Leaked Fox content could affect Dominion settlement
Fox Corporation has called on attorneys for Dominion Voting Systems to launch an investigation into how many of the documents submitted by the broadcaster ended up in the public domain.
The documents include text messages from former primetime commentator Tucker Carlson, which have been the source of several stories by The New York Times and The Daily Beast about the host’s off-air behavior. Carlson was fired by Fox News Media last month.
On Friday, attorneys for Fox Corporation sent two letters to Dominion’s attorneys of record, arguing that the material could only be made public to reporters at the Times and Daily Beast if someone leaked it.
The leaks almost certainly violated a protective order by a judge who granted permanent secrecy to some records disclosed by both Fox and Dominion during the drawn-out defamation case, which focused on election-related misinformation put forth by Fox commentators and some of their guests immediately afterwards. Presidential elections 2020.
Fox settled the case last month for $787.5 million, bringing to an end what could have been a long, drawn-out trial that could have swift and immediate effects on the protections of free speech in the United States.
During the deposition phase of the case, Fox and Dominion presented the parties with “discovery evidence,” or records pertinent to each side’s case. Those records included text messages, emails, and other documents made public by the court, as well as some records that were not made public.
Fox’s unpublicized records are protected by an order of the Delaware Supreme Court judge overseeing the case. Such orders of protection are not uncommon in both civil and criminal cases (the defamation case against Fox was a civil matter), and are intended to protect sensitive business records, personal effects and other documents that could justifiably be said not in the public interest.
Whether the materials leaked to The Times and The Daily Beast were in the public interest is debatable. But, according to Fox, the records were provided to the Dominion pursuant to a protection order signed by the judge, did not have to be disclosed, and could only have been given to the media if someone in the Dominion did so.
Dan Webb, the attorney representing Fox Corporation, wrote in a letter sent to attorneys for Dominion Records on Friday.
Webb noted that at least one attorney representing Dominion in the case, Stephen Shackelford, had made public comments that he “hopes (hopes) that everything can be reversed at some point,” referring to some of the evidence that was protected in the case.
Webb and another Fox attorney, Katherine Maury, did not accuse anyone of leaking the material, but argued the disclosures went against the spirit of the protective order and could affect the network’s settlement with Dominion.
Maweri wrote in a separate letter sent to other Dominion attorneys on Friday. It continued, “Such disclosure by your customers would not only be a violation of the (protective) order, but also a violation of the parties’ release and settlement agreement, which requires full return or destruction of all confidentiality or Fox Eyes ‘attorneys’ only” discovery of the material within 30 days. days of dismissal of the case.” (In most cases, a settlement approved by a judge is legally recognized as a dismissal.)
Through his attorneys, Fox has asked the Dominion Recording Attorneys to conduct an internal investigation into how the protected documents got to the press, and to report back to the network by the end of Monday.
In a separate matter, attorneys for Fox issued an injunction cease and desist from the monitoring organization Media Matters for America that released video clips of comments made by Carlson while in his studio and off air.
Most of the videos showed Carlson engaging in light-hearted banter with his co-stars, either before the start of his show “Tucker Carlson Tonight” or during commercial breaks. They were used by Media Matters to demonstrate apparent “creepy” behavior, though none of the clips generated as much controversy as the text messages the Times and Daily Beast published earlier in the week.
However, lawyers for Fox Media Matters and its CEO, Angelo Carusone, cautioned that the videos are owned by Fox Corporation, and said the company did not agree to disclose them.
“This proprietary material was delivered to you without permission from Fox,” a letter was sent to Carusone and made available to the desk By a Fox spokesperson said. “Fox demands that Media Matters cease and desist from distributing, publishing, and misusing footage of Fox’s misappropriated property, which has now been illegally obtained.”
News organizations and publishers generally enjoy First Amendment protections with regard to the distribution of news items. Even if the material is proprietary, an exemption in federal copyright law allows it to be redistributed under the principles of “fair use,” including for news reporting.
Late Friday afternoon, Caruson issued a statement largely denying Fox’s request that his organization stop distributing Carlson’s videos.
“Covering leaked news items is a cornerstone of journalism,” said Carusone. “For Fox to argue otherwise is absurd, and further dispels any claim that it is a news operation.”