that [the statements were] false or with reckless disregard of whether [the statements] were false or not."

Although the court denied both parties' competing motions for summary judgment on the malice issue, based upon what Judge Davis described as controlling New York precedent, the court ruled that neither FNN nor its parent company, Fox Corp., may hide behind what Fox described as a "neutral reporting privilege" that purports to allow a broadcaster to knowingly publish defamatory information so long as it's "newsworthy."

Fox continues to deny wrongdoing, claiming First Amendment protections to report "newsworthy allegations" and vowing to "continue to fiercely advocate for the rights of free speech and a free press as we move into the next phase of these proceedings." The court's rejection of the "neutral reporting privilege", however, means that Fox will not be able to prevent its "newsworthy allegations" argument before a jury.

At trial, currently scheduled to commence on April 12, a jury will have to determine whether FNN's defamatory publications were made with "actual malice", as defined by New York Times v Sullivan. If so, the jury will also have to decide the amounts of compensatory and punitive damages.

As Angelo Carusone, President of watchdog Media Matters, recently told Brad Friedman on The BradCast, with another defamation suit from another voting machine company for $2.7 billion waiting in the wings, along with the possibility of a plethora of shareholder lawsuits and other financial problems that may follow, Rupert Murdoch's "control of the company" could ultimately be "in jeopardy."

"It's sort of like a Jenga puzzle," Carusone asserted about the Dominion suit at the time, prior to Friday's adverse ruling against Fox. "Pulling one block is not going to topple it down, but it's certainly going to make it a lot more vulnerable to toppling. And this one is a pretty key part of that piece --- just the tiniest little breeze will probably knock the rest of it over."

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Ernest A. Canning is a retired attorney, author, and Vietnam Veteran (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968). He previously served as a Senior Advisor to Veterans For Bernie. Canning has been a member of the California state bar since 1977. In addition to a juris doctor, he has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science. Follow him on twitter: @cann4ing

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