Fox News lost an attempt on Tuesday to shut down a multibillion-dollar defamation lawsuit that accuses the network of spreading lies that a voting technology company helped “steal” the 2020 election from Donald Trump.
New York’s supreme court appellate division, a mid-level appeals court, ruled against the network, which wanted judges to dismiss the $2.7bn case.
The company that brought the case, Smartmatic, has said it played a valid and small role in the election. It hailed the ruling as a step toward holding Fox News accountable for amplifying unsupported and damaging claims from Trump’s lawyers.
Fox News cast the case as an attempt to chill journalism, expressing confidence it would prevail.
The decision means Smartmatic’s suit continues against Fox News, hosts Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro, former host Lou Dobbs and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. A claim against the Trump lawyer Sidney Powell was dismissed earlier because she doesn’t have ties to New York, where the case was filed.
The five-judge ruling concluded there were “significant allegations” that Giuliani and Powell defamed the company.
“The complaint alleges in detailed fashion that in their coverage and commentary, Fox News, Dobbs and Bartiromo effectively endorsed and participated in the statements with reckless disregard for, or serious doubts about” whether there was any reliable evidence for them, five judges wrote in a unanimous opinion.
Citing “the same reasoning”, they also reinstated Smartmatic’s claims against Pirro, which a lower court threw out.
Federal and state election officials, exhaustive reviews in battleground states and Trump’s own attorney general found no widespread fraud that could have changed the outcome of the 2020 election. Nor did they uncover any credible evidence the vote was tainted. Trump’s allegations of fraud were rejected by dozens of courts, including by judges he appointed.
Fox News is fighting a separate, $1.6bn defamation lawsuit from Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems, with a trial in April. The network also is fighting a lawsuit from a Venezuelan businessman who said he was wrongly accused of trying to corrupt the election.
Florida-based Smartmatic said that in the 2020 election, its technology and software were used only in Los Angeles county. The Democratic bastion went, as expected, for the Democrat, Joe Biden.
But Smartmatic says Fox News and the three hosts repeatedly allowed Trump lawyers to falsely portray Smartmatic as a foreign company involved in a sprawling, multi-state operation to “flip” votes to Biden.
Giuliani claimed the company was “formed in order to fix elections”. Powell called it a “huge criminal conspiracy” and both claimed proof would be forthcoming.
After Smartmatic’s lawyers demanded a retraction, Fox News aired an interview with an election technology expert who said there was no evidence the company’s technology monkeyed with the election results. He refuted claims made by Giuliani and Powell.
“Fox News, its news anchors and guests knowingly and falsely published lies,” Smartmatic lawyer J Erik Connolly said on Tuesday. The company maintains the network cannot claim free speech protections.
Fox News argues it can, saying it was informing the public about newsworthy if controversial claims from an important figure about a matter of public concern.
“There is nothing more newsworthy than covering the president of the United States and his lawyers making allegations of voter fraud,” it said, adding it was confident it would be vindicated.
Fox News called the damages claim “outrageous” and “nothing more than a flagrant attempt to deter our journalists from doing their jobs”.
A message seeking comment was sent to Giuliani’s lawyers. They have said Giuliani’s statements were protected by the first amendment and other laws and principles.
Source : The Guardian