Fox News has been hit with a massive legal bombshell — and it could cost their executives everything.
A voting technology company is suing Fox News, three of its hosts, and two former lawyers for former President Donald Trump — Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell — for $2.7 billion, charging that the defendants conspired to spread false claims that the company helped “steal” the U.S. presidential election.
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The 285-page complaint filed Thursday in New York state court by Florida-based Smartmatic USA is one of the largest libel lawsuits ever undertaken in history. On Jan. 25, a rival election-technology company — Dominion Voting Systems, which was also ensnared in Trump’s voter fraud allegations — sued Guiliani and Powell for $1.3 billion.
Unlike Dominion, whose technology was used in 24 states, Smartmatic’s participation in the 2020 election was restricted to Los Angeles County, which votes heavily Democratic.
According to the lawsuit, Fox aired at least 13 reports implying the company had stolen the 2020 vote in cahoots with Venezuela’s socialist government, according to the complaint.
For instance, a Dec. 10 segment by Lou Dobbs accused Smartmatic and its CEO, Antonio Mugica, of working to flip votes through a non-existent backdoor in its voting software to carry out a “massive cyber Pearl Harbor,” the complaint alleged.
“Defendants’ story was a lie,” the complaint stated. “But, it was a story that sold.”
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The complaint also alleges that Fox hosts Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, and Jeanine Pirro also directly benefitted from their involvement in the conspiracy. The lawsuit alleges that Fox went along with the “well-orchestrated dance” due to pressure from newcomer outlets such as Newsmax and One America News, which were stealing away conservative, pro-Trump viewers.
Fox News Media, in a statement on behalf of the network and its hosts, rejected the accusations. It said it is proud of its election coverage and would defend itself against the “meritless” lawsuit in court.
Fox “is committed to providing the full context of every story with in-depth reporting and clear opinion,” the company said in a written statement.
Giuliani and Powell did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The alleged campaign against Smartmatic was built on a grain of truth. Mugica is Venezuelan and Smartmatic’s initial success is partly attributable to major contracts from Hugo Chávez’s government, an early devotee of electronic voting.
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No evidence was ever presented in court that the company rigged votes in favor of the anti-American firebrand, and for a while the Carter Center and other observers held out Venezuela as a model of electronic voting. Meanwhile, the company has expanded globally.
Smartmatic is represented by J. Erik Connolly, who previously won what’s believed to be the largest settlement in American media defamation, at least $177 million, for a report on ABC News describing a company’s beef product as “pink slime.”
“Very rarely do you see a news organization go day after day after day against the same targets,” Connolly said in an interview. “We couldn’t possibly have rigged this election because we just weren’t even in the contested states to do the rigging.”
Fox, after receiving a demand for retraction from Smartmatic’s lawyers in December, aired what it called a “fact-checking segment” with an election technology expert. In the segment, the expert said there was no evidence of tampering.
Far from making the company whole, Mugica said he saw the segment — in which an unidentified voice asks questions referenced in the retraction letter — as an admission of guilt.
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With the line between fact and opinion increasingly blurred in the current media landscape, Gutterman said he expects the lawsuit to force conservative news outlets supporting Trump to reconsider how far to stretch the limits.
The Associated Press contributed to this article