A month after Fox Corp. agreed to pay a record-breaking $787.5 million defamation settlement over Fox News’ lies about Dominion Voting Systems, the company appears to be settling on a fall guy: Viet Dinh, its longtime top lawyer. A Friday New York Times report points the finger at Dinh and his “overly rosy” assumptions about the case for Fox’s subsequent legal “missteps and miscalculations,” citing “interviews with roughly a dozen people directly involved in or briefed on the company’s decision-making.”
Dominion sued Fox over the right-wing network's promotion of conspiracy theories about its voting machines in the weeks following the 2020 election. Fox’s coverage amplified then-President Donald Trump’s false claims that he had actually won the election and that massive election fraud, including by Dominion, had “rigged” the results against him.
Fox executives apparently think the main problem exposed by the Dominion lawsuit is not that the network served as a willing megaphone for right-wing falsehoods as part of Trump’s election subversion plot, but rather that it was ultimately forced to pay a serious cost for doing so. This remarkably blinkered view of the case speaks to Fox’s unwillingness to undergo serious changes, and suggests the network has more Dominion-sized defamations in its future.
The Times recounts a series of missed opportunities for Fox that it attributes to Dinh’s overconfidence, including ignoring “a natural time to settle” after a court ruling gave Dominion access to internal Fox records and alienating “the best trial lawyer in the media bar” in favor of “fashioning the legal team more in his own image.” By contrast, it presents Fox’s executives as ignorant of the depths of the network’s legal troubles, and the Fox Corp. board as resolutely stepping in to ensure a settlement, albeit at the 11th hour.
But Fox’s Dominion failure is much deeper than one of poor legal strategy. As the article notes, “the case would have been difficult for any lawyer. As the internal records showed, executives knew conspiracy theories about Dominion were false yet did not stop hosts and guests from airing them.” For Fox to solve that problem would require much more than getting rid of its top attorney — it would require serious, top-to-bottom changes in personnel and operations.
Notably, the Times article zeroes in on Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo, who launched Fox’s anti-Dominion coverage via an interview with pro-Trump election denier Sidney Powell. The Times reports that Fox’s lawyers did not conduct a legal review after the network received an initial complaint from Dominion, which might have uncovered an email from “one of Ms. Powell’s original sources on Dominion” who “intimated that her information had come from a combination of dreams and time travel.” The paper quotes a First Amendment lawyer saying that if he had found such an email in a client’s files, he would “physically wrest my client’s checkbook from them and settle before the police arrive.”
That all sounds quite dramatic — but the punchline is that Bartiromo is still on Fox’s payroll. Fox executives know that she promoted falsehoods initially sourced from someone who had claimed “the Wind tells me I’m a ghost, but I don’t believe it,” and have decided to keep her on the air for her three-hour Fox Business weekday show and her Sunday morning Fox News show.
Likewise, Dominion tagged weekend host Jeanine Pirro as one of the main on-air perpetrators of defamation against the company. Thanks to the Dominion’s filings, we know that Fox executives initially took Pirro off the air because they feared she’d promote election fraud lies, and her own executive producer denigrated her privately as a “reckless maniac” who “should never be on live television.” Fox executives may have preferred settling before those revelations became public — but since the 2020 election, they instead promoted her to co-host a weekday show that airs live and now has the highest ratings in cable news.
The executive core that led Fox as it promoted conspiracy theories in the weeks following the election also remains intact. When a Dominion lawyer asked Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch during his deposition about what should happen to executives who “knowingly allow lies to be broadcast,” he said they “should be reprimanded, maybe got rid of.” That’s a group that includes not only Dinh, but Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott, Fox News President and Executive Editor Jay Wallace, other top executives including Raj Shah, David Clark, Irena Briganti, Lauren Petterson, and Gary Schreier — as well as Murdoch himself and his son, Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch.
Fox’s fundamental dynamics are also unchanged. Rupert Murdoch made clear in the documents revealed by the Dominion suit that he considers Fox a GOP propaganda outlet and uses it that way. That fact becoming public is embarrassing for Murdoch and for Fox — but it’s not Dinh's fault that that’s what Fox is.
If Fox’s decision-makers decide that the problem with the Dominion suit was the company’s lawyering, it will ensure that whoever replaces Dinh has plenty of opportunities to settle defamation suits earlier in the process.