Election-fraud liars are scrambling to avoid lawsuits, but they can’t retract the damage they have done

Rudy Giuliani at a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters on November 19. Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo
  • Trump-friendly media outlets like OAN and Newsmax have walked back their claims of election fraud.
  • Two voting-tech companies – Smartmatic and Dominion – were made the grand conspiracy’s boogeymen.
  • Outlets that have cynically sowed distrust in democracy can never undo the damage they have caused.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The mass delusion that rampant election fraud cost Donald Trump the 2020 election isn’t an overnight phenomenon.

It required the steady hum of repetition for it to become ingrained in the minds of Trump supporters.

Whether it was from a meme on Facebook or a conservative news network or a right-wing conspiracy blog, the deluge of lies stuck in the brains of millions.

Some of those consumed by these lies stormed the Capitol; many more say they no longer believe in American democracy.

But now the voting-technology companies that have been slandered, libeled, and had their business’ reputations effectively destroyed as a result of these election-fraud lies are fighting back with billion-dollar lawsuits and hints of more to come.

As a result, the retractions from the Trump-media ecosphere are coming fast and furious.

Just Tuesday, Newsmax cut off MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell when he started ranting about Dominion voting machines. One of the hosts then read a prepared statement asserting that Newsmax had seen no evidence of voting-machine fraud and that the election was fair, legal, and over.

But no matter how much they’d like to convince opposition lawyers that they have corrected the record, the Trumpist liars can never retract the damage they have done.

Lies and retractions

Much as Trump spread nonsense throughout his presidency with caveats like “I’ve been hearing” and “people are saying,” the 45th president’s lawyers and media allies propagated lies disingenuously presented as “just asking questions.”

Of the many conspiracy theories floated as evidence that Trump’s election defeat was fraudulent — even in voting districts where down-ballot Republicans exceeded expectations and won — is a lie about nefarious voting machines undercounting Trump votes (but only Trump votes). In particular, the companies Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems were made the boogeymen of this grand fake conspiracy.

By various turns, these anti-Trump machines were part of a plot originating with China or George Soros or the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez — it doesn’t matter which to the hardcore Trumpist. They just know something is amiss, because their social media and cable TV echo chambers reinforce the delusion.

Read more:

Trump’s gone, but the GOP’s conspiracy-theory cesspool is here to stay

And while the mere threat of a lawsuit by Smartmatic got Fox News to air a video package debunking misinformation spread by its network’s own hosts, the lies haven’t been surgically removed from millions of people’s brains. The seeds were planted, and the lie outlives the liar’s message.

The Trumpist network Newsmax also responded to the legal threat by issuing a “clarification” of its earlier conspiracy-theory-peddling, acknowledging: “No evidence has been offered that Dominion or Smartmatic used software or reprogrammed software that manipulated votes in the 2020 election.”

Dominion Voting Systems has come out swinging, too.

As a result, the Trump-sycophantic OAN quietly deleted its articles alleging fraud by Dominion.

And the conservative website American Thinker — popular on Facebook as a kind of “intellectual” depository for Trumpist conspiracy theories — wrote several stories about Dominion.

But then the lawyers persuaded the site to retract. And boy, did it retract.

In a January 15 statement, American Thinker acknowledged its stories relied on “discredited sources who have peddled debunked theories.”

“These statements are completely false and have no basis in fact,” it said, adding: “It was wrong for us to publish these false statements.”

But Dominion’s moon shot is directed at the Trump-allied lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, both of whom have been served with suits seeking $US1.3 billion in damages for the myriad lies they told about election fraud that never took place and for which they never provided evidence.

The First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams has argued that both Dominion and Smartmatic have presented good cases to back up their defamation claims. “The repeated accusations against both companies are plainly defamatory and surely have done enormous reputational and financial harm to both,” Abrams told The New York Times.

Dominion CEO John Poulos said: “Because Giuliani and others incessantly repeated the false claims about my company on a range of media platforms, some of our own family and friends are among the Americans who were duped.”

That last part hits hard.

We all have “family and friends” who still believe some of what came across their Facebook feeds, even after the retractions.

A recent Morning Consult poll found that less than a third of Republican voters surveyed thought the 2020 election was “free and fair.”

The retractions will never be able to undo the damage the liars have done.