Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios
Dominion Voting Systems tomorrow will square off in court against Fox News, more than two years after filing a $1.6 billion defamation suit accusing the network of knowingly airing disinformation about election fraud in the 2020 presidential contest.
Why it matters: The trial could set an important First Amendment precedent and shape political coverage by one of America's most powerful media outlets.
The big picture: Successfully suing for defamation in the U.S. is intentionally difficult — but legal experts believe Dominion has an especially strong case.
- Dominion not only has to prove that Fox News made false statements, which it already has done, but also must demonstrate malice and that those false statements caused harm.
- Unintentional errors, for example, wouldn't meet the legal threshold.
If Dominion wins: It could convince Fox News to become more cautious ahead of 2024 elections, particularly when it comes to ballot fraud allegations.
- There also could be shakeups both behind and in front of the cameras at Fox News, as shareholders are unlikely to sit by quietly if a jury awards Dominion what it seeks or more.
- A Dominion victory also could embolden others to sue media organizations when they feel wronged, although legal experts tell Axios the risk is remote.
- "I do think it’s an uphill battle [for Fox]," University of Tennessee journalism professor Stuart Brotman said. "But you have some very powerful, famous media personalities testifying, and jurors can be captivated."
If Fox wins: Not only would it reaffirm America's very high bar for media defamation, but also would provide Fox News with a legal roadmap for airing future falsehoods.
- The network has parted ways with one of the on-air hosts who allegedly defamed Dominion, Lou Dobbs, but continues to employee others, including Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro.
Either way: The trial could influence how Fox News defends itself against other defamation charges, most notably a $2.7 billion case brought by election technology company Smartmatic.
What they're saying: "In my opinion, [a Fox victory] would open our society up to a return to what used to be referred to as the yellow journalism of the late 19th century, like the Hearst newspapers that led to wars,” says Catherine Ross, a George Washington University constitutional law professor who focuses on the First Amendment.
Look ahead: Opening arguments are expected to begin at 9am ET on Monday, with a live audio stream available to those outside the courtroom.
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