Fox News settles with man accused of rigging election — experts say it may be beginning of the end

Fox News reached a settlement on Sunday with a Venezuelan businessman Majed Khalil, who accused the network of making false claims about him rigging the 2020 U.S. presidential election, according to Insider

Khalil filed a $250 million defamation suit against the news outlet and former host Lou Dobbs, for spreading falsehoods that he played a key role in “orchestrating a non-existent scheme to rig or fix the election” against former President Donald Trump.

After the 2020 election, Dobbs went on Twitter and accused the businessman of being a “liaison with Hezbollah” who had executed an “electoral 9-11.” He even referred to the 2020 election as a “cyber Pearl Harbor.” 

A letter sent to District Judge Louis Stanton in Manhattan said both parties had reached a “confidential agreement to resolve this matter” and expected to file a joint stipulation of dismissal next week.

“If Fox is required to pay large settlements and judgments for defamation, then it will have to consider modifying its conduct in the future,” former U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade, a law professor at the University of Michigan and MSNBC contributor, told Salon. “Of course, it may be that defaming political targets is good for ratings and for profits. If so, then Fox may consider large legal payments to just be the cost of doing business.”

Fox is facing multiple legal battles related to its coverage of Trump’s election loss, affecting the network monetarily and possibly even the “content which it promotes and broadcasts,” pointed out John Kaley, former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York.

“As we saw in some of the Dominion emails disclosed when Fox played it ‘straighter’ there was a concern about loss of viewership,” Kaley said.

Dobbs’ show was canceled by Fox in February 2021 after voting software company Smartmatic filed a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit against the network over false claims that Smartmatic technology was used to commit voter fraud and named Dobbs in the suit.

His show had “become so packed with falsehoods about Mr. Trump’s defeat that Fox Business was forced to run a fact-checking segment debunking some of its own anchor’s assertions,” The New York Times reported.

Fox is also facing a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems, which alleges the network’s hosts and executives damaged its reputation by airing false claims after the 2020 presidential election suggesting the election software company supposedly changed or deleted votes to help President Joe Biden get elected.

All of these other defamation allegations against the network “will impact the Dominion case because of the negative perception they create in the public’s consciousness,” Kaley added.

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Fox’s on-air personalities and top executives continued to air election-related conspiracy theories promoted by the former president despite criticizing them internally, according to evidence offered in the pre-trial discovery.

While Fox News has defended itself, arguing that they were reporting on the allegations, which is protected by the First Amendment, Dominion has alleged in its suit that the right-wing channel “recklessly disregarded the truth” and has failed to produce evidence backing its claims. 

The lawsuit is seen as one of the most consequential defamation cases in recent years, according to First Amendment experts. The trial is set to begin on April 17, with some of Fox’s top hosts like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Maria Bartiromo poised to make an appearance. 

“The evidence in the Dominion case seems strong based on public disclosures reported in the media,” Kaley said. 

He added that the evidence so far indicates that the culture of the workplace “was less concerned with the truth than ratings, and maintaining the Fox brand among a segment of the population.”

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