Perhaps the greatest legal mystery in Dominion’s $1.6 billion lawsuit is why Fox News hasn’t yet settled to make this P.R. nightmare go away. Tucker Carlson’s texts and Rupert Murdoch’s deposition, in particular, have been an unprecedented embarrassment for the network, evidencing not only the cynicism behind Fox’s decision to air 2020 election nonsense, but also the contempt of its hosts for their own audiences. But as I wrote last month, this case is not quite as straightforward as most think. It’s not just about whether Fox News defamed Dominion, or about the sanctity of the First Amendment. If liability was the sole issue, I bet this dispute would have settled by now.
Instead, lawyers on both sides are currently gaming out what they can achieve at trial and on appeal. After all, Fox isn’t seriously contesting that lies were told on its shows in the aftermath of Trump’s loss. Sure, it’s challenging how many lies there were, and who should be faulted for what the ex-president’s lawyers were saying, but Fox’s attorneys know they’ll be defending culpability in front of a jury in Delaware, which is only slightly better than arguing before a panel of CNN talking heads. And Fox is perfectly capable of throwing money (or its insurers’ money) to make a legal problem over a big lie go away, as it did with Seth Rich.
As for Dominion, I’ve heard the chatter that the company is eager for a trial showdown to publicly shame Fox for lying through its teeth. I don’t think that’s a perfect read on the situation, though. Dominion has already achieved that, especially now that the evidence has been showcased in the media. The punditocracy has rendered its verdict, and the only ones left to convince are Trump supporters, whose likelihood of ever being persuaded here seems roughly equivalent to all four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament losing in the opening round.