Fox News on Monday asked a judge to dismiss a $2.7 billon lawsuit against the network and some of its hosts filed by election technology company Smartmatic, claiming the suit is an attempt to “chill” First Amendment rights.
The motion follows Smartmatic’s defamation and disparagement lawsuit filed earlier this month against the network and Fox stars Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro, as well as Trump allies Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell. Former Fox anchor Lou Dobbs was also named in the lawsuit.
The election technology company’s lawsuit seeks damages from what Smartmatic calls a “disinformation campaign” that was waged by people who were unhappy with President Biden’s election victory.
Fox News claims in its motion reviewed by NPR that it was covering “both sides” of the story of the 2020 elections and Trump’s debunked claims that the election was rigged. The bulk of the filing claims Fox’s actions are protected by the First Amendment.
“If the First Amendment means anything, it means that Fox cannot be held liable for fairly reporting and commenting on competing allegations in a hotly contested and actively litigated election,” Fox News Media said in a statement. “We are proud of our election coverage which stands in the highest tradition of American journalism.”
The company says in the court filings that Smartmatic is working to “stifle” the debate over the developing election news.
Smartmatic has said Fox’s stories included claims that the company was a Venezuelan company under the control of corrupt dictators from socialist countries. Those stories also claimed the company switched votes during the presidential election, which millions of people believed, according to the company.
Fox’s motion says the network’s coverage, “ensured the public had access to newsmakers and unquestionably newsworthy information that would help foster ‘uninhibited, robust, and wide-open’ debate on rapidly developing events of unparalleled importance.”
Attorneys for Fox News said in court documents that Smartmatic’s lawsuit must be thrown out, since it also failed to identify any statement by Fox itself that could be seen as defamation or that the company was acting with actual malice.
For a defamation case to succeed, a plaintiff must show that false, defaming statements were said with actual malice, meaning the comments were said “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”
Kirkland & Ellis Partner Paul Clement filed the motion on behalf of FOX News. Clement, Solicitor General of the United States for President George W. Bush, said in a statement, “Smartmatic’s theory is fundamentally incompatible with the reality of the modern news network and deeply rooted principles of free speech law.”