POLITICS
21/12/2020 21:29 GMT | Updated 22/12/2020 17:59 GMT

Newsmax And Pro-Trump Media Walk Back Voting Conspiracies After Legal Threat

Smartmatic, a voting systems company, has threatened multiple outlets with defamation suits.

Newsmax, a far-right news network that routinely peddles baseless conspiracy theories that favor Donald Trump, over the weekend began airing a lengthy clarification of its coverage about voter fraud in the presidential election.

In a nearly two-minute statement that is being read on all Newsmax shows, the channel is essentially walking back its own groundless claims that electronic voting system companies Smartmatic and Dominion were involved in some kind of nefarious attempt to steal the election.

“There are several facts our viewers and readers should be aware,” host John Tabacco said on Monday, before debunking a long list of conspiratorial claims.

“Neither Dominion nor Smartmatic has any relationship with George Soros. Smartmatic is a U.S. company and not owned by the Venezuelan government, Hugo Chavez or any foreign official or entity. Smartmatic states it has no operations in Venezuela,” he continued.

Newsmax’s attempt to “clarify” its misinformation, which has the tone of a rote legal statement, was delivered after Smartmatic issued a series of legal threats to far-right media outlets last week demanding retractions and suggesting it could pursue defamation lawsuits. Thus far, Fox Business, Fox News and Newsmax have aired segments that appear intended to defend themselves against such legal action.

On Friday, top-rated Fox Business host Lou Dobbs ran a pretaped segment with election security expert Eddie Perez debunking various claims related to Smartmatic and Dominion. Fox News host Jeanine Pirro’s show aired the same clip on Saturday, featuring Perez stating he has seen no evidence of any election fraud related to Smartmatic.

After the clips aired, Perez told CNN that in preliminary talks with Fox he had no idea that he would be asked about Smartmatic or that his interview would serve as a fact check for the network. Perez also called Fox News’ coverage of the election “not based in fact.”

The clarifications on Newsmax and Fox are an abrupt turnaround after weeks of promoting conspiracies related to the integrity of the election as far-right media sought to suggest the election was never decided and that Trump could still win. To preserve this delusion, many outlets grasped for convoluted conspiracy theories to present the falsehood that there was widespread election fraud ― often with the help of Trump advisers as guests. Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, appeared on multiple Fox shows to air conspiracies about Dominion and Smartmatic following the vote.

Even before the election, Trump and his allies in far-right media were also priming audiences for their claims of election fraud related to voting machines. In late October, “Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade falsely suggested that viewers should be concerned over “voting machines that George Soros owns.” These falsehoods around voting systems especially gained traction among the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy movement, which latched onto the misinformation as proof of Trump’s victory.

Smartmatic had previously condemned Trump and the far-right media’s promotion of conspiracy theories about the company, with chief executive Antonio Mugica claiming that the falsehoods had undermined faith in electronic voting internationally and hurt the company financially. Last week, Smartmatic’s general counsel issued a 20-page letter to Fox News and other outlets demanding that they retract their statements regarding the company.

One outlet that reportedly received a letter from Smartmatic but has not issued a public retraction or clarification yet is One America News Network, a far-right and sycophantically pro-Trump network that has aired similar reports to those on Newsmax and Fox News featuring conspiracies about electronic voting.