The highly anticipated trial in the defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox News, which was set to begin Monday morning, has been delayed. It’s now scheduled to start on Tuesday.
In a statement issued by the court late Sunday, Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis announced the decision to push back “the start of the trial, including jury selection, until Tuesday, April 18, 2023 at 9:00 am”
Davis addressed the decision in court Monday morning but offered no additional insight, saying only that such delays were not unusual.
“This is not a press conference,” Davis said.
While Davis indicated that the trial would continue as planned on Tuesday morning, some reports suggest that Fox may be making a last-ditch effort to settle the matter out of court.
Yahoo News will bring you live updates from the trial. In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about the case.
What is this case about?
The case centers on a number of false claims and baseless conspiracy theories that Fox News hosts and guests made on air in the wake of the 2020 presidential election, which alleged that Dominion Voting Systems, an election technology company, had somehow rigged voting machines to help Joe Biden steal the election from then-President Donald Trump.
Dominion has accused the conservative cable news giant of repeatedly broadcasting those claims, which it knew were false, as part of a cynical strategy to recover viewers loyal to Trump, who had abandoned the network for other conservative outlets like Newsmax after Fox reported, accurately, that Biden had won Arizona.
Dominion is seeking $1.6 billion in damages plus additional punitive damages, which are uncapped in Delaware, for the harm that it says Fox’s defamatory broadcasts caused its business.
What evidence does the Dominion have?
A lot, it seems. Emails, text messages and other testimony in a 192-page court filing submitted by Dominion in February revealed that Fox News figures were aware that the 2020 election conspiracy theories touted by Trump were bogus even as they repeatedly broadcast the false claims.
The communications showed that on-air personalities, including primetime hosts Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, privately cast doubt on Trump’s claims that Dominion’s voting machines were rigged in Biden’s favour.
The messages included in the filing also revealed panic among the hosts over the network being the first to project that Biden would win Arizona, which angered Trump.
“He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong,” Carlson wrote in a text message to his producer two days after the election.
A few weeks later, though, Carlson sounded eager to move on from covering Trump’s falsehoods.
“We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights,” Carlson texted a colleague on Jan. 4, 2021. “I truly can’t wait.”
He added: “I hate him passionately.”
What does Fox say?
Fox News argued that it was simply reporting on the newsworthy voter fraud alleging that Trump and his allies were promoting in the wake of the election and that the broadcasts in question should be protected under the First Amendment.
In its own pretrial filings, Fox accused Dominion of “cherry-picking soundbites, omitting key contexts, and mischaracterizing the record.”
Who is expected to testify?
In a March court filing, Dominion indicated that it wanted several of Fox News’ star hosts and top executives to testify during the trial. Among those who could take the witness stand include Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and Fox News president Jay Wallace, as well as hosts Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Maria Bartiromo and Bret Baier.
The jury could also hear from Abby Grossberg, a former Fox News producer who, in a separate lawsuit filed in March, accused the network of pressuring her into giving misleading testimony during an earlier deposition in the Dominion case.
Earlier this month, Judge Davis said that Dominion could even force Fox Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch and his son, CEO Lachlan Murdoch, to testify, concluding the Murdochs “are relevant to the case.”
Why is this case such a big deal?
Defamation cases rarely go before a jury, and if opening statements in the Dominion case are delivered Tuesday as planned, it could be the start of what the New York Times has called the “trial of the century.”
With its landmark 1964 ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court set a particularly high bar for public figures who seek to bring libel cases against media organizations, requiring them to prove that defamatory statements were made with actual malice or that the defendant knew they were false at the time or acted with.” reckless disregard” for the truth.
This standard, which is incredibly difficult to meet, is meant to give the media outlets freedom to make mistakes while reporting on newsworthy events, as long as they don’t do so deliberately. Fox has argued that its coverage of Trump’s voter fraud allegations should be covered by the First Amendment, accusing Dominion in a statement of taking “an extreme view of defamation law that would stop the media in its tracks.”
However, many legal scholars and ethics experts have said that Dominion appeared to have an unusually large volume of evidence that Fox hosts and executives knew the vote rigging claims were false at the time they were aired and broadcast them anyway.
What has the judge said so far?
Davis has already dealt a significant blow to Fox’s defense in a pretrial ruling last month, in which he concluded that Dominion had successfully proven that the statements in question were false, meaning a jury will only have to decide whether Fox should be liable for broadcasting them .
In the same ruling, Davis poked holes in Fox’s argument that it was simply reporting on newsworthy statements from a sitting president and his allies by noting that the network failed to balance those claims with statements provided by the Dominion and various government officials disproving the alleged fraud.
Ahead of the trial, Davis also sanctioned Fox for withholding relevant evidence from Dominion and the court, including regarding Rupert Murdoch’s role at Fox News. The network’s attorney’s had repeatedly maintained that Murdoch, the founder and chairman of Fox Corporation, Fox News’ parent company, had no official role at the cable news network. Over the weekend, however, the attorneys revealed that Murdoch is also officially the executive chairman of Fox News, prompting condemnation from the judge, who promised to launch an investigation.
“I need people to tell me the truth,” Davis said at a hearing earlier this month. “By the way, an omission is a lie.”
How long is the trial supposed to last?
According to the Associated Press, about six weeks.
Will it be televised?
Cameras will not be allowed in the courtroom. A live audio feed will be available through a special phone line set up by the court, but Davis has banned any recording or rebroadcasting of the proceedings. Several media outlets objected to the ban, asking the judge to allow them to record and use excerpts of the audio. Davis has yet to rule on that request.
What has Trump said about the case?
The former president has multiple legal battles of his own to worry about, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have strong opinions about the case, as evidenced by the all-caps missives posted to Truth Social, his social media platform, on Monday mornings.
“IF FOX WOULD FINALLY ADMIT THAT THERE WAS LARGE SCALE CHEATING & IRREGULARITIES IN THE 2020 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, WHICH WOULD BE A GOOD THING FOR THEM, & FOR AMERICA, THE CASE AGAINST THEM, WHICH SHOULD NOT HAVE EXISTED AT ALL, WOULD BE GREATLY WEAKENED . BACK UP THOSE PATRIOTS AT FOX INSTEAD OF THROWING THEM UNDER THE BUS – & THEY ARE RIGHT! THERE IS SOOO MUCH PROOF, LIKE MASS BALLOT STUFFING CAUGHT ON GOVERNMENT CAMERAS, FBI COLLUDING WITH TWITTER & FACEBOOK, STATE LEGISLATURES NOT USED, etc.,” read Trump’s message.