Dominion’s Fox News lawsuit is not what the media are making it out to be

by Matt Mackowiak

Dominion Voting Systems is about to have its day in court in the $1.6 billion lawsuit against the parent company of Fox News. The case has significant implications for the First Amendment and could have major financial implications for a global company.

For months, redacted details from Dominion’s lawsuit have dribbled out, placed in friendly anti-Fox outlets, with the intention of creating a bias in the courtroom and putting pressure on Rupert Murdoch, Fox News executives, and specific Fox News talent.

Let’s establish a few facts. First, legacy media outlets despise Fox News for its unrivaled commercial success. If you combine CNN and MSNBC’s audiences, whether in the morning, daytime, prime time, or weekend, they do not match Fox News. Second, the Democratic Party, the major newspapers, and other cable networks despise Fox News because they possess editorial independence that contrasts with their preferred narrative.

Third, it is not as if the full facts were never presented or offered on Fox’s air. To give just one example, Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo listened to Dominion’s corporate position and offered to have its CEO on air.

Finally, and most importantly, while the Dominion lawsuit appears to be a loaded weapon trained on the heart of one cable news network, its true target is our treasured independent and free press.

After the 2020 election, hosts at Fox covered the president’s legal team like Sidney Powell making what today looks like an obviously dubious voting machine fraud theory. Within weeks, the whole world saw how they failed to deliver evidence to back them up. Those allegations that turned out not to be proven and were tossed out in court were aired by many outlets, including Fox News.

But the claims Powell, Giuliani, and others were making were no question newsworthy. A sitting president’s legal claims in a hotly contested presidential election are newsworthy. Full stop. And if professionals at news outlets cannot cover issues in good faith when raised by such prominent officials in the middle of a contested election, the media will be dead.

The media are ganging up on Fox and helping Dominion’s efforts to obfuscate the facts and cover up their own track record. When the tables were turned, liberal outlets routinely got a pass for airing dubious allegations that smeared conservatives and turned out to be unproven.

When Michael Avenatti was endlessly booked to lie about President Donald Trump and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, no one paid the price. When Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) lied about “collusion” as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, no one held him to account. No one deposed the chairmen of Comcast or put Jeff Zucker or half of CNN on the hot seat for booking these liars over and over — ironically, it was Trump’s White House officials who were hit with subpoenas and legal fees.

Dominion’s theory is doubly dangerous because it goes beyond arguing about defamation by an individual host or journalist and argues that if any person within a news organization or its corporate leadership doesn’t believe an allegation aired, the entire company is liable to the tune of billions.

You saw this clever tactic in Dominion’s legal filings and press coverage. You may have heard about the text messages of Fox hosts such as Tucker Carlson and Bret Baier or the views of Rupert Murdoch or board member Paul Ryan, but you haven’t heard about the private messages of Lou Dobbs or Maria Bartiromo — the show hosts who actually booked the guests who made allegations against Dominion. Why? Because they probably don’t contain any evidence that helps Dominion.

If Fox is found liable under this standard of anyone at the company having doubts, no media outlet will ever be safe.

Could a conservative media startup get private equity funding if it could be held liable for defamation when a board member disagreed with a story the outlet was pursuing? Would anyone want to invest in the Daily Wire if Jordan Peterson’s new book contained a controversial new theory? What if a lawsuit triggers a scenario where every staffer would have to turn over their phones and emails and be interrogated under oath about every conservative story the news outlet espoused?

Remember, Fox News was bold enough to air interviews with Tony Bobulinski, who blew the whistle on Hunter Biden’s laptop and President Joe Biden’s corrupt foreign business dealings. Would the outlet be so brave if he might owe billions had a single executive or host at the channel disagreed?

Fox News’s Tucker Carlson hosted a Chinese virologist who was banned by Facebook for being among the first to allege that COVID-19 came from a Chinese lab. Again, ask this: Would the outlet be so brave if he might owe billions had a single executive or host at the channel disagreed?

Would any of these stories see the light of day if the First Amendment were whittled down to the narrow definition that Dominion seeks? If any of the thousands of employees at Fox questioned these reports, might they be liable?

Dominion’s lawsuit isn’t just a threat to Fox. If it succeeds, it’s a blueprint for destroying conservative media and independent media as we know it. It’s a gift to every green energy company lobbying for corrupt funding, every tech company censoring accounts, and every woke corporate actor engaged in preposterous diversity, equity, and inclusion policies that will use it to silence investigative journalists, criticism, and debate.

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