NEW YORK — Dominion Voting Systems Inc. filed a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News, alleging it “gave life” to a bogus conspiracy theory that the voting-machine company helped steal the election from Donald Trump.
Fox embraced and broadcast “devastating lies” about Dominion in order to keep viewers from fleeing to more conservative news outlets that were giving unwavering support to Trump’s false claims of election fraud, Dominion said in the complaint filed in state court in Delaware.
“Even though the lies about Dominion were inherently implausible and verifiably false when first made, Fox elevated and lent credibility to these lies on the airwaves of Fox, which in turn fueled the recirculation of those lies through digital and social media,” Dominion said in the complaint.
“Fox News Media is proud of our 2020 election coverage, which stands in the highest tradition of American journalism, and will vigorously defend against this baseless lawsuit in court,” the company said in an emailed statement.
It’s the latest defamation suit by Dominion, which has already sued Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, former Trump campaign attorney Sidney Powell and MyPillow Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mike Lindell, all of whom appeared on television to falsely accuse Dominion of stealing millions of votes from Trump. Powell has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit against her, saying “no reasonable person” would believe her claims were “statements of fact.”
Dominion has also raised the possibility of suing Trump himself. In December, it sent a letter to the White House asking that documents be preserved for possible future litigation. It sent similar letters to Fox News and competing conservative media outlets like One America News and Newsmax as well as individual commentators.
Fox certainly has the deepest pockets of the defendants Dominion has targeted so far — Fox Corp. had revenue of around $12 billion last year and Chairman Rupert Murdoch’s fortune is estimated at $9 billion. The suit against Fox seeks $600 million in lost profit and at least $1 billion in lost enterprise value. All three of Dominion’s earlier suits seek $1.3 billion each.
“The disinformation campaign waged against our company has caused us severe damage and undermined trust in American democratic institutions,” Dominion CEO John Poulos said in a statement. “These lies also have threatened the personal safety of our employees and customers.”
Fox News and some of its anchors were sued by Smartmatic Corp., another voting machine company, in February. The network has moved to dismiss that suit, stating that its reporting was protected by the First Amendment.
Dominion alleges Fox began spreading the voter-fraud lies after incurring Trump’s wrath for being the first network to call the battleground state of Arizona and subsequently the election for Joe Biden. The company began shedding viewers and losing stock value almost immediately after Trump attacked the company on Twitter, according to the suit.
“In the face of intense backlash and viewers beginning to flee to rival networks, Fox understood that it needed to embrace and amplify the lies that had begun to circulate about Dominion,” the complaint says.
The lies were spread by Fox’s on-air personalities Maria Bartiromo, Tucker Carlson, Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro, as well as their guests, according to the suit. Fox canceled Dobbs’s show in February shortly after Smartmatic sued, saying the move was part of changes that had been in the works for its post-election lineup.
According to Dominion’s complaint, Fox knew the surge in mail-in voting due to the pandemic would likely help Biden and spent “considerable airtime” before the election looking for ways to taint absentee ballots with fraud. Dominion claims Fox undertook the effort because Trump had made it clear that his supporters needed to echo his false claims of voter fraud “or face his wrath.” That effort started even before Dominion became the focus of the claims.
“The tone and tenor was clear: supporters of President Trump — and President Trump himself — were looking for a scapegoat,” Dominion said in the lawsuit. “And as the days and weeks that followed made clear, Fox was happy to oblige.”
Story by Erik Larson.