Fox News settles with Dominion, but its legal troubles are just getting started

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In a move that ultimately wasn’t surprising based on how things had been going, Fox News has settled its civil suit with Dominion Voting Systems just before the trial could start. Recent news out of the case made clear that Fox was likely to lose big, and there had been media leaks since yesterday that Fox was trying to settle.

The settlement includes a payment of $787.5 million dollars, or about half of the $1.6 billion that Dominion had originally been seeking. Fox News has to admit that it made the whole thing up, but we’re still waiting for details on what that’ll look like.

This settlement has set off a tidal wave of angry defeatism across social media, among those who had convinced themselves that this trial was somehow magically going to cause Fox News to vanish from existence and send Rupert Murdoch through a trap door. But nothing ever works that way in the real world.

The only two things that Dominion could have gotten from a trial victory were a dump truck full of cash and a confession by Fox that it was lying. And Dominion has gotten those things from the settlement. While Dominion very likely would have won at trial, civil juries can be notoriously unpredictable when assigning penalties. Dominion could have won at trial but still ended up with far less money and a far weaker confession than what it’s getting.

Meanwhile, Fox News’ legal troubles are just beginning. One of the likely reasons Fox News decided to settle the case is that the judge appointed a Special Master to investigate whether anyone at Fox committed obstruction by trying to cover up evidence in the case. According to ABC News, that special master’s investigation will still move forward, even with the settlement. No one knows what it will lead to, but it’s clear that the settlement didn’t put any of this to bed. If anything, Fox’s sudden willingness to settle for such a high number feels like a tacit admission that this special master investigation is going to get ugly.

In addition, Reuters reported yesterday that Fox News shareholders are taking formal steps to bring a suit against the company’s board of directors and executives. The shareholders’ argument is that the people in charge at Fox News acted in bad faith in a way that cost the shareholders all this money that’s being paid out. Now that Fox News has agreed to pay more than three quarters of a billion dollars to Dominion, that only gives shareholders an even stronger argument. This isn’t some potential liability that might come due after a trial and years of appeals. This is a tangible $787.5 million liability that Fox News is having to pay now.

While no one knows where this is ultimately headed, it’s clear the avalanche is all just getting started. This settlement by Fox News is aimed at stopping the bleeding in one way, but potentially worsens the bleeding in other ways. This could clearly end up leading to the financial demise of Fox News, or the ouster of its directors at the hands of shareholders.

It’s worth re-emphasizing that even if this had gone to trial, it was not going to end with Fox News magically falling through a trap door. There was no specific dollar amount that was going to cause Fox News to suddenly stop existing and disappear from the air the day after the verdict. Nothing is ever that simplistic. Any trial verdict was going to have the same kind of impact as this settlement. If Fox News is going to die, it’s going to be through death by a thousand proverbial cuts. A trial was never going to magically deliver a thousand cuts all at once. Nor will this settlement. But it sure does put Fox closer to the end of its rope. And again, it’s all just getting started.

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