Fox News argues its hosts didn’t need to fact-check election conspiracy theories from Trump’s lawyers in response to Smartmatic defamation suit

Lou Dobbs Fox Business News
Former Fox News host Lou Dobbs.

  • Fox News is trying to dismiss a $2.7 billion lawsuit from Smartmatic over election conspiracies.
  • It argues its hosts didn’t have a legal responsibility to fact-check falsehoods from Trump’s lawyers.
  • Election conspiracy theories have led to a tangle of legal consequences for right-wing media.
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Attorneys representing Fox News once again asked a New York court to dismiss a defamation lawsuit from Smartmatic over conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, arguing its hosts didn’t have a responsibility to fact-check the attorneys hired by Donald Trump.

“Smartmatic asks this Court to become the first in history to hold the press liable for reporting allegations made by a sitting President and his lawyers,” the attorneys wrote in a brief filed to court Monday, later adding: “Smartmatic identifies no case in the history of our nation in which the press was held liable for reporting allegations made by or on behalf of a sitting President.”

The lawsuit, filed in February, asks for $2.7 billion in damages and accuses Fox News of waging a disinformation campaign that irreparably damaged Smartmatic’s reputation. It also targets three individual hosts – Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro, and Lou Dobbs – who hosted Trump’s attorneys, Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell.

Powell and Giuliani had promoted conspiracy theories baselessly claiming that Smartmatic was secretly in cahoots with Dominion Voting Systems, a rival election technology company, in a complicated scheme to manipulate the 2020 presidential election that involved now-dead Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

Dozens of lawsuits, audits, investigations, and recounts have found no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election.

The false claims have led to a messy fallout. Trump fired Powell in late November, and Giuliani distanced himself from her even as he continued to advance conspiracy theories. Dominion sued Powell, Giuliani, Fox News, and other right-wing media figures that pushed those theories. And Fox News canceled Lou Dobb’s show shortly after Smartmatic filed its lawsuit.

jeanine pirro fox news
A screenshot of a Fox News broadcast featuring Jeanine Pirro, included as an exhibit in Fox News’ motion to dismiss the case.

Fox News first asked a judge to dismiss the case a few days after it was filed. On Monday, the network’s attorneys at Kirkland & Ellis LLP asked the judge to dismiss the claims against the individual hosts as well. The attorneys argue the legal standards for defamation don’t require the hosts to investigate whether Powell’s and Giuliani’s claims are actually true.

“Smartmatic simply identifies information ‘available to’ the public that it thinks the Fox hosts should have researched. But such ‘failure to investigate’ claims do not rise to the level of actual malice,” the attorneys wrote, citing other legal cases.

In earlier filings, Smartmatic said that the Fox News hosts’ failure to push back against false claims from Powell and Giuliani was itself defamatory, and said that the media organization shouldn’t receive legal protections normally given to journalists.

The new filings from Fox News spend dozens of pages going through individual claims from Bartiromo, Pirro, and Dobbs, arguing their comments were summaries of what Trump’s lawyers said, opinions protected by the First Amendment, or statements that didn’t directly mention Smartmatic and therefore didn’t need to be defended in the lawsuit.

As one example, Fox News’ attorneys cite a tweet included in Smartmatic’s lawsuit where Dobbs wrote, “Read all about Dominion and Smartmatic voting companies and you’ll soon understand how pervasive this Democrat electoral fraud is, and why there’s no way in the world the 2020 Presidential election was either free or fair.”

They wrote the statement was simply an opinion, and that statements on Twitter should not be taken seriously.

“New York courts have recognized that Twitter is not a natural setting in which a reasonable viewer would conclude that he is hearing actual facts about the plaintiff,” the lawyers argue.

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Fox host Maria Bartiromo can’t get guest to agree that Pepé Le Pew is the latest victim of cancel culture gone ‘overboard’

Maria Bartiromo
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JANUARY 10: Host Maria Bartiromo Merrill & Bank Of America Private Bank CIO Chris Hyzy visits “Maria Bartiromo’s Wall Street” at Fox Business Network Studios on January 10, 2020 in New York City.

  • Maria Bartiromo suggested Pepé le Pew was the latest victim of cancel culture gone “overboard.”
  • The cartoon skunk has been scrapped from the upcoming “Space Jam” sequel.
  • A guest on Bartiromo’s show said the skunk was
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Fox Business Network host Maria Bartiromo on Tuesday struggled to get a guest to agree with her that the cartoon character Pepé Le Pew was the latest example of cancel culture gone awry.

The salacious “Looney Tunes” skunk has been scrapped from the line-up for the upcoming “Space Jam” sequel, and Bartiromo suggested this was an instance of cancel culture going “overboard.”

“Cancel culture takes on cartoons,” Bartiromo declared at the top of the segment, which was first pointed out by Mediaite. “Bugs Bunny better watch out – they’re coming for him.”

Wall Street Journal writer Jon Hilsenrath, who joined Bartiromo to discuss the skunk’s fate, was not on the same page.

“Maria, I’m watching those videos that you have of this – I always used to think that cartoon was funny – but he is kind of grabbing and groping in ways that are just totally unacceptable today,” Hilsenrath said. “I kind of think norms change over time. And maybe it’s time for Pepé Le Pew to beat it.”

Pushing back, Bartiromo said, “But I mean are we going overboard here? Dr. Seuss, Mr. Potato Head. Come on, Jon.”

“I mean, I think we can go overboard. But watch that video! He’s grabbing that poor little cat in ways that you could never get away with right now,” Hilsenrath said in response, referring to Pepé Le Pew.

It’s not entirely clear why the skunk will not be in the upcoming film, per reporting from NBC News, but there’s speculation it’s linked to criticism of the character’s tendency to make unwanted advances.

Even as far back as 2000, Pepé Le Pew faced scrutiny. At the time, comedian Dave Chapelle referred to the skunk as a “rapist.”

More recently, a New York Times opinion piece by Charles Blow, which was cited by Bartiromo in Tuesday’s segment, asserted that Pepé Le Pew normalizes “rape culture.”

Fox has focused heavily on cancel culture in recent coverage, with hosts like Tucker Carlson bashing a recent move to stop the publication of six Dr. Seuss books that contained racist imagery. Republicans in Congress like Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio have echoed these sentiments, prompting criticism from Democrats who say the GOP has warped priorities.

“House Democrats are the party of crushing the coronavirus and providing relief to everyday Americans,” Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York said Tuesday. “House Republicans are the party of fake outrage as it relates to Dr. Seuss.”

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CEOs steer clear of Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo

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Maria Bartiromo
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JANUARY 10: Host Maria Bartiromo Merrill & Bank Of America Private Bank CIO Chris Hyzy visits “Maria Bartiromo’s Wall Street” at Fox Business Network Studios on January 10, 2020 in New York City.

CEOs are steering clear of Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo and denying her interviews, sources say

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