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Fox-Dominion defamation settlement could chill questioning of election management, watchdog fears

The left used unsubstantiated claims about rigged voting machines "as a straw man ... to avoid answering serious questions about the election," such as the "takeover of election offices" and managing them "for partisan benefit," said Amistad Project's Phill Kline.

Published: April 21, 2023 11:05pm

The Fox News settlement with Dominion Voting Systems over a defamation lawsuit regarding claims about the 2020 presidential election could have a chilling effect on the scrutiny of election management, a prominent election integrity watchdog fears.

Fox and Dominion reached the $787.5 million settlement in the $1.6 billion defamation case against the cable news network on Tuesday. Dominion's complaint alleged that "Fox gave a platform to, endorsed, repeated, and broadcast a series of verifiably false and damaging lies about Dominion," including claims that "Dominion committed election fraud by rigging the 2020 Presidential Election" and "Dominion's software and algorithms manipulated vote counts in the 2020 Presidential Election."

Fox had contended that it was protected by the First Amendment and that the allegations it reported against the company were newsworthy.

"We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems," Fox said in a statement following the settlement. "We acknowledge the Court's rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false. This settlement reflects FOX's continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.

"We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues." 

Dominion's lawsuit against Fox isn't the only defamation case regarding the 2020 election that has entered the legal process. The voting systems company is also suing Newsmax, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and Mike Lindell.

Meanwhile, Smartmatic, another voting systems company, is suing Newsmax, One America News Network, Fox News, two of Fox's current hosts, Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro, former Fox News Business host Lou Dobbs, and Giuliani.

Other defamation lawsuits have been filed against Project Veritas by a Pennsylvania postmaster regarding a report on him allegedly backdating ballots, and Dinesh D'Souza and True the Vote by a Georgia voter for claiming he was a ballot harvester.

The defendants in the lawsuits have denounced the defamation claims.

In reporting on some of these defamation lawsuits, NPR characterized them as "aim[ing] to hold a range of conservative figures and media outlets, including former President Donald Trump, accountable for damaging election lies."

He added that there would be many questions about the 2020 election for years to come. 

"It was, I think, the most tragic election in the country's history," Dobbs said. There will be many questions asked for a very, very long period of time. Unfortunately, the answer should have already been before the American people, but the federal government failed them. The court system failed them, and that's my opinion."

Phill Kline, director of election watchdog The Amistad Project, told Just the News on Thursday that defamation lawsuits are about falsehoods, and some people were not careful about allegations they made regarding the 2020 presidential election.

"There were people who took concerns and announced them as proof, either through not understanding or in an effort to bring attention to things," Kline said. "The left used that as a straw man and highlighted those claims to avoid answering serious questions about the election," such as the "takeover of election offices" and managing them "for partisan benefit."

He added that there is a "concerted effort to chill speech or frighten people from questioning the management of elections." 

Kline distinguished between evidence and proof, noting that some people claimed that evidence of potential issues was equivalent to proof that fraud occurred.

"Some conservatives in 2020 said they had proof" of fraud, but "they didn't," he said. "They had evidence that leads to questions that should be looked at."

Kline said that just because there is evidence that voting machines are hackable, that's not proof that they were, only that they could be.

While he is "concerned" about how the Fox settlement "will chill discussion about issues with machines," the former Kansas attorney general noted that the law is clear that "if you knowingly state a falsehood" regarding individuals or private companies, "then you could be held responsible."

Kline said that he hoped the Fox lawsuit would have played out instead of reaching a settlement so that election concerns could be discussed, and that while the media corporation can settle, others facing defamation lawsuits might not be able to.

His concern is that "no one's willing to speak" about election integrity concerns because either elections are viewed as "safe and secure or stolen without understanding" how elections work.

Public Interest Legal Foundation President J. Christian Adams told Just the News that those who tell the truth will not have to be concerned about defamation lawsuits.

"The best thing you could do is stop talking about the machines being rigged, because people are paying a heavy price for that," he said.

Noting that "truth is the absolute defense to a defamation case," Adams said if there was a "scrap of truth" to the claims that Fox aired on its network, it had "every incentive ... to show the machines were rigged, and yet they couldn't do it."

Adams said he won election lawsuits he brought in Virginia and Delaware because they proved election laws were violated, adding that if people tell the truth, then they won't have to "be afraid of being sued."

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