WASHINGTON — The legal blitz by voting-machine companies who have been the target of right-wing conspiracies just took another big step forward. On Thursday, the company Smartmatic sued Fox News and some of its biggest names alleging defamation and asking for a staggering $2.7 billion in damages.
The 285-page complaint names Fox Corporation, Fox News Network, as well as Fox hosts Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, and Jeanine Pirro, along with the pro-Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell who have both made frequent appearances on Fox. The complaint filed by Smartmatic alleges the defendants spread lies about Smartmatic as part of the broader conspiracy theory that the 2020 presidential election was riddled with fraud and stolen from former President Donald Trump.
“They needed a villain,” the lawsuit says. “They needed someone to blame…Without any true villain, defendants invented one. Defendants decided to make Smartmatic the villain in their story.”
A Fox News spokeswoman said in a statement responding to the suit: “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 is not the first voting-machine company to go to court over what it contends are unfounded and defamatory statements made by conservative media and legal figures. Dominion Voting Systems, which has also been the target of conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, has already filed two defamation suits, the first against lawyer Sidney Powell and the second against Rudy Giuliani. Both Dominion suits seek $1.3 billion in damages. “In this system, the best way to vindicate the truth is in court,” Tom Clare, one of Dominion’s lawyers, told reporters. “It’s very easy to say something on Twitter and without evidence or reckless disregard of the information that’s out there…But it is another thing to have to come forward in a court.”
Antonio Mugica, the founder and chief executive of Smartmatic, told CNN Business that he felt he had no choice but to sue Fox over claims the network had aired about his company. “The disinformation campaign that was launched against us is an obliterating one,” Mugica said. “For us, this is existential, and we have to take action.”
Late last year, Fox had included Smartmatic in segments it aired that appeared to suggest the company had acted in a way to swing the election for Democrat Joe Biden. According to a legal notice and retraction demand sent by Smartmatic’s lawyers to Fox News in December, Fox had “published and republished dozens of false and misleading statements regarding Smartmatic.” These statements, the letter went on, “implied that (1) Smartmatic has a corporate relationship with Dominion Voting Systems (‘Dominion’), (2) Smartmatic has a corrupt relationship with the Venezuelan government, including Hugo Chávez, (3) Smartmatic’s technology and software were designed and used to fix elections, (4) Smartmatic’s technology and software were widely used in the 2020 U.S. election, (5) Smartmatic’s technology and software were used to fix the 2020 U.S. election, (6) Smartmatic sent votes to foreign countries for tabulation, (7) Smartmatic’s technology has been banned from certain jurisdictions, (8) Smartmatic has ties to the Democratic party and George Soros, and (9) Smartmatic’s technology and software has numerous security weaknesses.” The letter said that all of these statements were “false and defamatory.”
Fox responded in part by airing a news package on the shows hosted by Bartiromo, Dobbs, and Pirro; the segments, which featured Eddie Velez, a voting-technology expert, effectively debunked voting-fraud claims made by Fox hosts and guests. But apparently that self-correction was not enough to dissuade Smartmatic from taking Fox to court.
Unlike Dominion Voting Systems, Smartmatic has had a small presence in the United States. According to its lawsuit, the company’s lone American client in the 2020 election was Los Angeles County. J. Erik Connolly, the lead lawyer for Smartmatic in its Fox suit, told CNN that the fact of Smartmatic’s light U.S. presence alone was enough to bring a strong defamation claim. “By being able to say Smartmatic was in Los Angeles County and nowhere else, I’ve been able to prove a lie of everything they essentially said with one salient fact,” he told CNN. “I’ve been doing this for a long time and that might be one of the easiest ways to demonstrate falsity that I’ve ever had.”