Dominion Voting Systems and Fox News have exchanged further barbs in the $1.6bn defamation case brought by the voting machine company against the rightwing US cable news network over its broadcast of Donald Trump’s lie that his 2020 defeat by Joe Biden was the result of electoral fraud.
In a court filing, Dominion asked a judge to decide the case in its favour because, it said, Fox News had “produced no evidence – none, zero – supporting those lies.
“This concession should come as no surprise. Discovery into Fox has proven that from the top of the organisation to the bottom, Fox always knew the absurdity of the Dominion ‘stolen election’ story.”
Executives from the Fox News owner, Rupert Murdoch, down and top hosts including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham have been shown to have derided Trump, his surrogates and the lies they pushed about the 2020 election but to have continued to give them air time, fearing viewers would desert to competing networks.
In its response to Dominion on Wednesday, Fox News called the suit an “unprecedented effort to punish the press for covering and commenting on the most newsworthy story of the day” and an “effort to publicly smear a media organization just for having the temerity to cover and comment on allegations being pressed by the sitting president of the United States”.
Fox also accused Dominion of “a blatant violation of the first amendment” to the US constitution, which guarantees press freedom.
Dominion said Fox News was claiming “a first amendment license to knowingly spread lies” and said: “If Fox cared about the truth that it now acknowledges, Fox would have its top personalities reporting that truth to its audience.
“Today. If not for Dominion’s sake, then for the sake of the significant percentage of Americans who still wrongly believe the 2020 election was stolen – including so many of Fox’s own loyal viewers, who heard it over and over again on Fox’s airwaves.”
Experts believe the case could prove severely costly for Fox News, even though defamation lawsuits are notoriously difficult to win.
Last month, the Harvard law professor Laurence H Tribe told the Guardian: “I have never seen a defamation case with such overwhelming proof that the defendant admitted in writing that it was making up fake information in order to increase its viewership and its revenues.
“Fox and its producers and performers were lying as part of their business model.”
Late on Wednesday, the Daily Beast reported growing unrest among Fox News staff on the news side of the operation.
“The news side has always been kind of used as a bit of a shield, a bit of a legitimacy play,” one unnamed production staffer was quoted as saying. “And I think that … is kind of falling apart now.”
An unnamed reporter said: “The problem is, it’s pretty damn clear that the motivation is the money-based machine on the opinion side that drives all their business decisions, that drives a lot of their programming decisions.
“And so even if you have good reporters who are trying to report the news, it’s just not what Fox as an entity sees its value as, so that sucks.”
In a separate development, Fox News issued a statement in response to a Federal Election Commission complaint filed by Media Matters, a liberal watchdog group.
Media Matters says a decision by Murdoch to share a Biden campaign ad with Trump’s son-in-law and chief adviser Jared Kushner – a move revealed in filings in the Dominion suit – represents an illegal campaign contribution, punishable by a fine.
Fox News said: “Mr Murdoch forwarded an already-publicly available Biden campaign ad which was available on YouTube and had even run on public airwaves. Dominion has been caught red-handed again using more distortions and misinformation in their PR campaign to smear Fox News and trample on free speech and freedom of the press.”
Angelo Carusone, the chief executive of Media Matters, told the Guardian: “Fox can save it for the FEC. It’s Rupert Murdoch’s own words and acknowledgment.”
“I would add that given the tome of Fox’s misdeeds and deceit that has been exposed, it is a little weird that this is what their PR shop is focusing on.”
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