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Fox to Face $2.7 Billion Defamation Lawsuit by Smartmatic

Fox Corp. is set to face a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit filed by Smartmatic Corp., one of the voting technology firms falsely accused on Fox News of manipulating the 2020 US presidential election results against Donald Trump.

Legal Setback

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The decision by a New York judge marks another legal setback for Fox, as it had previously agreed to pay $788 million in April to settle a similar defamation suit brought by Dominion Voting Systems Inc., the other company targeted by these baseless election conspiracy theories. Fox continued to broadcast these allegations even after they had been widely debunked.

Judge’s Decision

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Justice David B. Cohen in Manhattan has denied Fox Corp.’s motion to dismiss the suit, finding that Smartmatic had provided sufficient evidence to support its claims.

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Murdoch and Son Implicated

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The lawsuit implicates executives at Fox Corp., including Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan Murdoch, in directing the election coverage by its subsidiary, Fox News Network LLC. The suit also names several current and former on-air personalities at Fox News who previously failed in their attempts to have the case dismissed.

Plaintiffs’ Allegations

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According to the ruling, the plaintiffs allege that no programming, messaging, or employment decisions at Fox News were made without the knowledge, approval, and direction of Fox Corp., rendering News wholly dominated by Corp.

Potential Trial Next Year

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The judge’s decision paves the way for a potential trial on Smartmatic’s claims in the coming year. Fox and Fox News have argued that their coverage is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech, as they were covering claims made at the time by a sitting president and his legal team.

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Fox’s Response

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Fox issued a statement indicating their readiness to defend the case, which is expected to go to trial in 2025. They challenged the plausibility of Smartmatic’s damages claims, asserting that they are disconnected from reality and appear intended to stifle First Amendment freedoms.

Fox’s Counterclaims Allowed

The same judge also allowed Fox’s counterclaims against Smartmatic to proceed while denying Smartmatic’s motion to dismiss them. Fox argues that the lawsuit violates a New York law against using litigation to stifle speech, citing the substantial damages amount as evidence.

Smartmatic’s Perspective

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Smartmatic’s lawyer, Erik Connolly, expressed the company’s eagerness to proceed and hold Fox Corporation, as well as Fox News, accountable for the damage caused by the false claims.

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Origin of the Lawsuit

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The lawsuit stems from news coverage in the weeks following the 2020 presidential election, during which Fox News guests and hosts propagated claims that Smartmatic and Dominion conspired with Democrats and foreign hackers to alter millions of votes against Trump. The former president continues to promote this conspiracy theory.

Fox Corp.’s Initial Dismissal and Amended Suit

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Fox Corp. was initially dismissed from the case because Smartmatic’s allegations didn’t sufficiently connect the parent company to Fox News’s actions. However, the amended suit rectified this issue by properly alleging the personal and intimate involvement of the Murdochs in the election coverage.

Amended Suit Details

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The amended suit also detailed how Fox Corp. employees allegedly directed the network subsidiary to shift away from reporting on Joe Biden’s victory after facing criticism from Trump and others, which led to a decline in viewership and ratings.

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Boost from Dominion Lawsuit

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Smartmatic’s case benefited significantly from evidence and rulings in the Dominion lawsuit. Internal Fox emails and text messages were made public as evidence, revealing that key executives and on-air personalities regarded the conspiracy theory as baseless but allowed it to be propagated.

Legal Case Details

Facade of New York State Supreme Court Building in Manhattan in New York City, USA — Photo by J2R

The case is Smartmatic v. Fox Corp., 151136/2021, New York Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).

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