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Why is the shit still hitting the fan?


Among many other things, one lesson of the recent travails of Murdochland is the danger of having in-house counsel who are high on their own supply:

In August 2021, the Fox Corporation board of directors gathered on the company’s movie studio lot in Los Angeles. Among the topics on the agenda: Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against its cable news network, Fox News.

The suit posed a threat to the company’s finances and reputation. But Fox’s chief legal officer, Viet Dinh, reassured the board: Even if the company lost at trial, it would ultimately prevail. The First Amendment was on Fox’s side, he explained, even if proving so could require going to the Supreme Court.

Mr. Dinh told others inside the company that Fox’s possible legal costs, at tens of millions of dollars, could outstrip any damages the company would have to pay to Dominion.

That determination informed a series of missteps and miscalculations over the next 20 months, according to a New York Times review of court and business records, and interviews with roughly a dozen people directly involved in or briefed on the company’s decision-making.

The case resulted in one of the biggest legal and business debacles in the history of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire: an avalanche of embarrassing disclosures from internal messages released in court filings; the largest known settlement in a defamation suit, $787.5 million; two shareholder lawsuits; and the benching of Fox’s top prime-time star, Tucker Carlson.

And for all of that, Fox still faces a lawsuit seeking even more in damages, $2.7 billion, filed by another subject of the stolen-election theory, the voting software company Smartmatic, which can now build on the evidence produced in the Dominion case to press its own considerable claims.

In the month since the settlement, Fox has refused to comment in detail on the case or the many subsequent setbacks. That has left a string of unanswered questions: Why did the company not settle earlier and avoid the release of private emails and texts from executives and hosts? How did one of the most potentially prejudicial pieces of evidence — a text from Mr. Carlson about race and violence — escape high-level notice until the eve of the trial? How did Fox’s pretrial assessment so spectacularly miss the mark?

Repeatedly, Fox executives overlooked warning signs about the damage they and their network would sustain, The Times found. They also failed to recognize how far their cable news networks, Fox News and Fox Business, had strayed into defamatory territory by promoting President Donald J. Trump’s election conspiracy theories — the central issue in the case. (Fox maintains it did not defame Dominion.)

When pretrial rulings went against the company, Fox did not pursue a settlement in any real way. Executives were then caught flat-footed as Dominion’s court filings included internal Fox messages that made clear how the company chased a Trump-loving audience that preferred his election lies — the same lies that helped feed the Jan. 6 Capitol riots — to the truth.

I personally hope they keep rolling the dice with Smartmatic. What could possibly go wrong?

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