New York City Retirement Funds Sue Fox For “Disregarding Defamation Risk” In Election Coverage

A group of New York City pension funds, along with others from the state of Oregon, have sued Fox Corp. and its officers and directors for “consciously disregarding defamation risk.” Fox News 2020 election coverage promoted “political narratives without regard for whether the underlying factual assertions were true or based on sources worthy of credit,” opening the company to litigation.

“The board of directors of a Delaware-incorporated media company cannot be indifferent to the existential threat of broadcasting or publishing falsehoods that constitute actionable defamation,” said the lawsuit brought by the NYC Employees Retirement Fund, City Board of Education Retirement Fund, City Fire Department Pension Fund, Police Pension Fund and Teachers’ Retirement System, and the Oregon Public Employee Retirement Fund — all shareholders of Fox Corp.

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The move follows Fox’ $787.5 million April settlement of a defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Services on the first day of a jury trial. A still pending lawsuit by Smartmatic, another electronic voting firm, is seeking $2.7 billion in damages.

“A claim for defamation can expose a media defendant to reputationally damaging discovery and a potentially ruinous judgment,” said today’s suit, filed under seal in Delaware Chancery Court and obtained by Deadline. “Major media companies generally take precautions to minimize potential defamation claims. They follow established practices and standards about what they will publish, engage in fact-checking, undertake editorial review, and make timely corrections to inaccuracies. When accused of publishing a false story, they investigate, and, if warranted, retract the story if it falls short of editorial standards. They apologize to reduce the reputational harm.”

Instead, it claims, Fox News, promoted “political narratives without regard for whether the underlying factual assertions were true or based on sources worthy of credit. Fox News “lacks written standards or practices for what it broadcasts. It is loath to correct factual errors. It chooses to profit from defamation, and it treats potential claims and settlements as unlikely or as a cost of doing business.” It noted that both electronic voting companies had sent cease-and-desist letters, demanded retractions and threatened litigation, “but Fox News hosts continued to promote defamatory accusations against Dominion and Smartmatic.”  

Today’s suit made three claims: “Defendants adopted an illegal business model by which Fox News pursues profits by committing actionable defamation (known as a Massey Claim); Defendants undertook no good-faith efforts to establish systems or practices for minimizing, mitigating, or monitoring defamation risk (known as an Information Systems Claim); and Defendants took no action in the face of red flags of defamation risk (known as a Red Flags Claim), which included the defamatory broadcasts themselves, the public relations campaigns of Dominion and Smartmatic, and their public threats of litigation.”

“The simple reality is that the Board abdicated its responsibility of compliance risk oversight respecting the editorial and programming policies of the Murdochs and the executive team.”

No damages were specified.

Fox declined to comment on the suit.

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