A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Donald Trump’s Big Lie is becoming a big problem for the media outlets that comprise his powerful propaganda arm.
On the same day that the former president’s scheme to remain in power was further exposed at another January 6 Committee hearing, Fox and OAN suffered legal defeats in court related to their advancement of his election lies. And last week, on Thursday, Newsmax also suffered a legal loss.
So far, the right-wing media outlets that peddled Trump’s false election narratives have had little luck winning in court against the voting tech companies suing them for billions of dollars. It is early in the process, of course. But the string of defeats these media outlets have suffered indicate that these lawsuits have some teeth to them.
The cases also point toward the fact that Trump’s election lies will be litigated in court, through multiple cases, regardless of whether the Department of Justice pursues charges against him or not…
The Murdochs and “malice”
The most significant legal development on Tuesday was in regard to Fox. As Bloomberg’s Erik Larson and Mike Leonard reported, a judge ruled that Fox Corporation, Fox News’ parent company, can be sued by Dominion “because Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch may have acted with ‘actual malice’ in directing the network to broadcast conspiracy theories alleging the 2020 presidential election was rigged.”
In the decision, Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis cited reports that Murdoch privately expressed he knew Trump lost the election. Davis also cited editorials in other Murdoch-run outlets, such as The Wall Street Journal and New York Post, that condemned Trump and encouraged him to accept defeat.
“These allegations support a reasonable inference that Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch either knew Dominion had not manipulated the election or at least recklessly disregarded the truth when they allegedly caused Fox News to propagate its claims about Dominion,” Davis wrote. “Thus, Dominion has successfully brought home actual malice to the individuals at Fox Corporation who it claims to be responsible for the broadcasts.”
The loss again raises the question as to whether Fox will try to settle the $1.6 billion lawsuit before it reaches the stage of discovery. And if it does attempt to settle, will Dominion allow it to do so? Or will the voting tech company, which has said it aims to clear its name through its lawsuits, want to see the case through?
>> Fox isn’t commenting on the matter, though it has in the past defended its coverage and said it was “proud” of it. Bloomberg noted Fox’s reps didn’t respond to messages seeking comment. And when I checked in on Tuesday evening, I too didn’t hear back…
OAN also loses in court
Meanwhile, the right-wing conspiracy channel OAN suffered a loss at the hands of a different voting tech company, Smartmatic. US District Judge Carl Nichols ruled against the media outlet on Tuesday, allowing Smartmatic’s lawsuit to proceed, CNN’s Tierney Sneed reported. OAN had sought a dismissal on grounds that Nichols’ court didn’t have jurisdiction. But Nichols rejected the argument…
>> OAN did not respond to my requests for comment on the matter…
“All because of lies”
BY AN PHUNG:
For years now, Trump’s lies and unproven conspiracy theories have been front and center in most of the media coverage about him. Rarely do we get to see the other side — the human toll of his incessant lying. But in Tuesday’s 1/6 hearing, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman “flipped the script,” as Marshall Cohen, Jeremy Herb, and Zachary Cohen wrote in their recap.
The two election workers from Georgia provided troubling and tearful accounts of what it was like to be targeted by Trump and conspiracy theorists who accused them of manipulating ballots. Moss said she “gained about 60 pounds,” stopped going out, and added that she “second-guess[ed] everything” that she did. “It’s affected my life in a major way, in every way — all because of lies,” she said. The extremely online crowd might have some idea of what it’s like to be targeted in this way, but Moss and Freeman’s testimony brought into sharp relief for a national TV audience what it’s like to have your life turned upside down because of the former president’s lies…
BY BRIAN STELTER
After what Jake Tapper called an “upsetting and distressing day of testimony,” full of personal stories from election officials and workers “whose lives were upended by Donald Trump, by his minions, by his mobs, and by his election lies,” one had to wonder about the impacts on the intended audiences. Political junkies are paying attention, and DOJ lawyers, but many Republicans continue to argue that the Trump-aligned audience has tuned it out. Former Trump WH chief of staff Mick Mulvaney cited Tuesday’s “compelling testimony” but said, “Judging by the ratings (and FB comments) people who need to see that aren’t watching. If the Committee wants to change minds, they need to reach people who think Trump won. That doesn’t seem to be happening.”
Fox showed the hearing again, but moved on very quickly afterward. ”They’re methodically laying out this case,” Bret Baier said on Fox later in the day. But his guest, Sen. Tim Scott, said “I have not taken the time to watch the hearings. I feel like the best use of my time is fighting the inflationary effects.” He called the hearing “made for TV” and said (answering Baier’s question) that if Trump is the 2024 nominee, “of course we support him.”