As Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.7 billion defamation case against Fox News progresses, a look at what was going on behind the scenes at the network in the aftermath of the 2020 election has started to spill out into public view. Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott is soon expected to be deposed by Dominion, according to the New York Times, which on Wednesday reported that a judge had granted Dominion access to Scott’s emails and text messages in the post-election period at the heart of Dominion’s lawsuit against Fox. Dominion has alleged that on Election Night 2020, facing pressure from then-President Donald Trump and his allies after Fox called Arizona for Joe Biden before any other network, Scott warned colleagues, “We can’t give the crazies an inch,” according to NPR. People who have been in meetings with Scott offered further insight to the Times, saying she has “been critical” of Trump’s refusal to accept his 2020 election loss, and in a meeting shortly after the 2020 election “seemed in disbelief as she described how people she considered otherwise serious and rational thought there was any chance Mr. Trump could legitimately stop President Biden’s inauguration,” per the Times.
Dominion’s suit claims that Fox “endorsed, repeated, and broadcast a series of verifiably false yet devastating lies about Dominion,” a voting machine company that provided services to a number of states during the election. In its suit, Dominion argues that Fox, in an attempt to draw back the viewers who had fled the outlet for more pro-Trump, conspiracy-minded ones like Newsmax, “intentionally and falsely” blamed Dominion for Trump’s loss, claiming without evidence that Dominion had, among other things, committed election fraud and paid “kickbacks” to government officials who used its services. Dominion has claimed that such statements “deeply damaged” the company’s “once-thriving business” and caused some employees to be harassed or receive death threats.
Reports that Scott may soon be deposed come as a number of former and current Fox hosts have been called for a deposition in the ongoing libel litigation initiated by Dominion, including Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Steve Doocy, Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro, and Shepard Smith. In the post-election period, Bartiromo and Dobbs hosted Trump campaign lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell on their shows, where they allegedly amplified discredited claims about Dominion—despite, as Dominion attorney Justin Nelson revealed in a court proceeding earlier this month, the efforts of senior Fox News executives to block the Fox Business programs from booking the Trump lawyers. Fox’s lawyer, Justin Keller, did not dispute the producers’ attempt to intervene, NPR reported.
Fox has cited First Amendment protections in defending the network’s coverage. “We are confident we will prevail as freedom of the press is foundational to our democracy and must be protected,” Fox News told Vanity Fair last month, adding that the damages claims are “outrageous, unsupported and not rooted in sound financial analysis.” Meanwhile, Dominion said in a statement at the time, “If it were up to Fox, the more ‘newsworthy’ the lie, the greater their right to spread it. However, the First Amendment does not give broadcasters the right to knowingly spread lies or disregard the truth.”
Fox is apparently struggling to keep more of its behind-the-scenes discussions from getting out: according to the Times, the media company has “suffered several setbacks in court lately as it has tried to narrow the scope of the case and limit what internal communications it is required to hand over to Dominion.” NPR has reported that Dominion is also seeking the employment contracts of 13 top network executives, including Scott and Jay Wallace, Fox’s president and executive editor, and Bill Sammon, the Washington managing editor who oversaw Fox’s election night decision desk and announced his retirement amid controversy over the Arizona projection; Keller, Fox’s attorney, has claimed that scrutiny of the executives’ contract is unnecessary given how much material they’ve already provided to Dominion.
A trial date is set for April in Delaware, a proceeding that “could reshape the conservative media landscape by delimiting some political discourse and news coverage of false statements—and by encouraging news organizations, particularly cable television networks, to be more cautious with their live programming and their guests, not least how hosts respond to guests that make unfounded claims,” University of Georgia media law professor Jonathan Peters wrote in Vanity Fair last month.