After the 2020 presidential election, Fox News helped promote what Rupert Murdoch, chairman of its parent company, privately called “really crazy stuff.” It was a baroque conspiracy theory that claimed Joe Biden had stolen the election through a “massive fraud” involving Dominion Voting Systems, tricky Smartmatic software, phony ballots, election officials across the country, George Soros, the Clinton Foundation and “communist money through Venezuela, Cuba, and likely China.”
In dueling summary-judgment briefs published last week, Dominion argues that Fox defamed it, while Fox argues that it merely reported what then-President Donald Trump and his representatives were saying. The main obstacle to Fox’s defense can be summed up in two words: Lou Dobbs.
Other Fox hosts conducted softball interviews with Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, allowing them to lay out their unsubstantiated election-fraud claims and sometimes lending credence to them. But the host of the Fox Business show “Lou Dobbs Tonight” stood out as a champion of the view that “the election was stolen,” a position he maintains to this day.
During a Nov. 12 interview with Giuliani, Dobbs described the alleged election conspiracy as “the end game to a four-and-a-half-year-long effort to overthrow the president of the United States.” Dobbs repeatedly reiterated that allegation on his show the next day.
If you “read all about Dominion and Smartmatic voting companies,” Dobbs declared in a Nov. 14 tweet, “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.”
During his Nov. 16 show, Dobbs referred to “what the Trump legal team and others are discovering about Dominion,” which he said provided “probable cause for a complete and thorough investigation.”
Two days later, Dobbs again endorsed what he described as “President Trump’s fight for a free and fair election.” When Giuliani repeated his baseless charges against Dominion and Smartmatic, Dobbs agreed that “it’s outrageous.”
On Nov. 19, the day that Giuliani and Powell held a bizarre press conference in which they laid out their claims, Dobbs described their presentation as “powerful” and an affidavit they cited as “stunning.” He said Powell would be “providing more details on how Dominion vote machines and Smartmatic software were used to help Joe Biden.”
During a Nov. 24 interview with Powell, Dobbs referred matter-of-factly to “the electoral fraud that’s been perpetrated this year.” He worried that “Americans have given no thought to electoral fraud that would be perpetrated through electronic voting,” which he said involved Dominion, “at least in the suspicions of a lot of Americans.”
In a Dec. 10 tweet promoting another Powell appearance, Dobbs echoed her claim that “the 2020 Election is a cyber Pearl Harbor.” During that interview, Dobbs told Powell “we will gladly put forward your evidence that supports your claim that this was a Cyber Pearl Harbor,” adding that “we have tremendous evidence already.” Afterward, Dobbs said Powell had presented “groundbreaking new evidence indicating our Presidential election came under massive cyber-attack orchestrated with the help of Dominion, Smartmatic, and foreign adversaries.”
In reality, Powell had no such evidence, as Fox News reporters and Fox News host Tucker Carlson had pointed out. While Fox presents those objections as evidence that it was appropriately skeptical of Powell’s tall tale, they should have given Dobbs pause.
So should the conclusions of Republican election officials and Trump’s own attorney general — not to mention the text conversations in which John Fawcett, one of Dobbs’ producers, described Powell’s election lawsuits as “complete bs” and speculated that she “could be losing her mind.” Noting that Powell’s story “doesn’t make sense,” Fawcett warned that “I just don’t think she is verifying anything she is saying.”
Dominion has to prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that Fox either knowingly or recklessly accused the company of participating in election fraud. That’s a high bar, but Dominion may be able to clear it with a strong assist from Dobbs.