Fox News’ Sean Hannity may have been uncritically touting baseless conspiracy theories about widespread fraud committed by voting machine vendors in the 2020 election, even if he didn’t think they were true.
This is the latest revelation of Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News and its parent company, Fox Corporation, which is expected to go on trial in April in a Delaware court.
Dominion sells election technology, including voting machines, in which it has been used over two dozen states in 2020. And he claims that, following former President Donald Trump’s electoral defeat, Fox aired a series of unsubstantiated and defamatory allegations about the company that it knew were false. In the process, Dominion says Fox “destroyed the corporate value of a company potentially worth more than $1 billion.”
Second Dominion Complaint March 2021, Fox advanced the lies that Dominion had “committed election fraud by rigging the 2020 presidential election,” including using its software and algorithms to tamper with vote counts; that Dominion is owned by a company founded in Venezuela that tried to rig elections in favor of dictator Hugo Chávez; and that Dominion has paid officials to adopt its machines in 2020.
“Fox, one of the most powerful media companies in the United States, hatched a concocted voter fraud storyline that cast a then-little-known voting machine company called Dominion as the villain,” the complaint states.
One way the company claims Fox has done this is by providing conspiracy theorists with unfiltered platforms.
Sidney Powell, a former federal prosecutor who is also being sued by Dominion for libel, appeared on Hannity’s primetime show on November 30, 2020, one week after she was unceremoniously started from former President Donald Trump’s legal team challenging the 2020 election results. She had also been a guest at Hannity’s broadcast earlier that day.
“There was a whole story going on and a lot of people involved in it,” Powell he said on the evening show. He baselessly accused voting machine companies, including Dominion, of using their machines to “junk large batches of votes that should have gone to President Trump” and to “inject and add huge amounts of votes for Mr. Biden”.
Hannity, a longtime Trump ally, hasn’t dismissed these claims, though worries grew among Republicans that Powell’s rhetoric had become too extreme. He stopped short of making those same accusations himself, but he didn’t dismiss them either. He asked whether the machines were being investigated for the type of tampering he was alleging (Powell said it would happen soon) and asked why Democrats weren’t looking into any of these “whistleblower” claims before ending the segment.
Two years later, he was asked about Powell’s theory in a seven-hour deposition that was reportedly shared during a court hearing earlier this week in the Dominion case: “I didn’t believe it for a second,” he said under oath. Powell too brought his theories back in 2021with his lawyers stating that “no reasonable person would conclude that the statements [Powell made] they were really statements of fact.
Dominion says this is a clear case of defamation
Now, Dominion supports Hannity’s seemingly credulous stance on conspiracy theories, and the fact that he hasn’t dismissed them shows that Fox deliberately misled his viewers about Trump’s 2020 election defeat, including what he was at the time the most watched show on cable news. Fox News has previously aired a segment in many of his shows designed to defend their guests and distance themselves from statements by guests accusing voting machine and software companies of election fraud.
Hannity’s statement doesn’t exactly help his network’s case. But Dominion still faces an uphill battle to win what could become the most significant First Amendment cases in years, particularly if the US Supreme Court gets involved at some point. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that lies or inaccuracies they have some protection under the First Amendment, and that made it difficult for defamation cases against journalists to prevail, but this case will test just how far that protection goes.
In addition to Hannity, Dominion also deposed other Fox anchors — including Jeanine Pirro and Tucker Carlson, as well as Shepard Smith, who departed the network — and high-profile figures in the Fox News empire. This includes members of the Murdoch family, which owns Fox as well as News Corp., the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal.
NPR reported that Dominion lawyers are trying to prove that Lachlan Murdoch, who presides over those media properties, allowed or even encouraged Fox News to broadcast lies about fraud in the 2020 election despite knowing they were false. They also have deposed his fatherRupert Murdoch.
Judge Eric Davis denied Fox’s request to dismiss the lawsuit based on several protections for reporters in the First Amendment law. The network argued that in its coverage of the 2020 election, it was merely reporting notable allegations made by prominent players against public figures as part of a dispute that hadn’t yet been resolved, which would protect it from defamation charges. The network also said its hosts were simply stating opinions that could not be proven true or false, and that it had the right to report on defamatory statements made at official government meetings.
In the weeks immediately following the election, Carlson also tried to sow doubts about the safety of voting machines and called the race “equippedfor Joe Biden. And Pyrrhus complained that “we are all being told to shut up and carry on” after claiming that “irregularities were beyond the minimum” in the election.
Due to claims like these, even by hosts, Dominion says such defenses shouldn’t be applied in this case.
“If this case doesn’t reach the level of defamation by a broadcaster, then nothing happens,” he said in his original complaint.
Fox News host Sean Hannity speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Hilton Anatole on August 4, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. Brandon Bell/Getty Images