Voting tech company Smartmatic has sued Fox News, former Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, and TV host Lou Dobbs for spreading a conspiracy theory about the 2020 US presidential election. The New York state court lawsuit says Fox and others deliberately made Smartmatic the “villain” in a false story about fraudulent voting. Since then, it says, employees have received death threats, and clients have balked at the company’s tarnished reputation. It’s demanding $2.7 billion in damages and a full retraction of all false statements.
Smartmatic figured heavily in a sprawling and baseless claim that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election. The conspiracy alleged that Smartmatic secretly owned its competitor Dominion and was founded by associates of long-dead Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in order to steal elections. (Smartmatic’s founders are from Venezuela, but they launched the company in Florida and deny any links to Chavez.) It also asserted that Smartmatic technology contained a “backdoor” that had let conspirators remotely change vote counts.
As Smartmatic notes, the company is unaffiliated with Dominion and played a minimal role in the election, providing software only to Los Angeles County. However, the claims received widespread coverage on conservative news networks like Fox, often through Powell and Giuliani, who were promoting a fruitless legal fight to overturn the election results. “Defendants’ story was a lie. All of it. And they knew it,” the complaint reads. “Overnight, Smartmatic went from an under-the-radar election technology and software company with a track record of success to the villain in Defendants’ disinformation campaign.”
Smartmatic — which operates in several fields outside election tech — claims the disinformation campaign caused at least two commercial partners to suspend their business relationship. The complaint also says it has threatened employees’ safety. Soon after the reports started, the company was “inundated” with emails and voicemails, some claiming that “you all will be hunted” or that the only way to restore election integrity was to “shoot dead your company executives.” One caller allegedly harassed an executive’s 14-year-old son, and despite increased security, the threats have “left Smartmatic’s personnel shaken and scared.”
The company previously threatened Fox News and other outlets with a lawsuit, leading Fox hosts to air a video effectively contradicting their earlier segments. However, it argues that Dobbs (along with Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro, who are also named in the suit) never acknowledged the network had promoted false claims. And it says Fox “intentionally avoided” experts who might contract the false claims about Smartmatic, even after the stories were widely debunked elsewhere.
Fox News denied the suit’s claims in a statement to The Verge. “Fox News Media is committed to providing the full context of every story with in-depth reporting and clear opinion. We are proud of our 2020 election coverage and will vigorously defend against this meritless lawsuit in court,” a spokesperson said. Powell called the suit “another political maneuver motivated by the radical left that has no basis in fact or law” in a statement to The New York Times.
Smartmatic’s competitor Dominion has already filed lawsuits against Powell and Giuliani. Together, the cases will test whether libel law can defend some targets of disinformation campaigns — which often spread online but start with major media networks and public figures.
5:45PM ET: Added statement from Fox News Media.