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Fox News Reaches Eye-Popping Settlement With Dominion Voting Systems
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Fox News Reaches Eye-Popping Settlement With Dominion Voting Systems

Plus: U.S. Shuts Down CCP Harassment of Chinese Dissidents.

Happy Wednesday! You wouldn’t know it from reading the mainstream media, but the United States was nearly hit with a constitutional crisis yesterday.

Had two Secret Service agents not valiantly intercepted the curious toddler who squeezed through the fencing on the north side of the White House, who knows what kind of adorable hijinks he could’ve gotten into?

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Fighting in Sudan continued yesterday even after the two sides—the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF)—agreed to a 24-hour humanitarian ceasefire. The death toll in the conflict, which broke out late last week, is nearing 300, and reports continue to emerge of armed personnel targeting employees of the United Nations and other international organizations; a gunman believed to be affiliated with the RSF fired on a U.S. embassy convoy Monday night. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said no Americans were killed or injured in the incident—which he called “reckless and irresponsible”—while White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said yesterday Americans in Sudan should continue to shelter in place and not expect a U.S government-coordinated evacuation of American citizens.
  • The Justice Department charged four U.S. citizens and one Russian national on Tuesday for their alleged participation in an influence campaign run by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). The DOJ says the defendants attempted to influence elections by infiltrating the African People’s Socialist Party and the Uhuru Movement—two political parties active in Florida—as well as parties and political organizations in Missouri, Georgia, and California. Prosecutors also accused one defendant—Moscow-based Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov—of funding and directing a campaign for local office in St. Petersburg, Florida.
  • Detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich showed up in Russian court on Tuesday—his first public appearance since his arrest by Russian security services last month—as a judge dismissed his request to be released from pretrial detention. Designated “wrongfully detained” by the U.S. State Department, Gershkovich has been charged with espionage, which could carry a 20-year prison sentence. After today’s ruling, he will be detained until at least May 29.
  • The Chinese Communist Party claimed Tuesday the Chinese economy grew 4.5 percent year-over-year in the first quarter of 2023 as the country reopened in earnest after intense COVID-19 lockdowns that continued well into 2022. Retail sales purportedly experienced strong rebounds, while the real estate sector faltered. The CCP said the overall unemployment rate fell to 5.3 percent, but youth unemployment remained near all-time highs at 19.6 percent.
  • The Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday it has updated its authorization of Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to favor the one-shot bivalent vaccine developed to boost immunity to the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants of COVID-19 as well as the original strain. The original, monovalent vaccines, the FDA said, are no longer authorized for use in the United States. Most people who’ve received a bivalent vaccine are not yet eligible for another dose, but the agency authorized a booster for certain immunocompromised individuals and those ages 65 and older. An outside Centers for Disease Control panel is set to vote on the changes to the vaccine regimen later today.
  • Fox News agreed on Tuesday to pay Dominion Voting Systems $787.5 million as part of a last-minute settlement resolving the latter’s defamation lawsuit against the cable news network. The payout is about half of the $1.6 billion for which Dominion originally sued, but is still one of the largest-ever sums handed out in a defamation case. “We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false,” Fox said in a statement.
  • President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden released their federal income tax return Tuesday, showing they made $579,514 in 2022 and paid $137,658 in federal income taxes—about 23.8 percent, above the national average of 14 percent for all U.S. households. The Bidens also reported over $20,000 in donations to almost two dozen charities, including the Beau Biden Foundation, their home parish in Delaware, and National Fraternal Order of Police Foundation.
  • Three more House Republicans—Reps. John Rutherford, Greg Steube, and Lance Gooden—have pledged their support to former President Donald Trump’s 2024 bid this week, with Gooden’s endorsement coming immediately after he had a “positive meeting” with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in Washington, D.C. Just one House Republican from Florida—Rep. Laurel Lee, a former member of DeSantis’ administration—has endorsed DeSantis thus far.
  • Damar Hamlin—the Buffalo Bills defensive back who collapsed and went into cardiac arrest during a game in January—announced Tuesday he’s been medically cleared to return to the NFL, and he plans to do so. “I just wanna show people that fear is a choice, that you can keep going in something without having the answers and without knowing what’s at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “This event was life changing, but it’s not the end of my story.”

