Fox News defense in defamation lawsuit invokes discredited claims of voter fraud -

Fox News defense in defamation lawsuit invokes discredited claims of voter fraud -

Updated: 9 days, 11 hours, 39 minutes, 33 seconds ago

Fox News lawyers have put forward the toughest defense yet against a charge that the network defamed an election technology company when it aired false claims that the company misled then-President Donald Trump in winning the 2020 election. 2020.

The vast majority of Fox’s argument was made in sealed motions filed last week asking the presiding judge to dismiss Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion lawsuit before it goes to trial in April. In the accompanying public presentations, however, the contours of the Fox team’s reasoning emerge more sharply.

Of the approximately 115 statements about Fox by its hosts and guests that Dominion considers defamatory, Fox News wrote in its filing, “there is not a single statement by which Dominion can prove all elements of its defamation claim.”

Fox and Dominion did not comment for this story.

An Explanation Offered For Fox Stars’ Willingness To Issue Discredited Claims

In those documents, Fox’s lawyers offer “omitted context” for seemingly inflammatory comments from hosts including Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo, as well as their prominent guests, including Trump and his former campaign lawyers Rudy. Giuliani and Sidney. Powell. That context includes claims that have long since been discredited and refuted in dozens of court challenges and by state and local election officials from both parties.

Among them: claims that the use of Sharpie markers in Maricopa County, Arizona, had invalidated votes cast by Trump supporters because the ink often faded on ballots. Voter fraud accusations in Detroit. The affidavit of an anonymous witness who claimed to be a former member of Venezuela’s presidential security team and accused Dominion of committing electoral fraud in the US.

All these accusations have been refuted. Many were revealed in real time during the 2020 election season, often by Fox’s own reporters.

The Fox News legal team does not defend them as correct. Instead, their files suggest that the Fox stars who aired them reflected an appropriate journalistic response to harsh claims about the workings of American democracy, whether they involve “questions to a newsmaker about newsworthy topics” or “accurately report on pending charges.” ”

“Couldn’t bear daylight”

Eddie Perez, a board member of the OSET Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for trustworthy and transparent election technology, calls claims about Dominion that were amplified by Fox hosts and broadcast by the media “outlandish.” your guests.

“If anything, because they were so outlandish, they immediately attracted widespread attention and were discredited,” Perez says. “Instantly they did not withstand the light of day.”

Countering Dominion, Fox’s lawyers offer a tableau of offensive statements and what it called “omitted context” that could explain why the material was newsworthy, why the Fox hosts’ treatment was responsible, and then why which was not defamatory.

Lawyers for the network write, as they have before, that Fox was merely airing inherently newsworthy statements by Trump and his surrogates. The lawyers contend that the allegedly defamatory statements often involved hyperbolic characterizations or mere opinion. (Fox lawyers previously defended themselves from an unrelated defamation lawsuit against star Tucker Carlson brought by a woman who had an affair with Trump arguing that no one believes what the Fox star says is literally true.)

Furthermore, Fox’s lawyers say that many of the disputed claims were true, or largely true. And the network says Dominion can’t prove “actual malice,” a strict legal standard that requires it to show that Fox journalists and executives acted knowing that what it was reporting was untrue or with reckless indifference.

Fox “Doubled Down” on Dominion Fraud Conspiracies

Fox’s bold assertion that Dominion will not be able to prove any defamation incidents does not find universal acceptance in legal circles. Lawyers not involved in the case pointed to statements on Fox airwaves that they say gave the Trump camp too much credibility for too long to claim mere journalistic sensibility.

“Fox journalists and managers were told repeatedly that the voting machine stories were false, over a period of weeks,” Lucy Dalglish, dean of the University of Maryland Merrill School of Journalism, writes in an email. email for this story.

“Citationing the president of the United States and relying on the privilege of a ‘fair report’ only gets you so far,” says Dalglish, a prominent First Amendment advocate and media advocate. “They didn’t just quote Trump. They doubled down and repeatedly reported and opined that Dominion’s systems were faulty.”

