Fox News pays off Dominion: who will put Rupert Murdoch in the witness box?

by Kim Wingerei | Apr 19, 2023 | Comment & Analysis, Latest Posts

Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News has settled the defamation claim by Dominion Voting Systems. What are the implications for Lachlan Murdoch’s claim against independent Australian publisher Crikey?  Kim Wingerei explores.

“We have no comment on the Dominion matter. We look forward to defending our journalism in court.” This from Will Hayward, chief executive of Crikey Media, which is being sued by Lachlan Murdoch. He can’t be too unhappy though.

News that voting systems provider Dominion has agreed to settle with Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News in the US is indubitably good news for Crikey, which ran a story by top political journalist Bernard Keane accusing the Murdoch media of ramping up the January 6 insurrection attacks on the US Capital by Fox inflaming false claims of voting systems fraud and a US election rigged against Donald Trump.

In order to bolster its case in Australia against Crikey, Lachlan Murdoch would need to take the stand, so the Dominion settlement – a $150m company settling for $1 billion – is good news for Crikey. Evidence in the penultimate Dominion court hearing showed the Murdochs may have been involved in editorial decision-making at Fox. It is now available to Crikey to use any evidence which came to light in the Dominion case.

UPDATE, On 21 April, Lachlan Murdoch announced through his lawyer, John Churchill, that he is withdrawing his suit.

Although defamation cases in the US are notoriously difficult to win, there were many who believed – and hoped – that the Dominion case against Fox would prove the rabid reporters of Murdoch’s Fox News really are a bunch of liars who should be held accountable, along with the company that enabled and endorsed them, indeed paid them handsomely for it.

The price of silence is $US787m – more than $A1.1bn – and a billion dollars is a lot of money to pay if you are “not guilty Your Honour”.

Although the settlement came with an admission from Fox News that some of the network’s on-air statements about the voting machine company during its coverage of the 2020 US presidential election, were false, the statement added:

This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.

It is unclear if the $US787m settlement cost will be accounted for as legal costs or as the cost of journalistic standards, but they can easily afford it, and the Fox share-price hardly budged at the announcement. The cost of doing business. Fox Corp shareholders – including the Murdochs – are not the losers, then. At least not yet.

The settlement means that neither Lachlan nor Rupert Murdoch will have to testify in court. That’s a win for them.

It goes without saying that the plethora of lawyers on all sides of this are big winners, as they would have been regardless of the outcome.

Dominion Voting Systems wins big, too. Even after substantial lawyers fees, for a company with reported annual revenue of just under $US100m, the lions’ share of $US787m is quite some windfall.

Dominion’s majority owner is Staple Street, a private equity fund who reportedly paid $38m in 2018 to acquire 76 percent of Dominion, valuing it later at $US80m. Safe to say, it’s worth a lot more now. Staple Street also wins big.

The Dominion suit is, however, not the only one Fox is facing. Another voting machine company, Smartmatic, has sued Fox Corp and a slew of their spruikers, including Trump fan boy Rudi Giuliani, in a New York state court, claiming damages of US$2.7 billion. That case has yet to go to court, but they will be watching closely, and the odds are they will win bigly, too, especially if settled.

And while the Smartmatic case is still “live”, Fox is unlikely to fire any of their executives or reporters who might be seen to be at at fault, for fear of a further admission of guilt, so no more losers in those ranks either. For now.

So there are a lot of winners on all sides. Rupert doesn’t testify. Crikey gets its hopes up for a favourable settlement, Smartmatic has dollar signs in the eyes, and moral justification and good PR too.

Sadly however, unless the Smartmatic case goes to court, the truth will be the only real loser as the Murdochs and their acolytes were once again not held accountable in a court of law, at least not yet, and can continue with their rabid “journalism” with nothing but a small dent in their wallets.

A winner by wallet maybe, but Lachlan Murdoch has put Crikey on the world stage

Kim Wingerei is a businessman turned writer and commentator. He is passionate about free speech, human rights, democracy and the politics of change. Originally from Norway, Kim has lived in Australia for 30 years. Author of ‘Why Democracy is Broken – A Blueprint for Change’.

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