Fox Pays Up

WILMINGTON, DELAWARE – APRIL 18: Lawyers representing Dominion Voting Systems talk to reporters outside the Leonard Williams Justice Center following a settlement with FOX News in Delaware Superior Court on April 18, 2023. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WILMINGTON, Del.—In July 2021, Lachlan Murdoch sent an email to all Fox Corporation employees expressing his gratitude for their hard work and letting each and every one of them know they’d be receiving a bonus of at least $2,000. “Thank you for the important role you played in FOX achieving its business goals while also fulfilling our responsibilities to the communities and audiences we serve,” he reportedly wrote.

If those checks come in a little smaller this year, the Fox rank and file will know who to blame. Late Tuesday afternoon, Fox News reached a staggering $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems, resolving a defamation lawsuit that had roiled the right-wing media organization for more than two years—just minutes before it was set to go to trial. At issue, of course, were the myriad falsehoods the network aired and endorsed concerning the integrity of the 2020 presidential election.

“Today’s settlement of $787.5 million represents vindication and accountability,” Justin Nelson—a member of Dominion’s legal team—told reporters outside the Delaware Superior Court. “Lies have consequences.” Fox News’ lawyers and executives did not stick around to address the assembled media.

The payout ultimately landed at about half of the $1.6 billion Dominion originally sued for, but the agreement still represents one of the largest media defamation settlements in U.S. history. For Fox, the chunk represents about 20 percent of its cash on hand, and for Dominion, it’s life-changing: the company is private, but it reportedly brings in less than $100 million in revenue per year.  

As hefty as the payment was, Fox executives are probably thrilled with the bang they got for their buck. Not only did settling before the trial yesterday save a number of bigwigs—Rupert Murdoch, Tucker Carlson, Maria Bartiromo—from the indignity of having to testify under oath, it staved off weeks of negative press and additional embarrassing revelations. The full settlement agreement is not public, but Fox’s lawyers were reportedly able to thwart Dominion’s effort to extract a public apology—from anchors, on air.

In fact, the statement Fox issued barely seems to acknowledge any mistakes being made whatsoever. “We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems,” it read. “We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false. This settlement reflects FOX’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards. We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues.”

As media columnist Jack Shafer pointed out, the move—pay a premium to make problems go away—is classic Murdoch. “Murdoch’s company paid $100 million to celebrities and crime victims in his tabloid phone-hacking scandal in Britain, according to the Washington Post,” he wrote yesterday. “Another $50 million went one year to women at Fox News who alleged sexual harassment at the conservative network. In another case, $15 million went to a former host who complained about wage discrimination. A ‘seven-figure payment’ went to the parents of Seth Rich, who sued Fox for trafficking a false conspiracy theory about his death.”

The genesis of several of those sexual harassment payments weighed in yesterday with some advice for his now-former network. “This is what happens when money becomes more important than honest information,” Bill O’Reilly wrote yesterday. Since I left FNC, the template changed from ‘Fair and Balanced’ to ‘tell the audience what it wants to hear.’ And millions of Trump voters, to this day, want to believe the 2020 election was rigged.”

“I examined all the fraud charges and concluded that no federal court would accept the cheating allegations,” O’Reilly continued. “When I stated that opinion to my audience, I lost more than one thousand premium members. So be it. I did my job. Money is not the motivating force in this operation. Fox News saw it differently, and now payment has been rendered.”

There’s little reason to believe that payment being rendered will result in any material change on the opinion side of the network. Emails and text messages disclosed during the pre-trial discovery period made clear primetime hosts were not only permitted to stretch the truth—it was encouraged. 

When reporters at Fox fact-checked some of the false election-related claims made on the opinion shows, for example, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott pounded out an email to another executive excoriating those seeking to provide the truth. “This has to stop now,” she wrote. “The audience is furious and we are just feeding them material. Bad for business.”

