Election Tech Company Sues Fox News, Giuliani And Others For $2.7 Billion

Feb 4, 2021
Originally published on February 5, 2021 10:16 am

Updated at 3:50 p.m. ET

Election technology company Smartmatic filed a massive lawsuit Thursday against Fox News, saying the network and some of its biggest on-air personalities made it into a villain and perpetuated false claims about the recent election.

The suit names Fox stars Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro, as well as Trump allies Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell.

The defamation and disparagement lawsuit seeks more than $2.7 billion, citing damage from what Smartmatic calls a "disinformation campaign" that was waged by people who were unhappy with President Biden's victory – but who also hoped to profit from former President Donald Trump's persistent and erroneous claims that the election was fraudulent.

"They knew the election was not stolen," the company says it in a court filing. "They knew the election was not rigged or fixed. They knew these truths just as they knew the Earth is round and two plus two equals four."

When reached for comment, a FOX News Media spokesperson said, "FOX News Media is committed to providing the full context of every story with in-depth reporting and clear opinion. We are proud of our 2020 election coverage and will vigorously defend this meritless lawsuit in court."

Smartmatic declined to comment on its lawsuit, citing the advice of its attorneys. Giuliani issued a statement saying, "The Smartmatic lawsuit presents another golden opportunity for discovery. I look forward to litigating with them."

The voting company is seeking unspecified punitive damages, in addition to $2.7 billion in "actual, consequential and special damages."

Smartmatic also wants a federal court to order the defendants to fully retract their false statements about the company.

"Without any true villain" in Trump's election loss, the company says in its complaint, "Defendants invented one." It adds that during the 2020 election, Smartmatic's election technology and software was used only in one place in the U.S.: Los Angeles County.

But, the e-voting company says in court documents, Fox News and the other defendants created a different and false narrative:

"In their story, Smartmatic was a Venezuelan company under the control of corrupt dictators from socialist countries. In their story, Smartmatic's election technology and software were used in many of the states with close outcomes. And, in their story, Smartmatic was responsible for stealing the 2020 election by switching and altering votes to rig the election for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris."

In late December, Fox News and the Fox Business Network aired segments that were seen as attempts to appease Smartmatic, after weeks in which the networks had spread false claims that the election was somehow rigged. The move came after an employee at another company, Dominion Voting Systems, filed a lawsuit against the Newsmax media outlet, and more suits were threatened.

Those segments, which aired on shows led by Bartiromo, Dobbs, and Pirro, essentially rebutted the networks' own coverage of Smartmatic, although they never mentioned Fox or what they were contradicting. Fox has pointed to them as "fact-checking" segments. But they didn't amount to retractions, according to Eddie Perez of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Open Source Election Technology Institute, who was interviewed for the segments.

Perez dismissed the segments' value in an interview with NPR on Thursday after Smartmatic filed its lawsuit.

"I think it's disingenuous to pretend that a two-and-a-half minute fact check was adequate to undo the damage that Fox and other networks had done with over a month of inflammatory and baseless claims," Perez said.

"I don't think that even the most generous viewer could say that that was a retraction," he added. "There was a very brief introduction to the piece where Lou Dobbs didn't really have much commentary at all. And there was not much recognition of just how much Fox News had amplified and given a platform for extremely damaging misinformation."

Smartmatic says millions of people believed the negative and false coverage about the company, resulting in a cascade of fallout. According to the court filing, employees received hate mail and death threats, requiring it to "invest heavily" in additional security.

The company also says its clients began to be nervous about doing business with the tech firm. Its reputation for providing secure, transparent election technology "was irreparably harmed," Smartmatic says.

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The voting technology company Smartmatic starts its lawsuit against Fox News and some of its biggest stars by stating some facts - the Earth is round; two plus two equals four; Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 election for president and vice president of the United States; the election was not stolen, rigged or fixed. The suit alleges Fox ignored the facts and spread disinformation about Smartmatic that has devastated the company's bottom line. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joined us to talk about that lawsuit and the company behind it.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Smartmatic is a voting elections tech and software company started by a young Venezuelan about two decades ago.

KING: And what are the details of the lawsuit?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, these details are pungent. Smartmatic is alleging that Fox News and three of its key hosts, Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro, as well as two of the president's legal advisers who appeared frequently on Fox after the election, Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, created and amplified and rooted a broad-ranging allegation that there was an effort to steal this election from then-President Donald Trump through switching votes or through suppressing votes or through essentially a broad conspiracy, particularly in key states - think Arizona and Georgia and Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan - in a way that would favor Joe Biden. It's not an accident that Dobbs and Pirro and Bartiromo are among the president's strongest advocates on the air and closest advisers off the air. And they've been part of this - essentially the Trump camp on this.

There's been no evidence that have stood up about these allegations. And what's really astonishing is Smartmatic was really involved in essentially one jurisdiction in the nation for the 2020 elections, and that was in Los Angeles County. So essentially, Smartmatic was involved in the voting in one jurisdiction in the nation in a state that was going to go for Joe Biden no matter what happened. The idea that they were at the core of some conspiracy to steal votes, none of which has been proven, seems, on its face, absurd.

KING: Let me ask you something. The Fox News anchors that you mentioned, these are like household names - Rudy Giuliani, a household name. Have any of these people responded yet?

FOLKENFLIK: Giuliani says he welcomes the suit and he welcomes discovery. That's the process by which you get information from the other side in the litigation. Fox News says it's meritless. It's also saying it's proud of its coverage, that they've offered full context with in-depth reporting and clear opinion. That's their official statement. I think that that word opinion is important here. I think they're intending to lean on that - to say, look; we've got a clear delineation from their reporting on election results and from people who are offering just their own points of view.

KING: Two-point-seven billion dollars is no small amount of money, although I don't really know much about Fox's bottom line. Could this have a real impact on Fox News?

FOLKENFLIK: While they make a ton of money, that's more than any year's profits they've ever made, to my understanding. But, you know, the implications here are, are there any consequences for the kinds of misinformation, disinformation that they either propagate or amplify, whether it's on Seth Rich, who they had to pay a ton of money to the parents of a guy who was killed - wrongly claimed was involved in leaking emails? Are there consequences for incendiary rhetoric that helped influence people who appeared on the 6 of January as part of the protest that became deadly at Capitol Hill? That's the kind of question here that I think people are facing at Fox News.

KING: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Thanks, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.