by Steven Rosenfeld November 10, 2022
Accountability Looms for Media Outlets That Spread Lies About the 2020 Election
(Dropbox scene from 2000 Mules movie trailer. Source: youtube.com)
A wave of litigation seeking accountability from media purveyors of smears and lies that falsely claimed that the 2020 presidential election was stolen is percolating in courts around the country – and is heading toward trials or settlements in the near future.
These lawsuits augment the most high-profile investigations and prosecutions seeking accountability from Donald Trump and his White House and campaign aides for seeking to overturn the election’s result.
Indictments are anticipated from the probe conducted by Fani Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, and possibly the U.S. Department of Justice, whose investigation and prosecution of the invasion of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, is one of the largest in its history. (That said, some DOJ observers think the first federal indictment of Trump will focus on his removal of government documents to his Florida home.)
While Trump faces 19 pending civil and criminal cases, according to JustSecurity.org, an online analytical forum, there are an additional 10 pending cases at various stages in state and federal courts that are targeting Trump allies in right-wing media and propaganda fronts.
The lawsuits allege the media-based provocateurs smeared election officials, local government workers, ordinary voters, and others by publishing false and defamatory claims about them, or additionally violated their civil rights by deploying illegal violent tactics.
The suits stand apart from litigation by Dominion Voting Systems, one of the nation’s largest voting machinery makers, which is seeking $1.6 billion for Fox News for defaming its voting computer systems.
Many of these cases are litigated with help of ProtectDemocracy.org, “a nonpartisan nonprofit organization formed in late 2016 with an urgent and explicit mission: to prevent American democracy from declining into a more authoritarian form of government.”
Protect Democracy’s ongoing lawsuits include:
• A lawsuit against filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, True the Vote, Salem Media and others involved in the 2020 election conspiracy film, “2000 Mules,” over defamation and voter intimidation on behalf of a Georgia man who was falsely accused of breaking the law in the movie and its related promotional materials.
• A defamation lawsuit against Rudolph Giuliani in federal court brought by two former election workers in Fulton County, Georgia, Ruby Freeman, and Shaye Moss. In late October, a judge denied Giuliani’s motion to dismiss the case.
• A lawsuit that led to a settlement with One America News Network, known as OAN, for the pro-Trump network’s publishing false reports about the 2020 election. A similar suit in a Missouri court against The Gateway Pundit, another pro-Trump right-wing site, is moving toward discovery, or interviewing witnesses under oath.
• A defamation lawsuit against Project Veritas, James O’Keefe, and Richard Hopkins, for spreading the lie after the 2020 election that the postmaster in Erie, Pennsylvania, was illegally backdating ballots at postal facilities. A state court denied motions to dismiss the case.
• A voter intimidation lawsuit in Texas in response to an incident in 2020 where the “Texas Trump Train” – a caravan of Trump-supporting motor vehicles – tried to force a Joe Biden campaign bus off a highway at high speed. Discovery has been proceeding.
These suits are in addition to other election-denier-related litigation. Last week in Arizona, in a suit brought by the League of Women Voters, a federal judge barred “unlawful voter intimidation” by Trump backers who were staking out ballot drop boxes, carrying guns, wearing body armor, and taking photos and videos of voters.
The media-centered lawsuits are part of a spectrum of litigation that seeks to unearth evidence about the wide conspiracy by Trump and his allies to overturn 2020’s popular and Electoral College votes.
Notably, AmericanOversight.org, has filed public records requests for communications (e-mails, texts, etc.) that have revealed the scope of Trump-allied activists, including the discovery of plans by state GOP officials and activists to forge fake Electoral College documents.
While it remains to be seen what will ensue from these lawsuits, they not only suggest that long-awaited legal accountability is looming, but underscore that spreading disinformation is deeply tied to more direct attempts to undermine election results and seize power.