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Molly Butler / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Right-wing media face legal woes as their 2020 election lies crash and burn

After Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, right-wing media promoted a variety of baseless conspiracy theories from MAGA media figures who claimed the election was stolen to explain the former president’s defeat. From accusing poll workers of engaging in election fraud with nothing more than grainy out-of-context security footage to portraying random voters dropping off ballots as so-called “mules,” right-wing media latched onto baseless narratives to cast doubt on the election outcome. Almost four years later, several who irresponsibly pushed such stolen election rhetoric have faced legal consequences for their lies.

  • Fox agreed to a $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems after it spread lies about the company’s voting machines in 2020

    • Following the 2020 election, Fox hosts and guests repeatedly pushed false claims about Dominion Voting Systems, including claims that the company’s software had been used to delete votes cast for Trump. Dominion became a scapegoat for Fox, even after election security officials determined that the conspiracy theories about the company were not true. [Media Matters, 1/21/21; 2/27/23; 11/13/20]
    • In March 2023, Dominion filed a lawsuit against Fox News, which eventually agreed to a $787.5 million settlement. The Associated Press wrote that the settlement allowed Fox News to “avert a trial in the voting machine company’s lawsuit that would have exposed how the network promoted lies about the 2020 presidential election.” [The Associated Press, 4/18/23; Media Matters, 4/18/23]
    • Even though Fox settled, pretrial disclosures of internal documents and communications revealed that then-Fox Corp. chair Rupert Murdoch and other Fox executives knew the election fraud conspiracy theories broadcast on their network were lies. The Washington Post reported that “through pretrial discovery that resulted in the release of hundreds of thousands of pages of emails, texts and other communications, Dominion showed that Murdoch, as well as Fox’s executives and producers, were aware that Trump’s claims of election sabotage were suspect, but permitted hosts and guests to perpetuate them to keep viewers from switching to other channels.” [Media Matters, 2/27/23; The Washington Post, 4/18/23]
  • True the Vote admitted in court that it did not have evidence to back fraud claims portrayed in Dinesh D’Souza’s 2000 Mules

    • Right-wing “election integrity” group True the Vote has been pushing claims of illegal ballot stuffing since the 2020 election. Its false claims formed the core of right-wing filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza's election-denying film 2000 Mules. The group baselessly claimed that its analysis of cellphone geolocation data allowed it to identify a ring of ballot-stuffing operatives in key swing states. [The Washington Post, 10/3/23]
    • After a state superior court judge ordered True the Vote to provide Georgia’s state election board with the evidence of voter fraud it had supposedly collected, the group’s lawyers responded that it had “no such documents in its possession, custody, or control.” After the judge’s request yielded zero evidence of fraud, a spokesperson from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office commented: “Once again, True the Vote has proven itself untrustworthy and unable to provide a shred of evidence for a single one of their fairy-tale allegations.” The spokesperson added, “Like all the lies about Georgia’s 2020 election, their fabricated claims of ballot harvesting have been repeatedly debunked.” [The Associated Press, 2/14/24
    • Right-wing media regularly parroted and promoted True the Vote’s false claims. One America News Network, for instance, repeatedly aired 2000 Mules ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. Other right-wing media figures — including Charlie Kirk, Sebastian Gorka, Larry Elder, and Miranda Devine — also promoted 2000 Mules and True the Vote’s claims. [Media Matters, 10/11/22; 5/4/22]
    • True the Vote, D’Souza, and other 2000 Mules collaborators also face a defamation suit from an individual whom the film falsely portrayed as a ballot “mule.” [The Washington Post, 10/3/23]
  • Jenna Ellis used Fox to push election lies, then pleaded guilty to “aiding and abetting false statements and writings” in election subversion case

    • Former Trump campaign lawyer and conservative radio host Jenna Ellis regularly appeared on Fox to push election lies, including claims about Dominion. According to a study by Media Matters, “Ellis appeared on Fox News and its sister channel, Fox Business, more than 20 times in the weeks following the 2020 election” and “used her Fox interviews to promote election lies — including about Dominion Voting Systems.” [Media Matters, 10/24/23]
    • Ellis pleaded guilty to felony aiding and abetting false statements and writings in the Georgia election interference case. The charge reportedly “stems from a Dec. 3, 2020, subcommittee hearing of Georgia's Senate Judiciary Committee where Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Ray Smith made a litany of baseless claims of widespread election fraud.” The terms of Ellis’ plea deal included an agreement to testify truthfully at future trials, as well as “five years probation, $5,000 restitution to the Georgia secretary of state's office, 100 hours community service and a letter of apology to the people of Georgia.” [NPR, 10/24/23]
    • After Ellis’ indictment, right-wing pundits rushed to her defense and promoted her legal defense fund. Right-wing pundit Steve Deace even congratulated Ellis on the indictment, claiming that she had joined “luminaries and influential people, including our own Lord” who “spent some time either under the threat of incarceration, or actually being incarcerated.” [Media Matters, 8/30/23]
  • James O’Keefe settled a voter fraud lawsuit filed by Pennsylvania Postal Service worker

    • James O’Keefe, the ousted founder of Project Veritas, promoted a conspiracy theory that a Postal Service “whistleblower” overheard his supervisor discussing backdating mail-in ballots. The source retracted his allegation, but O’Keefe continued pushing the claim, which “spread through right-wing media” and was even “cited by the Trump campaign in its attempt to stop Pennsylvania from certifying its election results.” [Media Matters, 2/8/24
    • The postmaster accused of meddling with mail-in ballots sued O’Keefe and Project Veritas. The two sides eventually settled. O’Keefe later stated that he was “aware of no evidence or other allegation that election fraud occurred in the Erie Post Office during the 2020 Presidential Election.” [NBC, 2/5/24]
  • Mike Lindell owes $5 million to a cyber forensics expert who debunked his election lies

    • Following the 2020 election, election denier and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell claimed that he had data that proved China had interfered in the 2020 elections and tipped it in President Joe Biden’s favor. He hosted a “cyber symposium” and offered $5 million to anyone who could prove that the data he provided was not from the 2020 presidential election. [The Washington Post, 4/20/23]
    • A cybersecurity expert successfully debunked the claims, and an arbitration panel asked a federal court to force Lindell to pay the promised $5 million. Lindell has not paid the winner and has admitted that he lacks the funds to pay the lawyers representing him in several 2020 election-related defamation suits. [CNN, 5/19/23; Forbes, 10/6/23]
    • OAN replaced almost 31 hours of its own programming with live footage from Lindell’s “cyber symposium,” allowing him to promote his claims that voting machine software companies helped steal the 2020 election from Trump. In January 2023, Turning Point founder Charlie Kirk gave Lindell a platform to run for Republican National Committee chair and even called him “a great American patriot” who has spent over $40 million “to save the country.” [Media Matters, 8/18/21; 7/19/23]