Members of the public wait to enter the Leonard Williams Justice Center where the Dominion Voting Systems defamation trial against FOX News is taking place on April 18 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)
The court is back in session after a lunch break and opening statements are expected to begin soon in the historic defamation lawsuit brought by election technology company Dominion Voting Systems against Fox News.
Here’s what you need to know about the high-stakes case:
Why is Dominion suing Fox News? Dominion sued Fox News in 2021 over the right-wing network’s repeated promotion of false claims about the company, including that its voting machines rigged the 2020 election by flipping millions of ballots from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. Most of the 20 allegedly defamatory broadcasts mentioned in the lawsuit occurred in November and December 2020.
The company alleges that people at Fox News acted with actual malice and “recklessly disregarded the truth” when they spread this disinformation about Dominion. To prove “actual malice,” Dominion must convince a jury that people at Fox News who were responsible for these 20 broadcasts knew the Dominion claims were false or recklessly disregarded evidence of falsity — but put them on-air anyway.
According to Dominion’s theory of the case, Fox promoted these election conspiracy theories because “the lies were good for Fox’s business.” Dominion’s suit specifically zeroed in on shows hosted by Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Jeanine Pirro. Dominion said that as a result of Fox’s “orchestrated defamatory campaign” it has suffered “enormous and irreparable economic harm” and that its employees have been subjected to death threats and harassment.
What is Fox’s defense? Fox said it didn’t defame anyone and that the case is a meritless assault on press freedoms.
A spokesperson for Fox has said the network “is proud of our 2020 election coverage” and that its coverage “stands in the highest tradition of American journalism.” The company said, “Dominion’s lawsuit is a political crusade in search of a financial windfall, but the real cost would be cherished First Amendment rights.”
Fox has also accused Dominion of generating “noise and confusion” around the case, stating, “the core of this case remains about freedom of the press and freedom of speech, which are fundamental rights afforded by the Constitution,” specifically the First Amendment.
Fox has attempted to get the lawsuit tossed. But in a major blow to the right-wing network last month, the judge overseeing the case has allowed it to go to trial. He has also prohibited Fox from invoking some key First Amendment defenses, finding they were without merit.
What is Dominion asking for? Dominion is seeking $1.6 billion in damages. They say Fox’s on-air lies destroyed its reputation and is causing election officials to cancel their Dominion contracts. CNN recently reported on the growing distrust in voting machines in heavily Republican counties.
What are the trial logistics? The trial is expected to last five to six weeks and will be overseen by Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis, who was appointed to the state bench in 2012 by a Democratic governor. A panel of 12 jurors and 12 alternates is being seated.
Cameras are not allowed in the courtroom and there will not be any video of the proceedings. There also won’t be any still photography inside the courtroom.
Who is expected to testify? Expected witness include Fox Corporation executives Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan Murdoch; Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and president Jay Wallace; prominent TV hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro, and Bret Baier, among others.
Dominion said it might also call Viet Dinh, Fox’s chief legal officer, and former House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Fox board member, to the witness stand.
Both sides are also hoping to put on testimony from their handpicked experts who specialize in election statistics, the security of voting machines, journalism ethics, the impact of disinformation in public discourse, and more.
Read more about the case here.