Voting tech firm spotlights Murdochs in defamation suit

NEW YORK (AP) – A voting tech company suing Fox News is arguing that Fox Corp. leaders Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch played a leading role in airing false claims that the technology helped “steal” the 2020 presidential election from former President Donald Trump.

Smartmatic said the Murdochs, as the ultimate authorities at the network’s corporate parent, “directed Fox News Network to embrace disinformation following the 2020 U.S. election as a business decision.”

“Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch were front and center in the decision to cover and facilitate the disinformation campaign published by Fox News after the 2020 U.S. election,” Smartmatic said in its Monday filing, part of its defamation case against the top-rated conservative network.

Fox News and Fox Corp. did not immediately return messages sent Tuesday seeking comment on the claims, which are based on news reports and filings in a separate defamation case against the network by a voting machine manufacturer, Dominion Voting Systems.

In a recently unsealed filing in the Dominion case, Rupert Murdoch acknowledged that he didn’t stop various Fox News commentators from promoting unfounded claims from Trump allies that the election was stolen, even though he could have. He also acknowledged that some of the network’s hosts – Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro and Sean Hannity – at times endorsed the false claims.

Some of the networks biggest stars also privately expressed disbelief in the claims made by Trump allies, but aired the claims anyway. “Sydney Powell is lying,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson said in a text to a producer, referencing one of the attorneys pushing the claims for Trump. Host Laura Ingraham texted Carlson that Powell is “a complete nut.”

Additional filings in Dominion’s $1.6 billion defamation case against Fox were still expected.

Federal and state election officials, exhaustive reviews in battleground states and Trump’s attorney general found no widespread fraud that could have changed the outcome of the 2020 election. Nor did they uncover any credible evidence that the vote was tainted. Trump’s allegations of fraud also have been roundly rejected by dozens of courts, including by judges he had appointed.

Smartmatic says its technology was used only in Los Angeles County during the 2020 election. Yet Fox News repeatedly gave Trump’s lawyers a platform to cast Smartmatic as an election-rigging specialist involved in a technological conspiracy to scuttle votes for Trump or shift them to Democrat Joe Biden in multiple battleground states.

Fox News has said it was simply reporting on newsworthy claims made by the president and his attorneys. The network notes that its hosts at times asked the lawyers about evidence to support their claims, which was never provided.

After Smartmatic demanded a retraction, Fox News ran an interview with an election technology expert who shot down the fraud allegations.

Smartmatic claims the Murdochs “participated in, encouraged, played an affirmative role, ratified and were responsible for the broadcasting and dissemination of the defamatory reports,” despite knowing they were false. The Murdochs participated in meetings about the coverage, instructed Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott on its message and tone, and didn’t object when the segments aired, Smartmatic says.

Like Dominion, Smartmatic contends that Fox News got behind the bogus voting-fraud narrative to win back pro-Trump viewers who turned to rival conservative news outlets after Fox, correctly, declared on election night that Biden had won Arizona.

Rupert Murdoch is Fox Corp.‘s chairman and the news network’s founder; his son Lachlan is Fox Corp.’s chief executive.

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