On February 16–the very day many of the damning internal Fox texts and emails were first made public—Tucker Carlson devoted the beginning of his show to insinuating the 2020 election was rigged. He just didn’t blame Dominion. “How, for example, did senile hermit Joe Biden get 15 million more votes than his former boss, rock star crowd-surfer Barack Obama?” he asked. “Results like that would seem to defy the laws of known physics and qualify instead as a miracle. Was the 2020 election a miracle? Honestly, we don’t know and we don’t expect to get an answer to it tonight.”

None of the network’s opinion hosts acknowledged the settlement on their shows last night. 

It’s not clear why Fox executives decided to pony up and pay Dominion now, after they’d already gone through the grueling discovery process and had their dirty laundry aired for all the world to see. Because of the incredibly high bar for defamation set by New York Times v. Sullivan, Dominion’s legal case was far less of a slam dunk than its public relations one.

Maybe Fox’s legal team concluded the evidence Dominion had amassed actually did come close to meeting the “actual malice” standard. Maybe the lawyers feared what additional information would come out once top executives and hosts were questioned under oath. Maybe recent claims made by Abby Grossberg—a former producer for Carlson and Maria Bartoromo who is now suing the network—threw a wrench in Fox’s legal strategy.

No matter the rationale, the network is hardly out of the woods yet. Reuters reported this week a group of Fox shareholders are demanding company records—board minutes, emails, texts—for possible lawsuits alleging directors and executives were derelict in their duties when they allowed the network to promote unfounded election conspiracies.

And then, of course, there’s Smartmatic—the election technology company who sued Fox in February 2021 for $2.7 billion, an even larger sum than Dominion. An appeals court held a few weeks ago that the defamation lawsuit can continue. “Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign,” Smartmatic lawyer Erik Connolly said yesterday. “Smartmatic will expose the rest.”

Shutting Down the Secret Police

If you’re looking for office space in Manhattan, a spot in Chinatown has opened up—specifically, the fourth floor of 107 East Broadway, previously home to an unauthorized Chinese police station.

The Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to harass dissidents and exert control abroad are nothing new, but a bundle of charges announced Monday by the Justice Department—including charges against two men accused of running the police station and others charged with online harassment—put those efforts squarely in the limelight. Activists and researchers tell TMD the charges are a good step toward protecting dissidents, but won’t put a stop to CCP intimidation campaigns.

At this point, news that China has targeted dissidents shocks no one. “I would say that every single person who is an activist or dissident—whether they be Chinese, Tibetan, or Uyghur—if they’re vocal on any issue against the CCP, they’ve experienced some form of it,” said Julie Millsap, government relations manager at Uyghur Human Rights Project. “It’s escalated in the last few years.”

Not only are CCP officials targeting and threatening dissidents’ loved ones still in China, they’re now physically targeting the dissidents abroad: stalking, threats, surveillance. “I personally, as someone who’s not even ethnically Uyghur or Chinese, have dealt with threats against my children,” Millsap said. “Things that I think are becoming normalized even here on U.S. soil that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.”

Even the existence of an unauthorized police station isn’t a shock. The Spain-based rights group Safeguard Defenders reported last fall on 110 such locations globally, recording several in the U.S. and writing that many offered both services for Chinese tourists and operational bases for pressure campaigns aimed at getting dissidents to return to China. FBI Director Chris Wray told Congress in November he knew about the stations: “To me, it is outrageous to think that the Chinese police would attempt to set up shop, you know, in New York, let’s say, without proper coordination.”

That “outrageous” idea is true, the DOJ alleges. Two American citizens—Lu Jianwang, 61, and Chen Jinping, 59—are accused of running a CCP outpost starting in February 2022 from their office above a ramen joint. The station allegedly closed last fall after its operators learned of the FBI investigation—so it might be too late to snap up the office space—but according to prosecutors, it served as a home base for spying, intimidation, and general harassment of Chinese dissidents living in the United States. Prosecutors said Lu, for instance, helped track down a pro-democracy Chinese activist living in California and organize paid counterprotests against critiques of the CCP. The two men face charges of conspiring to act as agents of China and obstruction of justice, which carry sentences of up to five and up to 20 years in prison, respectively.

