Dominion says Fox knew vote-rigging claims ‘total bs,’ as network defends coverage

By Helen Coster and Jack Queen

(Reuters) -Fox News repeatedly broadcast lies about vote-rigging claims that it knew were “total bs,” Dominion Voting Systems, an election technology company, said in a filing made public on Thursday, as part of a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit the media giant described as an assault on a free press.

“From the top down, Fox knew ‘the dominion stuff’ was ‘total bs,’” Dominion wrote in its filing for summary judgment in its favor. “Yet despite knowing the truth—or at minimum, recklessly disregarding that truth—Fox spread and endorsed these ‘outlandish voter fraud claims’ about Dominion even as it internally recognized the lies as ‘crazy,’ ‘absurd,’ and ‘shockingly reckless.’”

Dominion sued Fox News Networks in March 2021 in Delaware state court, alleging the cable TV network amplified false claims that Dominion voting machines were used to rig the 2020 U.S. presidential election against Republican Donald Trump and in favor of his Democratic rival Joe Biden, who won the election.

Fox defended its coverage in its own summary judgment motion unsealed on Thursday, arguing it had a right to report on election-fraud allegations made by Trump and his lawyers and saying that Dominion’s lawsuit would stifle freedom of the press.

“There will be a lot of noise and confusion generated by Dominion … but the core of this case remains about freedom of the press and freedom of speech, which are fundamental rights afforded by the Constitution and protected by New York Times v. Sullivan,” a Fox spokesperson said in a statement.

The dueling narratives come ahead a five-week trial scheduled to begin on April 17.

Dominion’s filing is replete with references to emails and statements in which Fox Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch and other top Fox executives say that the claims made about Dominion on-air were false.

The filing reflects the outcome of months of discovery from both sides. Dominion in January questioned Murdoch under oath, the most high-profile figure to face questioning in the case.

Dominion must prove that the network either knew the statements it aired were false or recklessly disregarded their accuracy.

Dominion said in its brief that Murdoch internally described the election claims as “really crazy” and “damaging,” but declined to wield his editorial power to stop them.

For example, according to Dominion’s filing, when Murdoch watched Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell make unfounded claims about Dominion on Nov. 19, he told Fox News Chief Executive Suzanne Scott: “Terrible stuff damaging everybody, I fear.”

Other top Fox executives including Scott repeatedly raised the alarm over false election fraud claims but failed to act because they feared losing viewers to far-right competitor Newsmax, Dominion said.

The underlying exhibits for many of those statements remain under seal, and Fox has said Dominion took them out of context.

Representatives for Powell and Guiliani could not immediately be reached for comment. A Fox Corp spokesman declined to comment on Murdoch’s behalf.

Earlier on Thursday, Fox filed a counterclaim in Delaware Superior Court, alleging that Dominion has no evidence to support its “staggering” damages claim. Fox claimed Dominion’s private equity owners are using the suit to seek windfall profits on an asset they purchased at an $80 million value in 2018.

In its summary judgment filing, Fox argued that Trump’s claims about the election were “undeniably newsworthy” and that viewers understood they were merely being reported as allegations.

Fox also argued that Dominion’s suit advances overbroad interpretations of defamation law, takes quotes from its coverage out of context and ignores its reporting of Dominion’s rebuttals to the false claims.

“Dominion’s lawsuit is an assault on the First Amendment and the free press,” Fox wrote in its filing. “The record shows that Dominion’s central allegations are factually unfounded, legally unsound, or both.”

(Reporting by Helen Coster and Jack Queen; Editing by Diane Craft, Noeleen Walder and Leslie Adler)