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Dominion Voting Systems Sues Fox News For Defamation In Election Coverage

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

After Donald Trump lost the presidential election last year, Fox News broadcast false claims of vote rigging and fraud. And now the network faces another major lawsuit over those baseless allegations. Dominion Voting Systems brought the suit for $1.6 billion. It's a company that makes voting machines. A separate voting software company filed an even bigger suit last month on similar grounds. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us now. Hi, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What are the false claims at the heart of this lawsuit?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the false claims included in these were false claims that the Dominion machines could go back and change people's votes and, in fact, that they seem to have done so from Biden to Trump, that Dominion was dominated by figures linked to the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez - not true - that Dominion gave kickbacks to local officials - no evidence of that - and a key element that it was engaged throughout in a conspiracy to rig the election against former President Donald Trump. Lawyers for the company claim this really hurt Dominion and that it cost the company at least $600 million in profits in coming years.

SHAPIRO: And how exactly did those claims play out on the Fox News Channel?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you saw people like former President Trump's legal advisers, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and others brought on by some of the key figures - Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro, Maria Bartiromo. And those key hosts who are among some of the president's favorite hosts, both on the air and his advisers off the air, amplified and even validated those claims.

SHAPIRO: But Dominion is suing Fox News and not those individual hosts. What's going on there?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the attorneys say they want to focus on the network itself. They want to deal with the corporate responsibility. A number of reporters joined this morning for a conference call with Dominion's lawyers. Here's what Dominion attorney Tom Clare had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM CLARE: The role that Fox played in doing those things is truly unprecedented in terms of the scope and the reach of those statements and getting those lies out there to such a broad audience.

FOLKENFLIK: So Clare said that Fox validated those claims by giving so much time and affirmation of it. And it gave cover for others through social media on other outlets to share, promote it and push it. Also, he said - and this, I think, is pretty important - Clare and his colleagues say that Fox News did this because pro-Trump viewers were actually punishing the network for two things. First, for predicting that Joe Biden would win Arizona, which Fox was the first major news outlet to do, and then for reporting accurately about votes rolling in toward Biden after Election Day as it became increasingly clear, in fact, that the Democrat would win.

SHAPIRO: What's Fox News saying about this?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, so corporate parent Fox News and the Murdoch family that control it - excuse me, corporate parent Fox Corp and the Murdoch family that control it have to date been silent. Fox News sent us a statement saying, quote, "Fox News Media is proud of our 2020 election coverage, which stands in the highest tradition of American journalism and will vigorously defend against this baseless lawsuit in court." And it notes that reporters did some segments debunking some of these claims, even in a sense debunking some of the claims that some of their hosts and stars had made.

I think there's a couple of things worth noting again here. Fox News forced out its political director and a top political editor who supported that Arizona call, along with some other reporters, even as it expanded how much of its day is dominated by opinion coverage. And meanwhile, Fox is also facing that more than $2 billion lawsuit that you mentioned earlier from the Smartmatic voting software company, which was similarly implicated by this shadowy claims of fraud and conspiracy, though it only operated back in November on Election Day in Los Angeles County. A day after that lawsuit last month was filed, Fox News pulled Lou Dobbs off the air.

SHAPIRO: So those are two very big lawsuits. How much of a threat is this to Fox News?

FOLKENFLIK: Look. Fox News makes about $2 billion a year in annual profits. That's the lion's share profits for its parent company, Fox Corp. These lawsuits are a huge deal. Lawyers tell me it's hard for Dominion to win, but not impossible, given the egregiousness of the claims made and amplified on the air repeatedly. Taken together with the other suit, I think this is a big moment and big test for Fox News.

SHAPIRO: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Thanks a lot.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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