Dominion’s legal team has a rich store of material from its interrogations of Fox journalists and executives under oath and from the extraction of their emails, text messages and other communications. Only a glimpse of that has made it into the public eye. It suggests, behind the scenes, that key people at Fox knew the allegations against Dominion were without merit.

In an affidavit cited by a Dominion lawyer in court, Hannity said he did not believe the fraud claims “not for one second.” Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott told her colleagues in private to “don’t give an inch to the crazy people.” A producer pleaded with his colleagues in an email not to allow Pirro to go on the air to spread unsubstantiated conspiracy theories culled from dark corners of the internet.

Dominion’s lawyers have deposed people from across the Fox hierarchy, from junior producers to stars, executives and, most recently, controlling owner Rupert Murdoch, who sat for questioning under oath at Fox Studio last Thursday and Friday. His case rests on the theory that there was an effort, from top to bottom in the Fox hierarchy, to appease viewers angry that Fox had been the first television network to call out the swing state of Arizona for Joe Biden in November. 2020. (The Murdochs and Fox refused to reverse the projection despite intense pressure from Trump and his campaign.) That explains the sustained adoption of untenable claims, Dominion’s legal team argues.

In the new submissions, Fox’s lawyers seek to offer their own context of what happened on the network’s shows.

Thomas Wienner, a retired Michigan-based corporate litigator who is following the case at NPR’s request, says he appreciates the Fox team’s logic in trying to undermine every element of Dominion’s claims. And he says Fox may well be successful in convincing the court to throw out some of the alleged libelous statement cases that will go before the jury.

But after reviewing the most recent legal documents, Wienner says he thinks Fox is in legal trouble.

“They get into a real mess when they start providing the context around them,” says Wienner. “Sometimes that context is helpful to them. But sometimes…it makes it worse. It doesn’t make it better.”

“The general impression you get, when you read the omitted text, is that these people were up night after night, day after day, promoting theories that were ridiculous and had been rejected by the courts,” Wienner says. “And there was really no support for them other than a couple of kooks.”

An Arizona Sharpie Marker Story Shared Despite Complete Debunking

The debunked allegations that helped shape the climate in which Fox anchors spoke included, among other claims, one echoed by Trump, his campaign and his lawyers: that the use of Sharpie markers in Arizona had invalidated the votes from Trump voters because ink often bled through the ballots.

Those claims were debunked by Maricopa County officials even before Election Day: “Even if there is bleed, it won’t affect the count because our improved ballots have offset columns and our new tabulators only read the ovals.” county elections department he tweeted on October 26, 2020, for example. He said that any confusion would be resolved by counting by hand.

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel claimed on Fox that Republican observers were banned from Michigan polling sites, ominously suggesting fraud as proxy evidence. No such fraud was found to have occurred. (A few days after the election, as Fox has noted, McDaniel was repeatedly pressed by hosts Bret Baier and Marsha MacCallum for any proof of the innuendo from her.)

In mid-December 2020, Pérez appeared on Fox as an expert in an awkward segment in which he was interviewed by an off-camera producer to debunk claims made online about a second voting technology company called Smartmatic. He appeared on shows hosted by Dobbs, Bartiromo and Pirro. Dobbs left Fox Business in February 2021, the day after Smartmatic sued Fox in a separate $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit. It’s not as advanced as the Dominion case.

Fox’s supplemental documents from last week also reproduce the affidavit of an anonymous man said to be a security guard for a Venezuelan president. He alleged that Smartmatic had ties to the late autocratic Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez and warned that both election technology companies were trying to defraud the American voting public. His affidavit was part of a lawsuit filed by pro-Trump attorney and conspiracy theorist Lin Wood, who was the subject of an effort by the Georgia State Bar Association to have his mental fitness tested while weighing a complaint that sought to strip him of his license to practice. practice law. No evidence has emerged to support the anonymous man’s claims against Dominion and Smartmatic.

“I guess the Fox lawyers cringed every time they saw one of these stories,” says Dalglish, the attorney and First Amendment dean. “I certainly did.”

Karl Baker contributed to this story.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit