Fox News’ defense in $1.6 billion lawsuit invokes debunked election fraud claims : NPR

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News Corp building. in New York City, home of Fox News.

Kevin Hagen/Getty’s photo

Fox News’ attorneys have delivered their strongest defense yet, accusing the network of defaming an election technology company by broadcasting false claims that the company rigged to win the election. President Donald Trump’s 2020 election.

Much of Fox’s argument was made in sealed petitions filed last week asking the presiding judge to dismiss the Dominion Voting System’s $1.6 billion lawsuit before it was brought to trial in April. In additional public filings, however, the lines of the Fox team’s argument emerge more clearly.

Of the approximately 115 statements made about Fox by hosts and guests that Dominion considers defamatory, Fox News wrote in its filing, “not a single statement that Dominion has been able to substantiate every element of. in its statement of defamation.”

Fox and Dominion did not comment for this story.

An explanation has been offered for Fox stars’ willingness to broadcast debunked claims

In those documents, Fox’s attorneys provide “ignored context” for seemingly inciting remarks by hosts like Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo, as well as others Their prominent guests included Trump and his former campaign lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell. That background includes assertions that have long been exposed and refuted in dozens of court cases and by local and state election officials on both sides.

Among them: the claim that the use of a Sharpie marker in Maricopa County, Arizona, invalidated the votes of Trump supporters because ink often flowed through the ballots. Alleged voter fraud in Detroit. Sworn testimony by an anonymous witness who said he was a former member of the Venezuelan presidential security team and accused Dominion of rigging the US election

All allegations have been denied. Many were cleared up in real time during the 2020 election season – often by Fox reporters.

Fox News’ legal team did not defend them rightly. Instead, its records suggest that the Fox stars relaying them on air reflect an appropriate journalistic response to explicit statements about the workings of American democracy, as they relate to “questions for a journalist on notable topics” or that they “accurately report on pending allegations.”

“Does not stand firm in the light of day”

Eddie Perez, a board member at the OSET Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that advocates transparent and trusted voting technology, calls the claims about Dominion amplified by Fox hosts. and is advertised as “strange” by guests.

“If anything, because they’re so quirky, they immediately attract widespread attention and get exposed,” Perez said. “They immediately failed to stand up to the light of day.”

Against Dominion, Fox’s attorneys released a chart of derogatory statements and what it calls “ignored context” that could explain why the material is newsworthy, and why The Fox host’s treatment of it is accountable and then why it’s not defamatory.

The network’s attorneys wrote, as they have previously written, that Fox was merely relaying newsworthy statements by Trump and his representatives. Attorneys argue that alleged defamatory statements often involve exaggerated characterization or mere opinion. (Fox lawyers previously fought an unrelated defamation lawsuit against star Tucker Carlson filed by a woman with a relationship with Trump by arguing that no one believes what what the Fox star says is literally true.)

Furthermore, Fox’s attorneys say many of the claims in dispute are true or largely true. And the network said Dominion could not prove “genuine malice” — a tough legal standard that requires it to show that Fox journalists and executives acted knowing what it was broadcasting. is untrue or reckless.

Fox “duplicates” Dominion’s scam plot

Fox’s bold assertion that Dominion would not prove any defamation incident did not receive widespread support in legal circles. Attorneys unrelated to the case pointed to Fox’s broadcast statements that they said gave the Trumps too much credibility for too long a time to claim just the sensibility of the Trump team. newspapers.

“Fox journalists and managers were repeatedly told stories about voting machines were untrue, over a period of weeks,” Lucy Dalglish, dean of the University of Maryland Merrill School of Journalism, wrote in a statement. email about this story.

Dalglish, a First Amendment advocate and media lawyer, said: “Quiting the president of the United States and relying on the ‘fair reporting’ privilege only gets you so far.” “They don’t just quote Trump. They double down and repeatedly report and assert that Dominion’s system is faulty.”

Dominion’s legal team is counting on a rich trove of documents from their interrogation of sworn Fox journalists and executives and from its exploitation of emails, text messages and other communications. surname. Only a glimpse of that has appeared in public. It shows, behind the scenes, that key people at Fox know the accusations against Dominion are futile.

In affidavits cited by Dominion’s attorneys in court, Hannity said he don’t believe “in a second” fraudulent claims. Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott privately told colleagues to “don’t give an inch to crazy people.” A producer begged her colleagues in an e-mail not to let Pirro go on the air to spread baseless conspiracy theories pulled from the dark corners of the internet.

Dominion’s lawyers have deposed people in the Fox hierarchy, from junior producers to stars, executives, and most recently controlling owner Rupert Murdoch, who has since sworn in for questioning at Fox Studio last Thursday and Friday. Its case is based on the premise that there has been an attempt – top to bottom in Fox’s hierarchy – to appease angry viewers that Fox was the first TV network to call the key state Arizona for Joe. Biden in November 2020. (The Murdochs and Fox declined to reverse the forecast despite intense pressure from Trump and his campaign.) That explains the acceptance of unsustainable claims. , Dominion’s legal team argues.

In the new filings, Fox’s attorneys are seeking to give their own context to what goes on on the network’s shows.

Thomas Wienner, a retired corporate attorney based in Michigan who is following up on the case at the request of NPR, said he appreciates the Fox team’s logic in finding ways to undercut each element of the cases. Dominion’s claim. And he said that Fox was most likely to succeed in convincing the court to drop some cases where defamation claims were made before a jury.

But after reviewing the most recent legal filings, Wienner said he believes Fox is in legal trouble.

“They put themselves in a real quandary when they started providing context,” says Wienner. “Sometimes that context helps them. But sometimes… it makes things worse. It doesn’t make things better.”

“The overall impression you get when you read the omitted text is that these people, night after night, day in, day out, promote ridiculous theories that have been dismissed by the courts,” says Wienner. “. “And there’s really no support for them other than a few weirdos.”

A Story of Sharpie Markers in Arizona Shared Despite Thorough Debugging

The discrediting allegations that have helped shape the atmosphere in which Fox hosts speak include, among other claims, an allegation made by Trump, the campaign and his lawyers. repeat: that the use of Sharpie markers in Arizona invalidated Trump voters’ ballots because ink frequently flowed through ballots.

Those claims were refuted by Maricopa County officials even before Election Day: “Even if there is bleeding through, it won’t affect the counting of votes because our upgraded ballots have our new eccentric columns and tabulator only read ovals,” district election board tweeted on October 26, 2020 for example. It indicates any confusion will be resolved by manual tally.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel confirmed on Fox that Republican observers had been removed from polling stations in Michigan, ominously suggesting that it was indirect evidence of fraud. took place. No such fraud was found to have occurred. (A few days after the election, as Fox noted, anchor Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum keep pushing McDaniel for any proof of her insinuations.)

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

Fox’s additional filing last week also reproduced the testimony of an anonymous man believed to be a security guard for a Venezuelan president. He alleged that Smartmatic had ties to the late Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chavez and warned that both voting technology companies were trying to trick the public into voting in the United States. His affidavit is part of a lawsuit filed by pro-Trump lawyer and conspiracy theorist Lin Woodwho was the subject of an attempt by the state attorney of Georgia to assess his mental health as it considers a complaint seeking to strip him of his license to practice law.. There is no evidence to support the unnamed man’s claims against Dominion and Smartmatic.

“My guess is that Fox’s attorneys cringe every time they see one of these stories,” said Dalglish, First Amendment attorney and dean. “I certainly did.”

Karl Baker contributed to this story.


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