Executive order comes as Republicans are pushing to tighten voting restrictions following 2020 presidential defeat.
Dominion Voting Systems has filed a $1.6bn defamation lawsuit against Fox News, arguing the United States cable news giant falsely claimed in an effort to boost faltering ratings that the voting company had rigged the 2020 presidential election.
It is the first defamation suit filed against a media outlet by the voting company, which was a target of misleading, false and bizarre claims spread by former President Donald Trump and his allies in the aftermath of Trump’s election loss to President Joe Biden.
The claims were used to spur on rioters who stormed the US Capitol on January 6 in a violent siege that left five people dead, including a police officer. The breach led to Trump’s historic second impeachment in the House of Representatives, although he was later acquitted in a Senate trial.
In the suit, Dominion argues that Fox News, which amplified inaccurate assertions that Dominion altered votes, “sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion in the process,” according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by The Associated Press.
Some Fox News on-air reporting segments have debunked some of the claims targeting Dominion, while some employees of the network elevated false charges that Dominion had changed votes through algorithms in its voting machines that had been created in Venezuela to rig elections for the late dictator Hugo Chavez.
On-air personalities brought on Trump allies Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, who spread the claims, and then amplified those claims on Fox News’ massive social media platforms.
There was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election, a fact that numerous election officials across the country – and even Trump’s attorney general, William Barr – have confirmed.
Republican governors in Arizona and Georgia, key battleground states crucial to Biden’s victory, also vouched for the integrity of the elections in their states. Nearly all the legal challenges from Trump and his allies were dismissed by judges, including two tossed out by the Supreme Court, which has three Trump-nominated justices.
Dominion said in the lawsuit that it tried repeatedly to set the record straight but was ignored by Fox News.
The company argues that Fox News, a network that features several pro-Trump personalities, pushed the false claims to explain away the former president’s loss. The cable giant lost viewers after the election and was seen by some Trump supporters as not being supportive enough of the Republican.
Lawyers for Dominion said Fox News’ behaviour differs greatly from that of other media outlets that reported on the claims.
“This was a conscious, knowing business decision to endorse and repeat and broadcast these lies in order to keep its viewership,” said lawyer Justin Nelson, of Susman Godfrey LLC.
Target of misinformation
Though Dominion serves 28 states, until the 2020 election it had been largely unknown outside the election community. It is now widely targeted in conservative circles, seen by millions of people as one of the main villains in a fictional tale in which Democrats nationwide conspired to steal votes from Trump, the lawsuit said.
Dominion’s employees, from its software engineers to its founder, have been harassed. Some received death threats. And the company has suffered “enormous and irreparable economic harm,” lawyers said.
Dominion has also sued Giuliani, Powell and the CEO of Minnesota-based MyPillow over the claims. A rival technology company, Smartmatic USA, also sued Fox News over election claims. Unlike Dominion, Smartmatic’s participation in the 2020 election was restricted to Los Angeles County.
Dominion lawyers said they have not yet filed lawsuits against specific media personalities at Fox News but the door remains open. Some at Fox News knew the claims were false but their comments were drowned out, lawyers said.
“The buck stops with Fox on this,” lawyer Stephen Shackelford said. “Fox chose to put this on all of its many platforms. They rebroadcast, republished it on social media and other places.”
The suit was filed in Delaware, where both companies are incorporated, though Fox News is based in New York and Dominion is based in Denver.