Former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr has criticized Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox News in a recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), calling it “profoundly dangerous to the media industry as a whole.”
Barr argues that the mainstream media has mischaracterized recent disclosures of Fox News’s internal communications and witness depositions, which he believes undermine Dominion’s case.
Barr emphasizes that if the law is applied properly, Fox News should win the case, and if not, the ruling could have serious implications for all news media.
“A ruling against Fox would be a major blow to media freedoms generally, subjecting news outlets to the prospect of outsize liability whenever they report on newsworthy allegations that turn out to be false,” he writes.
The case centers on Fox News’s coverage of allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 election involving Dominion machines.
Dominion is seeking $1.6 billion in damages, claiming that Fox News effectively promoted these allegations as true, even though they were unproven.
However, Barr argues that Fox News was simply reporting on newsworthy allegations made by others.
“As long as claims are presented only as allegations and not asserted to be true, legal responsibility for any defamatory content rests with those making the allegations, not the news outlet,” Barr explains.
He also notes that defamation applies only to false statements of fact, not statements of opinion.
“Thus, it isn’t defamatory for a journalist to provide commentary—stating an opinion about an allegation—as long as he doesn’t assert that the defamatory aspects of the allegations are true,” he writes.
Barr concludes that a ruling against Fox News would have a chilling effect on the flow of information and encourage frivolous defamation lawsuits.
“Subjecting the press to potential defamation liability when it reports on these kinds of controversies would chill the flow of information. It would also result in every election being relitigated for monetary damages, in the deepest blue or red state a lawyer can find,” he warns.