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DJ Voting-Machine Company Smartmatic Sues Fox News Over Election Claims -- Update

· 02/04/2021 14:54
By Benjamin Mullin and Alexa Corse

Voting-machine company Smartmatic USA Corp. sued Fox Corp.'s Fox News, seeking $2.7 billion in damages for what it alleges were defamatory on-air comments about the company's products in the aftermath of the presidential election.

The suit, filed Thursday in a New York court, focuses on a series of statements made about Smartmatic on Fox News by lawyers who supported former President Donald Trump's claims that the election was rigged, including Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell. The lawsuit also mentions remarks made about Smartmatic by Fox News Media anchors including Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo.

Smartmatic's complaint claims that the segments on Fox News contained numerous errors involving the reliability of its technology, and that Fox News knew its statements about Smartmatic were untruthful.

A group of federal and state officials have said there is no evidence that any voting system changed or deleted votes in the 2020 general election.

"Fox News Media is committed to providing the full context of every story with in-depth reporting and clear opinion," the network said in a statement on behalf of Fox News and the Fox hosts named in the complaint. "We are proud of our 2020 election coverage and will vigorously defend this meritless lawsuit in court."

Fox Corp. and Wall Street Journal parent News Corp share common ownership.

Ms. Powell said in an email that she hadn't been notified about the lawsuit, but that it sounded like "just another political maneuver motivated by the radical left that has no basis in fact or law."

Mr. Giuliani said, "Discovery will be even better."

London-based Smartmatic produces voting technologies that have been used in multiple countries. But Smartmatic has a limited footprint in the U.S. Only one county, Los Angeles County, Calif., used Smartmatic's technology in the 2020 general election, the company said.

The 285-page lawsuit accused the defendants of "inventing a story" that the election was stolen from President Trump. The lawsuit says that Fox News, Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell needed a "villain" so they scapegoated Smartmatic.

"They needed somebody to blame," the lawsuit says. "They needed someone whom they could get others to hate." The company said the comments on Fox News damaged its reputation irreparably. "Smartmatic's clients and potential clients began to panic," the complaint says.

The lawsuit cites statements made by Fox hosts and on-air guests including Jeanine Pirro, Ms. Bartiromo, Mr. Dobbs, Ms. Powell and Mr. Giuliani.

The suit points, for example, to Mr. Dobbs's interview of Mr. Giuliani on Nov. 12, in which Mr. Giuliani stated that Smartmatic's systems can be hacked. Mr. Dobbs endorsed that view, according to the suit, and added that Smartmatic sends voting records overseas, where states can't audit them. "They have no ability to audit meaningfully the votes that are cast because the servers are somewhere else," Mr. Dobbs said, according to the suit.

"They have a terrible record, and they are extremely hackable," Mr. Giuliani said, according to the complaint.

In December, Smartmatic sent letters to Fox News, Newsmax TV and One America News Network accusing the networks of airing false and defamatory statements. Smartmatic said in a press release that the networks engaged in a "disinformation campaign" against the company.

In a statement on Dec. 14, Newsmax said it "never made a claim of impropriety about Smartmatic." Newsmax on Thursday declined to comment; OANN didn't respond to a request for comment.

Lawyers for another voting company, Dominion Voting Systems, have sent letters to Fox News, OANN and Newsmax TV asking the networks to preserve records related to their coverage of the 2020 election in the event of a lawsuit.

In December, Fox News Media and Newsmax ran segments to clarify facts related to Smartmatic and Dominion. Fox News and Fox Business ran interviews on several shows, including programs hosted by Ms. Bartiromo and Mr. Dobbs, featuring voting technology expert Edward Perez, who pushed back on claims that Smartmatic software was used to meddle in the voting process.

Newsmax also ran a clarification, saying that it found no evidence that Smartmatic used software that manipulated votes in the 2020 election.

One of the lawyers representing Smartmatic, J. Erik Connolly, was one of the lead attorneys for Beef Products Inc. in its 2012 lawsuit against Walt Disney Co.'s ABC News over use of the term "pink slime" to describe textured beef products. The lawsuit was settled in 2017.

The lawsuit comes as Fox News faces a serious ratings challenge from rival cable news networks for the first time in years. Fox News was the No. 1 cable news channel in 2020, its 19th consecutive year reaching that milestone.

But the network has been surpassed by competitors CNN and MSNBC in several key viewership categories since the beginning of 2021, including total viewership, prime-time viewership and prime-time viewership among 25-to-54 years old, the key advertising demographic.

Fox News has recently made changes to its lineup, adding an opinion show at the 7 p.m. hour and moving anchor Martha MacCallum's show to 3 p.m.

Write to Benjamin Mullin at Benjamin.Mullin@wsj.com and Alexa Corse at alexa.corse@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 04, 2021 14:54 ET (19:54 GMT)

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