Smartmatic lawyer says Rupert Murdoch is like a 'mafia boss' who 'ordered a hit' with Fox News

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Smartmatic lawyer says Rupert Murdoch is like a 'mafia boss' who 'ordered a hit' with Fox News
Rupert Murdoch in Los Angeles.Hollywood To You/Star Max/GC Images/Getty Images
  • A Smartmatic lawyer compared Rupert Murdoch to a "mafia boss" in a court hearing Wednesday.
  • The company says Fox News and parent company Fox Corp. defamed it through 2020 election conspiracy theories.
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An attorney for Smartmatic Voting Systems compared Rupert Murdoch to a mafia boss in a court hearing Wednesday, arguing he "ordered a hit" on the election technology company when Fox News engaged in conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.

"I can think of an analogy like a mafia boss ordering one of his lieutenants, 'Take out Johnny Two-Bones. That's your instruction,'" J. Erik Connolly, who's representing Smartmatic in its $2.7 billion lawsuit, said in a downtown Manhattan courtroom.

"The mafia boss doesn't say, 'I want you to whack him on this day, I want you to use this tool, I want this henchman to do it.' The mafia boss doesn't give the direction of exactly how the henchman carries out that hit," he continued. "But, unquestionably, we would all say the mafia boss participated in the hit when the hit happened. Exact same thing happened here."

Connolly made the extended analogy to argue that Fox Corp., the parent company of Fox News, shouldn't escape liability in the case. Smartmatic is suing both companies, along with several hosts, alleging they defamed it when Fox News aired conspiracy theories alleging the election technology company rigged the 2020 election.

At Fox Corp., Rupert Murdoch is the chairman and his son Lachlan is the CEO. But at Fox News, CEO Suzanne Scott and President Jay Wallace are in charge. Connolly argues that the Murdochs had a hand in shaping Fox News' narrative about Smartmatic in the wake of Donald Trump's election loss, which makes the parent company responsible in the case.

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"Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch ordered a hit. They saw the ratings take a huge dive, they saw their stock price taking a dive. So Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch said, 'Oh, if we aren't embracing this disinformation, it's going to be a problem,'" Connolly said in court Wednesday.

"So they ordered their lieutenants, Suzanne Scott and Jay Wallace, 'You're taking out Smartmatic, you are embracing this disinformation about voting machines,'" he continued. "And lo and behold, that's exactly what happened."

Erin Murphy, an attorney representing both Fox Corp. and Fox News, argued that it wasn't enough to show that the Murdochs were generally involved in shaping Fox News's editorial coverage.

In order for Fox Corp. to remain a defendant in the case, she said, Smartmatic would have to prove that the Murdochs were specifically talking about Smartmatic when they communicated with top Fox officials about the direction of news coverage.

"It's all a very good story," Murphy said in court Wednesday. "The problem is, they don't actually allege any facts that connect between the vast gulf between saying, 'They should pivot and we should be careful about our messaging,' and then connecting it to, 'And therefore you should say a bunch of things about Smartmatic.'"

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Smartmatic says it has evidence of the Murdochs' involvement

Smartmatic initially filed its lawsuit against Fox Corp. and Fox News in 2021, arguing they defamed the company when their hosts allowed Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell — who are also defendants in the case — to spout false conspiracy theories about how Smartmatic rigged the 2020 presidential election against Trump and in favor of now-President Joe Biden.

The network's motivation for pushing those theories, Smartmatic argued, was to fend off competition from the likes of Newsmax, which had more readily embraced those false theories and was, in turn, embraced by Trump, who held powerful sway over the Republican electorate.

"We will be ready to defend this case surrounding extremely newsworthy events when it goes to trial, likely in 2025," a Fox News representative said in a statement. "As our financial expert's report shows and ongoing discovery has since confirmed, Smartmatic's damages claims are implausible, disconnected from reality, and intended to chill vital First Amendment freedoms."

Smartmatic lawyer says Rupert Murdoch is like a 'mafia boss' who 'ordered a hit' with Fox News
Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch at the US Open.Jean Catuffe/GC Images/Getty Images

Dominion, another election technology company that was the subject of many of the same conspiracy theories, agreed to settle its defamation lawsuit against Fox earlier this year for a historic $787.5 million. Both Smartmatic and Dominion also have pending lawsuits against Newsmax, as well as other right-wing figures and media organizations that pushed false theories.

Fox News has asked New York Supreme Court Justice David B. Cohen, who's overseeing the Smartmatic case, to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing its actions were protected by the First Amendment. Last year, Cohen allowed the case against Fox News to move forward. An appeals court upheld that decision, but said Smartmatic needed to specifically identify who at Fox Corp. played a role in the alleged defamation to keep the parent company involved in the case.

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Now, Smartmatic says, it's more clear that Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch were involved.

Connolly said they "set in motion" the interviews with Powell and Giuliani that defamed Smartmatic.

"This isn't idle gossip. This isn't just guessing. We have extensive allegations about what they were doing," Connolly said. "We have extensive emails with our discussing that they have a game plan to pivot. The pivot is the disinformation. It's not a coincidence."

Cohen said he would decide whether to dismiss the claims against Fox Corp. at a later date.

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