We look at the historic settlement reached this week in Dominion Voting Systems’s lawsuit against Fox News for promoting lies about voting machines being rigged against Trump in the 2020 election. Fox repeatedly aired conspiracy theories even though some of the network’s most prominent hosts, including Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, as well as multibillionaire and Fox Corporation Chair Rupert Murdoch, were privately admitting they knew Trump’s election fraud claims were false. Earlier this week, shortly after a jury was picked for the trial, Fox News agreed to pay Dominion $787.5 million to settle the case. As part of the deal, Fox was not required to apologize for airing lies about Dominion. We look at the settlement and what is next with Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, which recently filed a Federal Elections Commission complaint against Fox News based on evidence from the Dominion lawsuit.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn now to look at the historic settlement reached this week to end Dominion Voting Systems’ lawsuit against Fox News for promoting lies about voting machines being rigged against Trump in the 2020 election.
On Tuesday, shortly after a jury was picked for the trial, Fox News agreed to pay Dominion three-quarters of a billion dollars — that’s $787.5 million — to settle the lawsuit. As part of the deal, Fox was not required to apologize for airing lies about Dominion. It’s believed to be the largest media defamation settlement in history. But Fox’s legal battle is still not over. Fox still faces a $2.7 billion defamation suit from another election technology company, Smartmatic.
In the months after the 2020 elections, Fox repeatedly claimed Dominion and Smartmatic were part of a vast conspiracy to rig the election. Fox repeatedly aired conspiracy theories, even though some of the network’s most prominent hosts, including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, as well as Fox Corporation Chair Rupert Murdoch, were privately admitting they knew Trump’s election fraud claims were false.
In one private exchange, on November 19th, Tucker Carlson wrote to Laura Ingraham about one of Trump’s lawyers. Carlson wrote, “Sidney Powell is lying by the way. I caught her. It’s insane,” he said. Ingraham then replied, “Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy.” Carlson replied,”It’s unbelievably offensive to me. Our viewers are good people and they believe it,” he said.
Rupert Murdoch privately described the election conspiracy theories as, quote, “Really crazy stuff. And damaging,” he said. Despite this, Fox continued to amplify lies about the election.
This is a November 2020 clip of Trump attorney Sidney Powell being interviewed by Maria Bartiromo about Dominion.
MARIA BARTIROMO: I’ve never seen voting machines stop in the middle of an election, stop down and assess the situation. I also see reports that Nancy Pelosi’s longtime chief of staff is a key executive at that company; Richard Blum, Senator Feinstein’s husband, significant shareholder of the company. What can you tell us about the interest on the other side of this Dominion software?
SIDNEY POWELL: Well, obviously, they have invested in it for their own reasons and are using it to commit this fraud to steal votes. I think they’ve even stolen them from other Democrats in their own party, who should be outraged about this also.
AMY GOODMAN: After Tuesday’s settlement was reached, Justin Nelson, an attorney for Dominion, spoke outside the courthouse.
JUSTIN NELSON: The truth matters. Lies have consequences. Over two years ago, a torrent of lies swept Dominion and election officials across America into an alternative universe of conspiracy theories, causing grievous harm to Dominion and the country. Today’s settlement of $787,500,000 represents vindication and accountability. Lies have consequences.
AMY GOODMAN: Since the settlement was reached, Fox has barely covered the news on its broadcast or website. On Tuesday night, the lead story on the Fox News website was headlined “Elon Musk reveals to Tucker Carlson whether he’s seen evidence of alien life.”
We’re joined now by Angelo Carusone. He is president of Media Matters. Media Matters recently sent a Federal Elections Commission complaint against Fox News based on evidence from the Dominion lawsuit.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Angelo. It’s great to have you with us. First respond to this unprecedented settlement.
ANGELO CARUSONE: I mean, it’s obviously a significant number. I mean, it is — and like you said, it’s unprecedented. But I also would note that Fox’s scale of deception here was industrial scale. So, you know, in a way, it’s proportional to the scope and scale of what Fox News did in terms of their defamation. They didn’t just make one comment, as you noted. I mean, this was a two-month pattern, where they were repeatedly reinforcing the idea that the election was stolen.
And how it’s so tied into Dominion is that the foundation of that big lie was that these voting systems, these machines, were somehow manipulating the votes, manipulating the counts or flipping the counts from Trump to Joe Biden. So, without this specific defamation, without the claims they were making and falsehoods about Dominion and also Smartmatic, you would not be able to then construct that big lie narrative on top of it, that the election was stolen. So, it’s really significant how the lies about Dominion tie into the larger story that the right wing tells their audience about the election being stolen.
So, it’s a big deal. It’s probably not going to change Fox, though. There’s going to need to be a lot more consequences in order for that to happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s talk about the fact that part of the settlement was not an apology. Dominion did not force an apology from Fox. I want to go to a conversation that Dominion CEO John Poulos had with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Wednesday.
JAKE TAPPER: Why not force them to tell all those people, all those misled Americans, which polls indicate millions of them still believe this nonsense — why not force them to say, “We shouldn’t have done that. That was false. You have been misled. Joe Biden actually won. Dominion and Smartmatic and all that stuff was operating fine”? Why not force them to do that? Was it just like, “We’ll give you $200 million more if you don’t force us to do it”? Because you could have forced them to do it.
JOHN POULOS: Well, A, the defamation — the defamation part of the law is really not built around apologies. It is built to compensate for damage. And I can tell you we had a companywide call yesterday. And the unanimous consent in our company is, if we could trade this all in and go back in time and have our company reputation back, we would do so —
JAKE TAPPER: Exactly.
JOHN POULOS: — every single time.
