The Dominion Lawsuit: Fox News Under Scrutiny for Alleged Defamation


Megan Pitt '23, Editor in Chief

Fox News has long been referred to as a strongly conservative rightist media outlet, as on various occasions the channel has defended former President Donald Trump. As a result, they are now facing a defamation lawsuit.

Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election to incumbent president Joe Biden and Trump supporters were outraged. As an article by USA Today explained, “once it became clear that then-President Donald Trump had lost the race to Joe Biden, allies of the former president began claiming without evidence that the election had been stolen.” In the public eye, these “allies” gained the title “election-deniers” because they refused to believe that Trump had failed to acquire the necessary votes to take office. 

Fox News was thrust into the limelight as they “aired debunked conspiracy theories claiming that Dominion’s voting machines were used to rig the outcome against Republican former President Donald Trump and in favor of the winner, Democrat Joe Biden” (Reuters). 

In 2021, Dominion Voting Systems filed a legal defamation case against Fox News, arguing that their claims caused irreparable damage to the company. According to CNN, “Dominion has alleged in its lawsuit that during the 2020 presidential election the right-wing channel ‘recklessly disregarded the truth’ and pushed various pro-Donald Trump conspiracy theories about the election technology company because ‘the lies were good for Fox’s business.’” Not only that but Dominion CEO John Poulos declared that “‘these lies also have threatened the personal safety of our employees and customers’” (USA Today).

In response, Fox “accused Dominion of distortions, misinformation and misattributing quotes as part of an attempt to ‘smear Fox News and trample on free speech and freedom of the press’” (CNN). The news outlet claimed that their broadcast is protected by the First Amendment, which, among other things, protects freedom of speech/the right to speak freely.

On Tuesday, March 7th, several documents were publicly released as a part of the official lawsuit. A series of text messages from Tucker Carlson, political journalist and host for Fox News, sent only 2 days before the January 6th insurrection were included in the now-public records and seem to prove that Fox News journalists were forced to feign support for Trump despite their personal beliefs. First, Carlson wrote “‘We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights…I truly can’t wait’” (CNN). He then went on to write, “‘I hate [Trump] passionately’” and “‘there isn’t really an upside to Trump’” (CNN). On-screen, Carlson is an avid Trump supporter. As an article by CNN dictated, “the text messages reveal that Carlson was highly critical of Trump in private despite regularly expressing support for the former president on his Fox News primetime show and suggesting the 2020 election could have been stolen from him.” 

Then-Fox DC Managing Editor Bill Sammon had also expressed concern over Fox News’ election coverage about a month after the 2020 election in a private message to then-political editor Chris Stirewalt: “‘More than 20 minutes into our flagship evening news broadcast and we’re still focused solely on supposed election fraud – a month after the election’ [he wrote]… ‘It’s remarkable how weak ratings make good journalists do bad things’” (CNN). The message seemingly confirms that Sammon believed the election was not stolen, despite his public cries that it was. He even criticizes his team, acknowledging that they are doing “bad things”. Sammon left the company in 2021.

Rupert Murdoch, Fox Corporation chairman, expressed his belief that Fox News “‘went too far’” in a January 21, 2021 email, according to CNN. He wrote to Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott “[asking] if it was ‘unarguable that high profile Fox voices fed the story that the election was stolen and that January 6th (was) an important chance to have the result overturned’” (CNN). He feared that the channel had said too much in regard to the election and it seems he worried they may have inspired the January 6th attack on the Capitol.

In a January deposition, Murdoch admitted to Dominion lawyers that he did not believe the election was stolen. When asked if he believed the voting company executed a plan to derail the victory of Donald Trump, he responded, “‘I’m open to persuasion; but, no, I’ve never seen it’” (CNN). 

Fox continues to deny wrongdoing.