Last week’s announcement of the settlement between Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems certainly dominated the popular press and the discussions among most TV pundits, highlighting the law of defamation for anyone who follows the news. While the case illustrates the principles that we have written about many times on this blog (see, for instance, our articles here and here), the settlement illustrates for broadcasters and other media companies the real risks that exist when disseminating content that is false and could harm the reputation or business prospects of any recognizable individual or group.
Most particularly, the Fox case sends the message to media companies that defamation claims against public figures are alive and well and have the potential to result in substantial liability. While the bar to a party’s success in raising such a claim remains high, it is not insurmountable. On this blog, we’ve written less about issues arising from news coverage than those that arise in connection with political advertising. The same issues that arose in the Fox case can arise in cases where broadcasters run political ads knowing or with reason to believe that they are false. Thus, our past warnings regarding the need to be vigilant in assessing non-candidate attacks on other candidates or recognizable individuals remains more important today than ever, as the Fox case has highlighted the potential path to riches some attacked individuals may see when false attack ads run on broadcast stations or other media.