Defamation suit about election falsehoods puts Fox on its heels
In the weeks after former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs claimed to have “tremendous evidence” that voter fraud was to blame. That evidence never emerged, but a new culprit in a supposed scheme to rig the election did: Dominion Voting Systems, a maker of election technology whose algorithms, Dobbs said, “were designed to be inaccurate.”
Maria Bartiromo, another host on the network, falsely stated that “Nancy Pelosi has an interest in this company.” Jeanine Pirro, a Fox News personality, speculated that “technical glitches” in Dominion’s software “could have affected thousands of absentee mail-in ballots.”
Those unfounded accusations are now among the dozens cited in Dominion’s defamation lawsuit against Fox Corp., which alleges that Fox repeatedly aired false, far-fetched and exaggerated allegations about Dominion and its purported role in a plot to steal votes from Trump.
Those bogus assertions — made day after day, including allegations that Dominion was a front for the communist government in Venezuela and that its voting machines could switch votes from one candidate to another — are at the center of the libel suit, one of the most extraordinary brought against a U.S. media company in more than a generation.
First Amendment scholars say the case is a rarity in libel law. Defamation claims typically involve a single disputed statement. But Dominion’s complaint is replete with example after example of false statements, many of them made after the facts were widely known. And such suits are often quickly dismissed, because of the First Amendment’s broad free speech protections and the high-powered lawyers available to a major media company like Fox. If they do go forward, they are usually settled out of court to spare both sides the costly spectacle of a trial.
But Dominion’s $1.6 billion case against Fox has been steadily progressing in Delaware state court this summer, inching ever closer to trial.
These people said they expected Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, who own and control Fox Corp., to sit for depositions as soon as this month.
The case threatens a huge financial and reputational blow to Fox, by far the most powerful conservative media company in the country. But legal scholars say it also has the potential to deliver a powerful verdict on the kind of pervasive and pernicious falsehoods — and the people who spread them — that are undermining the country’s faith in democracy.
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