After voting tech company Smartmatic files $2.7 billion lawsuit against Fox News, is Newsmax the next target?

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Anthony Man, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·7 min read
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The voting technology company Smartmatic, pilloried by former President Donald Trump’s supporters in the conservative media world, has already gone after the most prominent player — Fox News — with an eye-popping $2.7 billion defamation suit.

Newsmax, the smaller-but-surging presence in right-wing media, could be next.

Based in Boca Raton, Florida, Newsmax appears cautious, if not afraid, about what might be coming its way from Smartmatic USA, also based in Boca Raton.

The reason for concern at Newsmax HQ: Smartmatic threatened legal action in letters it sent in December to Fox, Newsmax and another small, far-right outlet, One America News.

Smartmatic followed through on Feb. 4, filing the $2.7 billion lawsuit against Fox; marquee cable hosts Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro; and Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell. The company said the defendants conspired to spread false claims that it helped “steal” the U.S. presidential election. On Monday night, Fox asked a judge to dismiss the case, arguing that what aired on the channel was protected by the First Amendment.

On Dec. 14, Smartmatic announced it had sent letters to Fox, Newsmax and OAN threatening legal action unless the outlets retracted what the company said were dozens of factually inaccurate and defamatory statements.

One week later, on Dec. 21, Newsmax put out an on-air statement acknowledging there were “several facts our viewers and readers should be aware.” The statement, also published on the Newsmax website, conceded that “No evidence has been offered that Dominion or Smartmatic used software or reprogrammed software that manipulated votes in the 2020 election.”

(Dominion is another election-technology company that was assailed by false claims from Trump’s supporters. On Jan. 25, it sued Giuliani and Powell for $1.3 billion.)

Ever since, Newsmax has been more cautious, which led to a highly unusual scene on Feb. 2. During a live interview on Newsmax, avid Trump supporter Mike Lindell, widely known as the “My Pillow guy,” started to talk about Dominion.

Newsmax anchor Bob Sellers strenuously objected, started talking over Lindell trying to stop him, and read a statement:

“Mike, Mike, Mike, thank you very much. Mike, Mike, you’re talking about machines, that we at Newsmax have not been able to verify any of those kinds of allegations. We just want to let people know that there’s nothing substantive that we’ve seen. Let me read you something, there. ‘While there were some clear evidence of some cases of vote fraud and election irregularities, the election results in every state were certified and Newsmax accepts the results as legal and final. The courts have also supported that view,’” Sellers said.

Brian Peterson, senior vice president of communications and marketing at Newsmax said Tuesday by email that the organization “reported on claims being made by President Trump and his lawyers and representatives, many of which were recounted in court filings.” It also reported on Dominion’s refutations of the claims, Peterson said, and used reports from major news services.

“We stand by our reporting as having covered claims of public concern being made by the Trump campaign, as well as the responses from relevant parties. We also note that nothing we have reported was not similarly covered and reported on Fox News, Fox Business News, and other media outlets,” Peterson said.

Smartmatic’s USA headquarters is in Boca Raton, where it was founded in 2000 and its key executives are based. Inspiration for the company to switch from banking security to elections came from the 2000 presidential election in Palm Beach County.

The 2000 election debacle, which ended with George W. Bush declared the winner over Al Gore by 537 votes in Florida, was marked by issues with ballots, vote counting and recounts — dominated by questions over hanging and dimpled chads and the Palm Beach County’s infamous butterfly ballot.

“We just couldn’t believe that the most powerful country on Earth didn’t know how to count its votes. And it was at that time that, actually, my co-founder said, why don’t we apply your security tag to design a voting solution? And it seemed like a good idea. And by 2005, we were already kind of the largest provider of voting technology in the world,” CEO Antonio Mugica said in an interview posted Friday by The New York Times podcast “The Daily.”

The company said it has designed and implemented secure election technologies in 25 countries that helped record more than 5 billion votes without a security breach. But despite Trump and his associates linking it to unfounded conspiracy theories about voting in multiple battleground states, the company said its only 2020 U.S. election work was for Los Angeles County.

In the lawsuit against Fox and the five individuals, Smartmatic said the effects of the negative publicity included death threats, including against an executive’s 14-year-old son. With several client contracts in jeopardy, the company estimates that it will lose as much as $690 million in profits over the next five years and have to increase spending by $4.7 million to fend off a “meteoric rise” in cyberattacks.

Smartmatic’s attorney Erik Connolly told The Daily in the interview that aired Friday that “we’re still investigating and analyzing who to bring our lawsuits against. I think you can tell simply by the length of the complaint that we have filed that they take a long time to put together. And we do a lot of due diligence before we file them. And so it is one step at a time. … Fox has the biggest microphone. They have the biggest platform. And because of that, they can do the most damage.”

The Newsmax website was founded 1998 by Chris Ruddy, and he launched Newsmax TV in 2014. It’s been a small player, hard to find for people who don’t look. On Comcast cable, it’s on Channel 1115, far away from the big, well-known cable news outlets.

Newsmax caters to the political right — especially to fans of Trump, an approach that paid off after the November 2020 election.

Trump got angry at Fox News — which joined the mainstream media in reporting Joe Biden as the winner — and began sending his followers to Newsmax.

Capitalizing on the newfound interest in the channel, Ruddy said in December Newsmax would open bureaus in Miami, Los Angeles and London.

On Sunday, it premiered a weekend talking heads show, partnering with the conservative political organization FreedomWorks. The new show doesn’t pretend to offer a range of viewpoints like the other Sunday morning shows. Guests scheduled for the inaugural episode were a Republican U.S. senator, two Republican congressmen, and a former Republican congressman.

Smartmatic said in December that Fox, Newsmax and OAN could have easily discovered the falsity of the statements and implications made about Smartmatic by investigating their statements before publishing them.

“They have no evidence to support their attacks on Smartmatic because there is no evidence. This campaign was designed to defame Smartmatic and undermine legitimately conducted elections,” Mugica said in a statement at the time.

In a December statement to news outlets, Newsmax said it “has never made a claim of impropriety about Smartmatic, its ownership or software” and like “any major media outlet, we provide a forum for public concerns and discussion.”

The company didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Smartmatic’s 285-page complaint filed in New York state court against Fox, its hosts and the Trump MAGA lawyers is one of the largest libel suits ever undertaken

On Friday, the day after Smartmatic filed the suit, Fox dumped Dobbs from his show on Fox Business Network even though it was the highest-rated program on the channel.

Fox News Media filed a 44-page motion to dismiss the case Monday night. “When a sitting President and his surrogates bring lawsuits challenging the results of an election, the public has a right to know the substance of their claims and what evidence backs them up, full stop,” the company said in its filing.

In a media statement, Fox News said that under the First Amendment it “cannot be held liable for fairly reporting and commenting on competing allegations in a hotly contested and actively litigated election,” adding that it believed what the channel aired “stands in the highest tradition of American journalism.”

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