On Fox News, ex-President Trump’s lawyers were given plenty of airtime this fall to throw around unsubstantiated fraud allegations. Defamation and conspiracy, says the affected voting machine manufacturer Smartmatic. Journalism, says the broadcaster – and points a finger at others.
Dominion and Smartmatic are two companies that make their money voting. They make electronic voting machines. The machines have been used for years in Belgium, Estonia and Canada, among others. Also in the US presidential election in November. Unfortunately, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will say, because in his eyes Dominion and Smartmatic are fraudsters.
In the November presidential election, 28 states used Dominion’s voting systems. The votes were counted according to Giuliani, the personal lawyer of ex-President Donald Trump for some time, but not in the USA, but in Spain and Germany. There they were not counted by Dominion either, but by Smartmatic. A company that was founded in Venezuela in 2005 by the then President Hugo Chavez for one reason only: “To manipulate elections,” Giuliani said on November 18, 2020 in the program “Lou Dobbs Tonight” on Fox News. “That is their specialty, manipulating elections.”
Giuliani has no evidence for his allegations. That’s why he should pay: Dominion is demanding $ 1.3 billion for his libel lies. Smartmatic also asks him to pay, but not alone: The small company has also sued Fox News, Trump’s loyal house broadcaster, for damages. Because he regularly offered Giuliani and others a platform for their stories.
Trump and Fox conspiracy?
“Lou Dobbs has been spreading these false statements and conspiracy theories in his show for two to two and a half months”, says political scientist Philipp Adorf in the ntv podcast “Wieder Was Learned”. “When it was found out that Dobbs was one of the defendants, Fox News fired him even though his show had one of the top ratings.”
Smartmatic’s complaint is 285 pages long and lists in detail allegations against Fox News, Dobbs, two other Fox presenters mentioned by name, Giuliani and the second, even crazier Trump attorney, Sidney Powell. The company is demanding $ 2.7 billion in damages because its reputation has been damaged by the out-of-the-air lies and reporting has torpedoed further orders.
The lawyers also accuse Fox News and the Trump camp of having made common cause. When the conservative broadcaster proclaimed Joe Biden’s victory in the hotly contested state of Arizona ahead of all other media, its mostly Republican viewers became angry, the complaint said. In order not to lose them, they conspired with the Trump camp and thought up the fraud allegations – with Smartmatic in the role of the villain. The lawyers explain that it is impossible to judge whether moderators like Lou Dobbs participated in the fraud script. But it is undisputed that they did not stop the lies of Giuliani and Powell.
“But now we also need evidence”
US researcher Adorf agrees: “Lou Dobbs continued to spread the lies after various complaints from the Trump camp were rejected as unproven,” says the political scientist. Somebody like Tucker Carlson, another Fox News presenter, said at some point: Okay, we heard the allegations, but now we need evidence.
Unsurprisingly, Fox News sees no problem with its coverage. The television station invokes freedom of the press, the first amendment to the US Constitution, and in its response to the court demands that Smartmatic’s lawsuit be dismissed. If an incumbent president, his advisors and lawyers claim that an election has been stolen, the public has a right to know, the argument goes. And if the incumbent government even complains against the election result, the public also has a right to know what these lawsuits are about.
Fox News does not mention the fired presenter Lou Dobbs by name in his statement of defense, but the attorneys’ strategy is easy to decipher: that he was personally involved in conspiracy theories? An unfortunate individual case. Star moderators like Tucker Carlson have shown that one only carefully investigates all allegations of the incumbent government. If that is enough for the accusation of defamation, Smartmatic could sue every offer with news content on this basis. No conspiracy, just good, balanced journalism.
“We report. You decide”
“Fox News realized at some point that you have to be careful,” explains political scientist Adorf. “The broadcaster is now also emphasizing that certain segments had already been built in in December in which fact finders and analysts had their say and declared that there was no evidence of election fraud.”
Internet sites like Mediamatters have listed all the fraud allegations and conspiracy theories that have raged on Fox News and other conservative, Trump-affiliated TV channels. There is no guarantee of completeness, but there are plenty of citations. And if you look at them, you realize: In fact, it is Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell who are spreading the lies. The Fox News moderators only ask questions, cleverly sprinkle keywords and put one absurd accusation after the other into the mouths of the apparently not-so-bright lawyers. “That was also the traditional motto of the canal,” says Adorf. “We report. You decide. We report, you draw your own conclusion.”
Fox News is neither stupid nor loyal. Because in its statement of defense, the conservative television broadcaster not only defends itself by referring to the freedom of the press, but also points very clearly with its finger at Trump and his lackeys: Smartmatic cannot sue the media, the Fox News lawyers write. If really lies were spread, but possibly against Giuliani and Powell.
Fox News’ coverage has been one-sided and has damaged Smartmatic’s reputation, there is no doubt about that. But that is not evidence of a conspiracy. If there should be a trial, the lawyers of the voting machine manufacturer will find it difficult to prove concrete agreements with the Trump camp and the TV broadcaster, even if conspiracy theories were given an astonishingly long airtime.
Murdoch pleased, Babbitt dead
The situation is tricky for another reason. Smartmatic has little to lose. In the November election, his electronic voting software was only used in Los Angeles and nowhere else in the United States. The lawyers claim that the contract was supposed to be the flagship project, the successful field test to be recommended for further assignments, and that potential clients in other countries were very concerned after the fraud allegations. That might be true, but are these worries worth $ 2.7 billion?
At Fox News, they know exactly what they’re doing. Unlike Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, who later meekly backtrack in court when things get serious with fraud allegations, the conservative broadcaster can fall back on years of experience in the field of conspiracy theories. “About a decade ago, presenter Glenn Beck had a very popular show on Fox News,” says political scientist Adorf. “He spread various tea party rumors almost every evening, including this theory that ex-President Barack Obama was a Muslim and was not born in the United States. Beck never said that himself, but only asked questions in this direction . “
Fox News has a controversial but successful business model. The broadcaster mother Fox Corporation presented its figures for the past quarter last Tuesday. CEO Lachlan Murdoch, son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, was delighted with the highest average ratings in the station’s history, and in a good mood he announced a 17 percent increase in income. The price for that? The lives of women like Ashli Babbitt. The 35-year-old was a big fan of Fox News presenters like Tucker Carlson. She died on January 6th while storming the Capitol.
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