Photo: A Los Angeles County voter casts her ballot using a Smartmatic voting machine. The company has since pushed back against allegations of voter fraud in a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump is frequently described as a racist, a reputation that long predates his election to office in 2016. Nevertheless, Fox News has been among the media outlets choosing to risk brand reputation by amplifying and validating Trump’s claims of voter fraud, which election observers and civil rights advocates have characterized as race-based. Now Fox, along with several of its hosts and guests, is facing a lawsuit that puts a $2.7 billion price tag on racism.
Voter suppression has all too often taken a murderous turn throughout the history of the U.S. Seen through that lens, Trump’s well-documented series of lies about voter fraud appears to be part and parcel of a long history of white-on-black voter suppression violence, with a deadly ripple effect on white allies of Black voting rights advocates.
In the weeks following Election Day 2020, a number of media organizations noted that Trump and his allies focused their claims of voter fraud on cities and counties with large populations of Black and non-white voters, leading civil rights advocates and other election observers to state that race-based voter suppression was integral to the claim of widespread voter fraud.
The failed insurrection of January 6 validated that view of Trump’s voter fraud strategy. Considering the history of violence surrounding race-based voter suppression in the U.S., it is not surprising that the takeover of the Capitol Building was no peaceful occupation. It was a violent invasion with intent to terrorize if not kill.
When the Black Lives Matter movement gathered renewed force last summer, it helped to focus corporate leaders on structural racism and voter suppression, motivating some to double down on get-out-the-vote efforts.
However, Trump and his allies were already poisoning the well in the weeks leading up to Election Day 2020.
TriplePundit was among those warning that the get-out-the-vote drives only marked the beginning of a longer, more arduous fight against voter suppression after Election Day.
That warning was borne out by the behavior of Fox News, which continued to make ample space in its schedule for lies about voter fraud in the weeks following Election Day.
One of its chief targets was the voting technology firm Smartmatic. A global firm with a solid reputation, Smartmatic has yet to establish a broad footprint in the U.S. In fact, its activity in the 2020 election was limited to a single jurisdiction, Los Angeles County in California.
Nevertheless, according to the company’s tally Fox “made over 100 false statements and implications about Smartmatic.”
“The overall theme of the disinformation campaign was that Smartmatic fixed, rigged, and stole the 2020 U.S. election,” the company has stated.
Smartmatic has filed a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit in the Supreme Court of New York State that details each of the allegations and describes how the impact on the company’s international reputation has suffered financially. The impact continues to ripple out, even though U.S. election professionals from both political parties insist that there was no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
Smartmatic CEO Antonio Mugica has argued that the impact of the Trump voter fraud campaign goes beyond its own brand reputation and bottom-line concerns.
“One of the biggest challenges in the Information Age is disinformation,” he explained. “Fox is responsible for this disinformation campaign, which has damaged democracy worldwide and irreparably harmed Smartmatic and other stakeholders who contribute to modern elections.”
As Mugica warned, Smartmatic has become collateral damage in a broader, existential threat to democracy, and the damage continues to unfold after the January 6 insurrection.
Having failed to accomplish through violence what democracy denied, the Republican Party is turning to new legislation that disproportionately has an impact on the vote of Black and non-white citizens, among other voter groups supportive of Democratic candidates.
On January 26 the Brennan Center for Justice published a list of new state bills related to elections and voting, noting that “after historic turnout and increased mail voting in 2020, state lawmakers across the country are pulling in opposite directions by introducing restrictive and expansive voting legislation.”
“New legislation reflects a surge of bills to limit voter access, with a particular focus on mail voting and voter ID,” the Brennan Center elaborated in a February 8 update.
Business leaders who are serious about standing up for Black lives, people of color, and American democracy itself have their work cut out for them in the weeks and years to come.
Cutting off advertising dollars is one means of forcing media organizations like Fox to behave more ethically, an area in which the grassroots boycott campaigns Sleeping Giants and Grab Your Wallet have proven effective.
The Smartmatic lawsuit ups the ante by seeking to demonstrate that Fox’s role in the voter fraud lie has been malicious as well as unethical and immoral.
That already appears to have had some impact. Fox abruptly fired host Lou Dobbs, who is named in the Smartmatic lawsuit, within 24 hours after the lawsuit was filed.
However, CNN business reporter Alexis Benveniste notes that the firing may be just one piece of a pattern in which Fox fires one or two personalities, while enabling damage to fester under the surface in other areas.
That strategy has worked in the past. For example, boycott campaigns are credited with the cancellation of host Bill O’Reilly’s slot in 2017 over sexual harassment, and yet Fox was not dissuaded from allying itself with an efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Another red flag is the involvement of wealthy individuals, such as the Mercer family, Trump mega-donors who are can continue to support media and social media organizations whether or not any substantial revenue comes in. The Mercer family network, for example, has included Breitbart News and Parler in addition to the data firm Cambridge Analytica.
Responsible corporate leaders should be aware that the anti-democratic movement has been a strong, running thread throughout American history, requiring constant vigilance to support the ideal of free and fair elections.
Corporations that have halted PAC donations to the 147 Republican members of Congress who objected to the 2020 Election have made a good start, but there is much work to be done.
In addition to withdrawing campaign dollars from state legislators who support voter suppression bills, corporate leaders could make a real difference by supporting candidates and legislators who seek to expand voter access instead of stifling them by false accusations of voter fraud.
After all, money talks.
Image credit: L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/Facebook
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.