Who is behind the lawsuit against Fox News over claims of voter fraud and how much are they suing for?
In the months after the 2020 election conspiracy theories were given a megaphone on rightwing news media which now face billion-dollar lawsuits.
Recent revelations from the hearings into the January 6 attack on the US Capitol have shown that former President Trump knew that he lost the 2020 presidential election and was informed that there had been no fraud. That did not stop him though from insisting that he had won and spouting unfounded claims and conspiracy theories in an attempt to overturn the valid results.
Rightwing news media and Trump loyalists went along for the ride even when it was evident that there was “no there, there.” Now the chickens are coming home to roost, with talk of potential criminal prosecution for the former president and billion-dollar lawsuits for those TV news outlets involved, including Fox News.
Freedom of speech or knowingly spreading falsehoods
Fox News, along with Newsmax and One America News Network (OAN), are facing lawsuits from two companies that provided voting machines and software used in the 2020 elections. Those companies, Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic, were at the center of one of the many baseless conspiracy theories that were fed to the American public around the clock, including on primetime viewing. They are suing Fox News for $1.6 billion and $2.7 billion, respectively.
Two weeks after the election, Trump’s election campaign was tasked with looking into allegations that votes were being switched from Trump to Biden on Dominion voting machines using Smartmatic software, supposedly developed for former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. The researchers quickly debunked the false claims but that didn’t stop them from being spread by the likes of Trump’s allies and lawyers Rudolph Giuliani and Sydney Powell.
The two were given airtime to promote the false theories on several programs. Fox News, the most prominent of the networks, argues that what was broadcast is protected expressions of opinion under the First Amendment. Fox News journalists reported that there was no evidence of fraud extensive enough to change the outcome of the election. However, it wasn’t until the network faced legal threats that it began to walk back the fraud claims on its shows.
In its motion to dismiss the Dominion lawsuit, the cable channel claimed that it “did not create allegations,” it was merely reporting on the remarks of others. Judge Eric Davis of Delaware Superior Court sided with Dominion in December 2021 saying that “the Court must view all well-pled facts alleged in the Complaint as true and in a light most favorable to Dominion.” He added that it could be inferred that Fox News intended to avoid the truth if the network was offered direct evidence that showed to be false what was being said.
Dominion provided Fox News evidence election fraud claims were false
Judge Davis in his December ruling stated as a reason for not dismissing Dominion’s lawsuit the fact that Dominion had emailed the network evidence refuting its stories. Despite being informed of the falsehoods that were being presented, “Fox and its news personnel continued to report Dominion purported connection to the election fraud claims without also reporting on Dominion’s emails,” the judge wrote.
Based on the network’s refusal to report on being notified and other evidence available contrary to the fraud claims “support the reasonable inference that Fox intended to keep Dominion’s side of the story out of the narrative.” The court said of the network, which once touted itself as “fair and balanced,” that “it is reasonably conceivable that Fox was not dispassionate.”
Murdochs brought into the lawsuit
In June, Judge Eric Davis of Delaware Superior Court ruled that Dominion could include Fox Corporation, the cable channel’s parent company, in the lawsuit, including Rupert Murdoch and his son, Lachlan. In his decision Judge Davis said, “The executives of Fox Corporation—particularly Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch—have historically exercised a high level of control over the day-to-day operations of Fox News.”
The court found that Dominion had “adequately pleaded” that “Fox Corporation believed Fox News would benefit if it endorsed former President Trump’s election fraud narrative and suffer if it did not.” This led to Fox Corp applying pressure to its profit producing network to encourage “on-air personalities to perpetuate false claims about Dominion,” to bring back audience that it was losing to competitors like Newsmax and OAN, rewarding those who did and punishing those who didn’t.
After the ruling Fox News hired veteran trial attorney Dan Webb, who specializes in First Amendment cases. He will lead its defense against the defamation suit. A Fox News representative told the LA Times that the ruling was not a factor in the hiring of Webb but had begun to be arranged several weeks prior.