Gannett Lawsuit in Fairfax Emerges as Key Battle for Media Transparency Post Dominion-Fox Settlement
Written by: Sam Orlando
Fairfax, VA - In a surprising turn of events, Dominion Voting Systems and Fox News have reached a settlement, avoiding a public trial in the Delaware Chancery Court. Dominion was seeking $1.6 billion in damages, accusing the network of knowingly airing disinformation about election fraud in the 2020 presidential contest, according to Dominion's complaint.
While this legal battle will no longer see the light of a courtroom, a similar lawsuit filed in the Fairfax County Circuit Court against Gannett Inc. has captured some attention, alleging shockingly similar wrongdoing, but at a very local level. Both lawsuits claim that the media defendants spread false information to support a political agenda, with potentially far-reaching consequences for the media landscape.
With the settlement in the Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox News case, focus shifts to the Fairfax County lawsuit against Gannett Inc., the parent company of the Staunton News Leader. The News Leader is the daily newspaper for the market including Staunton, Virginia.
Filed by Heidi Campbell and Jason Monroe, the plaintiffs claim the news outlet operates as a marketing arm for the Augusta County Sheriff's Office. The suit alleges the Sheriff's Office engaged in multiple corrupt practices, including mishandling Campbell's rape case and covering up mortgage fraud involving Monroe. Furthermore, the lawsuit contends that the News Leader's editorial team actively suppressed stories that could potentially harm the Sheriff's reputation.
The lawsuit (Campbell et al. v. Gannett Inc., Fairfax County Circuit Court) states that Ayano Nagaishi, a former News Leader reporter, had her apartment searched by Augusta County deputies after she began investigating corruption allegations involving Sheriff Smith in the Summer of 2021. Nagaishi claims that the News Leader discouraged her from pursuing these stories and pressured her not to print the allegations. In a recorded phone call, Nagaishi also claims that she spoke with three minor victims who had made allegations of sexual assault against ACSO law enforcement officials. The News Leader chose not to pursue the story or print the accusations unless the victims would permit the paper to print their names, which Plaintiffs' claimed was inconsistent with the paper's policy of not identifying juvenile sexual assault victims by name.
As the Campbell and Monroe v. Gannett Inc. case moves forward, the public's focus on the role of media organizations in spreading misinformation and protecting political agendas becomes increasingly apparent. According to a recent Knight Foundation report, the outcome of trials like these could shape the future of media accountability and transparency, potentially leading to a reevaluation of journalistic practices in the United States. While the Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox News case may not have reached a public trial, the Gannett case filed in Fairfax County could still bring similar claims to the forefront and set important legal precedents.