A $250 million suit against Fox News and some of its hosts and guests may continue after a Manhattan federal judge found that the media outlet “purposefully avoided the truth” in its coverage of the 2020 election.
The opinion, published Monday by Judge Louis Stanton of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, points to comments made by former host Lou Dobbs and Trump lawyer Sidney Powell following Trump’s election defeat as grounds for the claims.
Among the problematic language was a segment on Dobbs’ show called “Four Names You Need to Know According to Sidney Powell.” The piece included the name of Venezuela businessman Majed Khalil with Powell calling him the “front man” in efforts to rig voting machines against former President Donald Trump ahead of the election. Powell called the alleged rigging “a 9-11 attack against the United States,” and accused Khalil of being a liaison with Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia Islamist political party and militant group.
And while Powell went on to say she had “‘tremendous evidence’ of Khalil’s participation in rigging the election in 2020,” Stanton said the evidence never emerged, and thus met the defamation standard for falsity.
Additional communications and public comments made by state election investigations and in the news media further showed, Stanton wrote, that Dobbs, Powell and Fox News were well aware of the falsity of their statements. This known falsity is key, Stanton wrote, as the judge detailed in his opinion how the claims survive New York state’s powerful anti-SLAPP suit, which can usually insulate journalists and media outlets from defamation claims.
“Several government agencies stated that there was no evidence of fraud in the election, and even then-President Trump supporters rejected Powell’s accusations,” the judge wrote. “The complaint adequately alleges that the defendants purposefully avoided the truth, given the amount of public information regarding the lack of fraud in the election.”
The suit was filed in New York State Supreme Court in December 2021 by Khalil. It was transferred to federal court shortly after being filed. Khalil is represented by Benjamin Chew, Jessica Meyers and Sigmund Samuel Wissner-Gross from Brown Rudnick.
Fox News and Dobbs retained Mark Robert Filip, Kenneth Winn Allen, Devin Anderson, Robert Allen and Erin Elizabeth Cady from Kirkland & Ellis, as well as Jennifer Lynn Bloom, Michael Bert Kruse and Shawn Patrick Regan from Hunton Andrews Kurth for their defense.
Powell retained solo practitioner Howard Kleinhendler and Marc Casarino and Michael J. Tricarico from Kennedys CMK for her defense.
Khalil’s suit is one of several defamation claims against Fox News, its more conservative competition and many of the former president’s allies who broadcast claims that he, voting machine manufacturers Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic and others were involved in election conspiracies.
Just last week a federal judge in Minnesota allowed defamation claims against My Pillow LLC and its election denying CEO Mike Lindell to continue. Smartmatic, the plaintiff in that dispute, is seeking millions in damages.
Smartmatic previously sued One America News Network, NewsMax Media, Fox News and several of its personalities, and Rudy Giuliani and Powell, alleging they defamed the company.
Lindell, Powell and Giuliani are among those who face a similar lawsuit from Dominion Voting. U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols of the District of Columbia in August 2021 rejected motions to dismiss the complaints against the attorneys, as well as Lindell.
While some cases do not specify a dollar amount, others seek billions in damages.