NPR and New York Times ask judges to unseal documents in Fox defamation case

Lawyers for NPR News and The New York Times have jointly filed a brief asking a judge to unseal hundreds of pages of documents from a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit brought against Fox News by a voting technology company.

“This lawsuit is undoubtedly a subsequent defamation case that tests the scope of the First Amendment,” the news organizations’ challenge reads. “It has been the subject of wide public interest and media coverage, and undeniably involves a matter of profound public concern: namely, how a broadcast network investigates claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and the public’s investigation into claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and presented the accusation to the public.”

Dominion Voting Systems has sued Fox and its parent company over claims by Fox hosts and guests after the November 2020 presidential election that the company helped fraudulently throw the election to Joe Biden. These claims have been disproved – often in real time and sometimes by Fox’s own journalists. Dominion alleges that many potential deals have been disrupted and that its employees have faced death threats.

Fox argues that it has vigorously reported on newsworthy allegations by newsworthy individuals – then President Donald Trump and his campaign’s attorneys and deputies. Fox and his attorneys allege the case violates First Amendment principles and that the lawsuit is aimed at restricting freedom of expression. NPR has reached out to both sides for comment and will update this story once they respond.

Dominion’s and Fox’s legal teams earlier this month filed competing motions in Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis: in Dominion’s case, to find that Fox had defamed the company before the April trial, in the case by Fox to dismiss all or a majority of the claims.

These requests contained hundreds of pages of documents cataloging the results of the so-called “discovery” process. They will rely on hours of testimony from numerous witnesses, including media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, as well as extensive searches of texts, emails, internal work messages and other communications and records from people on both sides.

Earlier revelations have offered close glimpses into operations within Fox after the election: a producer begged colleagues to stop presenter Jeanine Pirro from airing baseless conspiracy theories; Primetime star Sean Hannity’s affidavit that he did not believe the cheating allegations for “a second” despite reinforcing such allegations on the air; Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott’s plea to ‘don’t give the weirdos an inch’ The requests from the two news organizations would provide far more information.

In the joint filing, NPR and the New York Times note that they are unaware of the contents of the materials and therefore do not know if there are instances where public disclosure could harm either side. They therefore ask Judge Davis to “ensure that the parties uphold their heavy burden of justifying the sealing of information that touches the heart of very public and significant events.”

The documents will help the public determine “whether the defendants made false statements with actual malice and whether the lawsuit was filed to restrict freedom of expression,” attorney Joseph C. Barsalona II’s filing for the Times and NPR. “Accordingly, the interest in access to the disputed documents is vital.”

Disclosure: This story was written by NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik and edited by senior business editor Uri Berliner. Karl Baker contributed to this article. In accordance with NPR’s protocol for reporting on matters affecting the network, no company official or senior news executive read this story before it was published.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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