Lawsuits Take the Lead in Fight Against Disinformation

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In one example cited in the 276-page complaint filed by Smartmatic, Mr. Dobbs’s program broadcast a false claim by Ms. Powell that Hugo Chávez, the former president of Venezuela, had been involved in creating the company’s technology and installed software so that votes could be switched undetected. (Mr. Chávez, who died in 2013, did not have anything to do with Smartmatic.)

Smartmatic also cited an episode of “Lou Dobbs Tonight” in which Mr. Giuliani falsely described the election as “stolen” and claimed that hundreds of thousands of “unlawful ballots” had been found. Mr. Dobbs described the election as the end to “a four-and-a-half-year-long effort to overthrow the president of the United States,” and raised the specter of outside interference.

“It has the feeling of a cover-up in certain places, you know — putting the servers in foreign countries, private companies,” Mr. Dobbs said.

Fox has promised to fight the litigation. “We are proud of our 2020 election coverage and will vigorously defend this meritless lawsuit in court,” the network said in a statement the day before it canceled Mr. Dobbs’s show.

Executives in conservative media argue that the Smartmatic lawsuit raises uncomfortable questions about how news organizations should present public figures: Ms. Powell was a conspiracist, but she was also the president’s lawyer. Should a media outlet be allowed to broadcast her claims?

“There’s a new standard created out of this that is very dangerous for all the cable channels,” Christopher Ruddy, the owner of Newsmax and a Trump confidant, said in an interview on Saturday. “You have to fact-check everything public figures say, and you could be held libelous for what they say.” Mr. Ruddy contends that Newsmax presented a fair view of the claims about election fraud and voting technology companies.

Newsmax personnel, though, were made aware of the potential damage stemming from claims that appeared on their shows. In an extraordinary on-air moment on Tuesday, Mike Lindell, the MyPillow founder and a staunch Trump ally, began attacking Dominion — and was promptly cut off by a Newsmax anchor, Bob Sellers, who read a formal statement that Newsmax had accepted the election results “as legal and final.”

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