Dominion Sues Fox News, Claiming Defamation in Election Coverage
Dominion Voting Systems, an election technology company, accused the news channel of advancing lies that devastated its reputation and business.,
Fox News and its powerful owner, Rupert Murdoch, are facing a second major defamation suit over its coverage of the 2020 presidential election, a new front in the growing legal battle over media disinformation and its consequences.
Dominion Voting Systems, an election technology company that was at the center of a baseless pro-Trump conspiracy about rigged voting machines, filed a lawsuit on Friday that accused Fox News of advancing lies that devastated its reputation and business.
Dominion, which has requested a jury trial, is seeking at least $1.6 billion in damages. The lawsuit comes less than two months after Smartmatic, another election tech company, filed a $2.7 billion lawsuit against Mr. Murdoch’s Fox Corporation and named several Fox anchors, including Maria Bartiromo and Lou Dobbs, as defendants.
In a 139-page complaint filed in Delaware Superior Court, Dominion’s legal team, led by the prominent defamation firm Clare Locke, portrayed Fox as an active player in spreading falsehoods that Dominion had altered vote counts and manipulated its machines to benefit Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the election.
Those claims were false, but they were relentlessly pushed by President Donald J. Trump’s lawyers, Rudolph Giuliani and Sidney Powell, in public forums, including appearances on Fox programs. In January, Dominion sued Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell for defamation. The company also sued Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow and a Trump ally who was also a frequent guest on Fox programs, as well as shows on other conservative media outlets. Each of those suits seeks damages of more than $1 billion.
“The truth matters,” Dominion’s lawyers wrote in Friday’s complaint against Fox. “Lies have consequences. Fox sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion in the process. If this case does not rise to the level of defamation by a broadcaster, then nothing does.”
In a statement on Friday, Fox said that its 2020 election coverage “stands in the highest tradition of American journalism” and pledged to “vigorously defend against this baseless lawsuit in court.”
Fox Corporation previously filed a motion to dismiss the Smartmatic lawsuit, arguing that the false claims of electoral fraud made on its channels were part of covering a fast-breaking story of significant public interest. “An attempt by a sitting president to challenge the result of an election is objectively newsworthy,” Fox’s legal team wrote in the motion.
The narrative that Mr. Trump and his allies told about Dominion was among the more baroque creations of the president’s monthslong effort to cast doubt on the 2020 election results and persuade Americans that Mr. Biden’s victory was not legitimate.
Dominion, which was founded in 2002, is one of the largest manufacturers of voting machine equipment in the United States, and its machines were used by election authorities in at least 28 states last year, including several states carried by Mr. Trump.
Allies of Mr. Trump falsely portrayed the company as biased toward Mr. Biden and argued, without evidence, that it was tied to Hugo Chavez, the long-dead Venezuelan dictator. John Poulos, Dominion’s founder, and other employees received harassing and threatening messages from people convinced that the company had undermined the election results.
Fox News and Fox Business programs were among the mass-media venues where Mr. Trump’s supporters denounced Dominion. The lawsuit also cites examples where the Fox hosts, including Ms. Bartiromo and Ms. Dobbs, uncritically repeated or actively vouched for the false claims made by Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell.
“Fox took a small flame and turned it into a forest fire,” Dominion wrote in the lawsuit. “As the dominant media company among those viewers dissatisfied with the election results, Fox gave these fictions a prominence they otherwise would never have achieved.”
Dominion’s lawyers on Friday also cited an unusual argument made by Ms. Powell in a motion, filed on Monday, to dismiss the separate Dominion suit against her.
In that motion, Ms. Powell’s lawyers asserted that because political language is often inexact, “reasonable people” would not accept Ms. Powell’s baseless claims as facts. Ms. Powell — who never allowed in public appearances that she was anything less than confident in her assertions — was essentially arguing that her conspiratorial claims were self-evidently hyperbolic and therefore not defamatory.
Dominion says it recently lost major contracts with election officials in Georgia and Louisiana, adding that the company is now facing “the hatred, contempt, and distrust of tens of millions of American voters.”
Right-wing media has already faced a reckoning of sorts from the threat of defamation litigation, a relatively novel tactic in a battle against disinformation that had previously been limited to ad boycotts and liberal public pressure campaigns.
In February, two days after Smartmatic filed its suit, Fox Business canceled “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” its highest rated program. Newsmax, a pro-Trump cable channel also facing potential legal action, cut off Mr. Lindell when he repeated falsehoods about rigged voting machines.