JAKE TAPPER: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s John Poulos, the CEO of Dominion, who also argued that just the size of the settlement said to the world what Fox had done wrong, but Jake Tapper’s comment that those in a silo who are just watching Fox may not know.
ANGELO CARUSONE: Yeah. I mean, Fox isn’t going to tell them about the size of the settlement. They’ll just tell them that a settlement was reached, which is what they’ve been doing. They’re not actually giving them a sense of this is a really, really big number.
And the other thing is that, you know, it’s one thing not to get an apology, but an acknowledgment that what you said wasn’t true is really important, because Rupert Murdoch actually said it himself during the discovery, during the deposition. He said Fox News was the only entity in the country that could correct the election lies that Trump was telling his people, that his people believed. That is something that Rupert Murdoch acknowledged, that only Fox News has that influence and power over a very, very large part of this audience. So, if they really want their reputation back or to sort of undo it or even just undo some of that damage, the only way for that to happen is actually for Fox News to tell their audience that they misinformed them and that they did it knowingly. Obviously, that will never happen.
And that’s in part why the settlement was so high, because for Fox News, they were willing to pay more money just to avoid the possibility that their audience would find out that the network was knowingly misinforming them, and, worse for Fox, that they didn’t actually believe that the election was stolen. That’s the very thing that started all of this in the first place. Their audience would turn against them for that. That’s why they started to tell these tall tales, was because they were afraid that their audience was mad at them.
AMY GOODMAN: And to say the least, this was an 11th-hour settlement. The jury was already impaneled. So much had come out during discovery. MSNBC recently aired audio recorded by former Fox News producer Abby Grossberg of a Trump campaign official privately admitting to a Fox News producer that the campaign lacks evidence of election fraud.
FOX NEWS PRODUCER: Are any of the machines — I know it was on War Room the other day with Steve Bannon. Have any of the machines been looked at? He had said that one was looked at in Georgia.
TRUMP CAMPAIGN OFFICIAL: I’d have to check on that in terms of Georgia. I know during the audit, they did check on those machines. They’re really — if we can just go off the record for one sec here?
FOX NEWS PRODUCER: Yeah, sure, of course. I don’t want us to say it if it’s not — that’s why we’re checking.
TRUMP CAMPAIGN OFFICIAL: Yeah, I would — I would — I would — I think they have looked at the machines. When the secretary of state did its audit, there was a lot, I think a fair bit, of looking at the machines. The audit came in pretty darn close to what the machine count was with the receipts. So, you know, I don’t know the outcome of those, but our understanding — again, this is from the secretary of state’s office — was that there weren’t any physical issues with machines on those inspections.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the significance of this, Angelo Carusone. We’re hearing a Trump official responding to a Fox producer.
ANGELO CARUSONE: I mean, I think the one thing that this just reinforces is what we’ve been — one of the things we’ve been pointing out repeatedly, which is that Fox knew, and that they all kind of knew. They all knew that what they were saying wasn’t true.
You know, this is — if they really believed these things, it would be preposterous. It would be baseless. It would change the orientation. You know, obviously, spreading misinformation is bad. Believing it and spreading it is a little bit different, because you’re not necessarily a bad actor, and there’s still a potential for you to be changed, or at least your intentions aren’t to lie.
In this case, it’s so much worse, because what it shows, and what that audio specifically demonstrates, is that it wasn’t just Fox that sort of didn’t — you know, had some skepticism but was still promoting it, because, as they were saying, as Fox has been saying publicly, well, they were just reporting on something that other people were saying. That has been Fox’s defense. And that’s going to be Fox’s defense in Smartmatic. They’ve already indicated that that’s what they’re going to push in their defense there, is that, “Well, we were just doing neutral reporting. We were letting them do it.” What that audio reveals is that that’s not neutral reporting, that they were actually in cahoots, that the Trump people also didn’t believe the things that they were saying, but were saying it because it was a way to attack and undermine the legitimacy of the election and try to keep themselves in power, and that they need to places like Fox News to take those deceptions, to launder them and add some validity to it.
And so, to me, that’s the significance of that audio, is that it actually shows the other side of this, and it totally obliterates the little bit of defense that they still have for subsequent litigation. And it will hurt them not only with Smartmatic, but will also hurt them a lot with these shareholder derivative lawsuits that are currently unfolding, because this goes to show the level of intentionality of deception on the part of Fox News and how they breached their fiduciary responsibilities.
AMY GOODMAN: Angelo, The Lever is reporting that Fox’s massive settlement with Dominion Voting Systems could also mean a tax break as large as $213 million for Fox, almost —
ANGELO CARUSONE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — a third of what they’re paying out.
ANGELO CARUSONE: I know. What a world! I think the thing, to me — and that’s partly why I said earlier that’s not to dismiss the significance of this. This is a really big settlement. But one of the things that Fox did pretty promptly to make sure that everybody knew it was going to be OK for them, and specifically their investors and their shareholders and the markets, is to get two pieces of information out there. One is, “Don’t worry. We’re going to be able to deduct, you know, $200-plus million of this from our taxes, and that will help us.”
And the other thing they pointed out was that “We’re actually in the middle of contract renegotiations, and we’re trying to get all the — everybody that has cable in this country to pay us a dollar more,” which means that in one year alone, Fox News will make about 980 million more dollars in profit, if they’re successful. And they’re supposed to be renegotiating the very same time that the trial was happening. So, for them, it was worth paying it just to get it over with, so that they could focus on these contract renewals, because, honestly, the contract renewals are worth more to them in profit than this particularly significant settlement. So, they made — Fox made sure everybody knew that yesterday, so that the markets could be reassured that they’re going to be just fine.
AMY GOODMAN: Angelo Carusone, we want to thank you so much for being with us —
ANGELO CARUSONE: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: — president of Media Matters. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.