MIAMI – A voice technology company is suing Fox News, three of its hosts and two of former President Donald Trump's lawyers – Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell – for $ 2.7 billion, accusing defendants of conspiring to spread false allegations that helped the company "steal" the US presidential election.
The 285-page complaint filed Thursday in New York court by Florida-based Smartmatic USA is one of the largest libel charges ever filed. On Jan. 25, a rival election technology company – Dominion Voting Systems, which was also entangled in Trump's baseless attempt to reverse the election – 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 limited to Los Angeles County, which votes heavily Democratic.
Despite Smartmatic's limited role, Fox has aired at least 13 reports falsely claiming or suggesting that the company stole the 2020 vote in cahoots with Venezuela's socialist government, according to the complaint. This alleged "disinformation campaign" continued even after then Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department could find no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
For example, a December 10 segment by Lou Dobbs accused Smartmatic and its CEO, Antonio Mugica, of working to run votes through a nonexistent back door in its voting software to perform a "massive cyber Pearl Harbor," so the complaint claimed.
"The defendants' story was a lie," the complaint read. "But it was a story that got sold."
The complaint also alleges that Fox hosts Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro also benefited directly from their involvement in the conspiracy. The lawsuit alleges that Fox agreed to the & # 39; well-orchestrated dance & # 39; under pressure from newcomers like Newsmax and One America News, who took away conservative, pro-Trump viewers.
Roy Gutterman, a professor of media law at Syracuse University, said the lawsuit is compelling and based on specific examples and facts, not frivolous claims.
"This is a perfect example of why we have the law of defamation in the first place," said Gutterman, a former reporter.
Fox News Media has dismissed the allegations in a statement on behalf of the network and its hosts. It said it is proud of its election record and would defend itself against the "merit" lawsuit in court.
Fox "is committed to providing the full context of each 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.
For Smartmatic, the effects of the negative publicity were rapid and devastating, the complaint states. Death threats, including against an executive's 14-year-old son, poured in as Internet searches for the company increased, Smartmatic claims.
With several customer contracts at risk, the company estimates it will lose as much as $ 690 million in profits over the next five years. It also expects to increase spending by $ 4.7 million to ward off a so-called "boom" in cyber-attacks.
"For us this is an existential crisis," Mugica said in an interview. He said the false statements against Smartmatic have already led a foreign bank to close its accounts and deter Taiwan, a potential customer, from adopting electronic voting technology.
Like many conspiracy theories, the alleged campaign against Smartmatic was based on some truth. Mugica is Venezuelan, and Smartmatic's initial success is due in part to big contracts from the government of Hugo Chávez, an early enthusiast of electronic voting.
There is no evidence that the company was falsifying votes for the anti-US firebrand, and for a while the Carter Center and other observers presented Venezuela as a model of electronic voting. The company has now expanded worldwide.
Smartmatic is represented by J. Erik Connolly, who previously won the allegedly largest defamation settlement in the US media, at least $ 177 million, for a report on ABC News describing a company's beef product as "pink" mucus & # 39 ;.
"Very rarely do you see a news organization setting the same goals day after day," said Connolly in an interview. "We couldn't possibly have manipulated this election because we just weren't even in the disputed states to do the manipulation."
Fox, after receiving a request for revocation from Smartmatic's attorneys in December, sent a so-called & # 39; fact-checking segment & # 39; out with an expert in election technology. In the segment, the expert said there was no evidence of tampering – something the defendants knew from the start and reported elsewhere on the network, the complaint claims.
Rather than rounding out the company, Mugica said he saw the segment – in which an unknown voice asks questions referenced in the letter of withdrawal – as an admission of guilt.
Gutterman said any retrospective correction could be a mitigating factor, but does not completely take the defendants off the hook if it turns out that they have previously propagated false claims. With the line between fact and opinion becoming increasingly blurred in the current media landscape, he said he expects the lawsuit will force news media to take advantage of support for Trump to rethink how far to push the boundaries.
"This is certainly a wake-up call that just because you are dealing with opinion and not direct news, you cannot put anything openly on the air," he said. "Facts are still facts."
. (tagsToTranslate) Lawsuit (t) Vote (t) Vote (t) Rudolph Giuliani (t) Donald Trump