Lawyers for Dominion Voting Systems criticized Fox News’ claims that its reporting of false information about alleged voter fraud in the 2020 election was protected by the First Amendment during a court hearing Tuesday.
The two sides appeared before a Delaware judge seeking summary judgment in the Denver voting machine maker’s defamation case ahead of a jury trial scheduled for mid-April.
Dominion seeks $1.6 billion in damages, alleging that Fox News deliberately aired former President Donald Trump’s false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election to placate his viewers, who were fleeing the network in anger over how he called the state of Arizona for President Biden.
“They had to do something to try to win back viewers and what they did to win back viewers was start this new narrative that the election had been stolen and Dominion was the thief responsible for stealing the election,” said Stephen Shakleford, a domain attorney.
Fox News has argued that the allegations by Trump and his representatives were newsworthy, even if they were not true, and that the network’s reporting was protected by the First Amendment. The network has cited the “neutral reporting privilege,” which protects media organizations from defamation claims if they accurately and objectively report newsworthy charges against public figures as part of an ongoing controversy.
But Dominion’s legal team said in court on Tuesday that Fox News has gone well beyond that realm, filing the claims of voter fraud and Dominion’s alleged involvement long after they were dismissed by government agencies and journalists inside. of the network.
Trump’s legal team of Rudolph Giuliani and Sidney Powell appeared on Fox News in the months after the 2020 election, making unproven allegations like Dominion’s founding in Venezuela to help Hugo Chavez and that his machines rigged votes to favor to President Biden. Such claims often went unchallenged online in the weeks after the election when put forward by Trump allies, despite evidence to the contrary.
The hearing reviewed much of the court papers and deposition testimony related to the case, in which Fox News anchors, producers and executives, including chief Rupert Murdoch, are cited for allowing false claims to be aired while expressing their their own skepticism and downplay reports from some of the network’s journalists and presenters who disputed the allegations.
Erin Murphy, a lawyer for Fox News, argued that the network’s hosts consistently presented Powell’s and Giuliani’s statements as unproven allegations, repeatedly asking for evidence that was never provided. She said “reasonable” viewers would assume the allegations were not being presented as fact.
“The hosts continued without saying ‘wow, that must be true,’” Murphy said. “They just asked, ‘How fast are you going to bring these suits?’ and ‘what evidence do you have to support them?’”
But Dominion noted how falsehoods were built into shows, such as Maria Bartiromo’s “Sunday Morning Futures,” where the host set up an interview with Powell, joking that the lawyer had “some fascinating revelations” and “Ms. Powell will explain what has discovered.
Shakleford said such statements from Bartiromo “clearly signal that what you are about to hear are some facts.”
Dominion’s lawyers noted how Fox News programs continued to book Trump lawyers Powell and Giuliani and allowed them to make false statements, despite the fact that many of the executives and hosts accepted that there was no massive fraud and that the choice was legitimate.
Dominion cited deposition testimony from David Clark, a Fox News executive in charge of weekend programming, who acknowledged on November 6, 2020, that the election was fair. But the shows she oversees, including “Sunday Morning Futures” with Maria Bartiromo, continued to put Giuliani and Powell on their show. Bartiromo repeatedly asked for evidence, but offered no pushback against the general push for false claims.
Dominion’s lawyers also pointed out how Fox News executives could have edited or corrected misinformation before the shows with Powell aired but chose not to, a point some legal experts believe is one of the strongest pieces of evidence. of the case.
Fox News attorney Murphy said the network hosts cited in the lawsuit never presented the allegations as factual and that a “reasonable viewer” would not interpret them that way.
Murphy also disputed the idea that Fox News acted malice by knowingly promoting false claims, saying there is no evidence that any of the executives at parent company Fox Corp. were directly involved in the network’s editorial content. Fox News leaders such as CEO Suzanne Scott were described as “rarely involved in content decisions” at the network.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson was one of the Fox News insiders who complained about Powell’s appearances in private messages entered into testimonials as: “It’s incredibly offensive to me. Our viewers are good people and they believe it.”
But Carlson’s actions are also under scrutiny in the case. When Mike Lindell, owner of My Pillow, Fox News’ biggest ad investor, appeared as a guest in January 2021, the Trump-supporting mogul continued to promote conspiracy theories about voter fraud.
Murphy argued that Lindell was hired on Carlson’s show to discuss cancel culture after he was banned from Twitter. Carlson testified in his deposition that she did not know Lindell intended to raise the voter fraud allegations against him and did not commit to him when she did.
Murphy tried to further thread the needle, saying that Lindell mentioned “machine fraud” but did not name Dominion and therefore viewers would not have assumed he was talking about the company.
Emails and text messages from Fox News employees presented as evidence have become a public source of embarrassment for the network, as it paints a portrait of a media organization that cares more about satisfying its partisan viewers than for presenting factual news.
The legal battle is getting uglier for Murdoch’s network after a Fox News production company filed a discrimination lawsuit Monday against his employer, Carlson and several of his producers, alleging that the “Tucker Carlson Tonight” operation was plagued of sexist, misogynistic and bullying behaviour.
Producer Abby Grossberg joined Carlson’s show staff as booking manager last September after nearly three years as a producer and booking manager for Bartiromo’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”
In a federal lawsuit filed in Manhattan, Grossberg alleges that Fox appeared to be positioning her and Bartiromo to become scapegoats for defamation lawsuits brought by Dominion. Her lawsuit claims that Fox News lawyers “intimidated” her during pre-deposition sessions for her in the Dominion case.
“Fox News Media retained independent outside counsel to promptly investigate the concerns raised by Ms. Grossberg, which were made following a critical performance review,” a Fox News representative said in a statement. “His allegations of her in connection with the Dominion case are baseless and we will vigorously defend Fox against all of her claims.”
Staff writer Meg James in Los Angeles contributed to this report.