This story has been updated.
Smartmatic filed the nearly 300-page lawsuit against the network and its parent company, Fox Corp., in New York State Supreme Court on Thursday, after weeks of legal threats against the network.
“Fox is responsible for this disinformation campaign, which has damaged democracy worldwide and irreparably harmed Smartmatic and other stakeholders who contribute to modern elections,” Smartmatic chief executive Antonio Mugica said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
The company said it has identified “100 false statements and implications” about Smartmatic and its services made on Fox’s programs. The lawsuit singles out Fox News and Fox Business Network hosts Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro, as well as two guests who repeatedly appeared on their shows in the weeks around the election: Trump-affiliated lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Powell and Giuliani made a tour of conservative news outlets after the election, repeating Trump’s claims that nefarious actors had infiltrated the U.S. election and fabricated millions of votes for his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, who won the election. The two lawyers were also involved in lawsuits seeking to overturn election results in swing states, every one of which was either dropped or thrown out of court.
“Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell needed a platform to use to spread their story,” the lawsuit states. “They found a willing partner in Fox News.”
The complaint claims that the network had been losing the faith of Trump’s political base and losing audience to smaller and more bombastic right-wing channels such as Newsmax and One America News. “Fox News needed a way to reclaim its favored status with President Trump and his followers. Enter Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell.”
Among the dozens of examples cited in the suit is a Nov. 12 episode of “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” in which Giuliani claimed that Smartmatic was founded by three Venezuelans close to former dictator Hugo Chávez “in order to fix elections.” Dobbs thanked Giuliani for being “on the case,” which the host said “has the feeling of a coverup in certain places.”
Smartmatic said in the lawsuit that the company performed work in only one county during November’s election, helping officials in Los Angeles implement a pandemic-safe voting system. The alleged smear campaign nevertheless succeeded in making Smartmatic “known by voters in the United States and abroad as a criminal that stole the 2020 U.S. election,” leading to the loss of business partners, strained client relationships and an estimated loss of more than $500 million in future profits, according to the complaint.
“Even the 14-year-old son of one of Smartmatic’s executives received a harassing phone call,” the lawsuit states.
In a statement in response to the lawsuit, Fox News said it “is committed to providing the full context of every story with in-depth reporting and clear opinion,” adding, “We are proud of our 2020 election coverage and will vigorously defend this meritless lawsuit in court.”
The network has been preparing for a lawsuit for weeks. In December, Smartmatic put Fox News on notice with a letter demanding “a full and complete retraction of all false and defamatory statements and reports published by Fox News.” In response, Fox aired a short segment on several shows that aimed to address misinformation about Smartmatic.
That apparently didn’t satisfy Smartmatic, which wrote in the lawsuit that “even with a full retraction from all Defendants, Smartmatic will spend years rebuilding its reputation and battling the perception that it was involved in election fraud.”
The lawsuit comes months after Fox News reached a settlement for an undisclosed sum with the parents of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich. After Rich was killed in what police described as a botched robbery in 2016, Rich’s parents sued Fox for emotional distress over a false story suggesting he had been murdered for political purposes.
Smartmatic’s lawsuit may test whether a network can be held financially responsible for things said by political commentators, or even by their guests. Neither Powell nor Giuliani works for Fox News. Dobbs and Pirro are both members of the network’s opinion division, where they get more latitude to express their personal views than the network’s reporters and anchors.
“This complaint establishes a compelling narrative in its 270-plus pages,” Roy Gutterman, who directs the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University, said in an email to The Washington Post. “It will certainly be interesting to see how the defendants frame their responses.”
Powell and Giuliani, who were sued for similar reasons by another election technology company, Dominion Voting Systems, did not immediately return requests for comments.
Other lawsuits might be in the pipeline. Smartmatic has sent legal demand letters to Newsmax and One America News over fraud accusations made on their shows but has not yet indicated whether it will sue them. “We are taking a measured approach to pursuing our claims,” the company said.