Officials cast the indictments as a strong signal to the People’s Republic of China. “Today’s charges are a crystal clear response to the PRC that we are onto you, we know what you’re doing, and we will stop it from happening in the United States of America,” said Breon Peace, U.S. attorney in Brooklyn. “We don’t need or want a secret police station in our great city.” 

Chinese officials have downplayed the allegations, labeling the New York men “warm-hearted local people serving as volunteers.” The CCP has also denied running overseas police stations, insisting the facilities are used only for benign tasks like drivers license renewals. “The U.S. has maliciously linked the overseas service stations for overseas Chinese with Chinese diplomatic and consular officials, making unfounded accusations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a briefing. “The overseas police stations you mentioned simply do not exist.”

Maybe someone should show Wenbin this photo—he clearly hasn’t read the banner:

Department of Justice

Two more DOJ complaints unveiled Monday allege dozens of Chinese officials operated troll farms to harass dissidents, spread propaganda, and more. Defendants allegedly interrupted an online video conference about the Tiananmen Square Massacre hosted by a dissident, posting threats in the chat. Another such video conference—on countering communism—was allegedly drowned out with loud music and “vulgar screams and threats.” The operations allegedly included a China-based employee of the telecommunications company hosting the meetings—reportedly Zoom. The DOJ said these defendants are believed to be in China, making consequences unlikely.

The behavior outlined in the indictments is consistent with the CCP’s efforts to not only limit the information ecosystem at home, but control the narrative and silence dissent abroad. “Until recently, Chinese disinformation has been pretty clumsy,” said Joshua Kurlantzick, a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a book on Chinese influence campaigns. Chinese propaganda has in the past often featured giveaways like broken English and thin fake identities, while attempts to recruit researchers or government workers for espionage via platforms like LinkedIn were often easily spotted and batted away. But Kurlantzick predicted China will keep improving. “China was sort of gobsmacked by zero-COVID,” he told TMD. “They are now recovering their international mojo and intend to use a whole wide range of tools to return to asserting themselves as a great power.”

Worth Your Time

  • Who needs the FBI when you have a “digital digger” from Bellingcat and the New York Times visual investigations team? For Vanity Fair, Charlotte Klein details how journalists were able to uncover the identity of the Pentagon leaker almost as quickly as the feds. “The FBI said, somewhat vaguely, that it found Teixeira through social media,” she writes. “The Times investigations team ultimately did it by matching photographs of kitchen counters—and with the heavy lift from a journalist who’d never been published by the Times before. Aric Toler is a researcher at Bellingcat, an open-source news operation. He was the first person to report that the leaked documents came from a very small channel on Discord. Toler is almost comically nonchalant about his role in all of this. He says it was ‘fun’ and ‘exhausting’ and, sure, he’d consider working with the Times again. Oh, and ‘the FBI called me,’ he says (this was before he started working with the Times). ‘The FBI was like, ‘We’d like to meet with you to talk about this stuff,’’ he tells me. ‘I was like, ‘Can I just tell them no and make them go away?’ The lawyers at Bellingcat told him he could. He didn’t take the meeting.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Why did Fox News settle with Dominion? What will happen with the other suits against the Fox? And what’s going on in Sudan? Kevin, Jonah, Steve, Harvest, and Esther discussed all that and more on last night’s Dispatch Live (🔒). Members who missed the conversation can catch a rerun—either video or audio-only—by clicking here
  • In the newsletters: Haley reports on the latest in debt ceiling negotiations, Sarah breaks down (🔒) the effects of political independents on political parties, and Nick weighs in on (🔒) Trump and DeSantis’ fight over who’s the real populist.
  • On the podcasts: Jon Ward joins Jonah for a discussion of his new book and the crises facing American Christianity.
  • On the site today: Thomas Dorsey walks through the history of the debt ceiling, Charlotte looks at the Sudan crisis through an international lens, and Jonah argues that some national problems are best left to localities to solve. 

Let Us Know

Do you think Fox has learned its lesson?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.

Harvest Prude is a former reporter at The Dispatch.