Chauvin Verdict Draws More Than 18 Million Viewers

More than 18 million people tuned in to cable and broadcast networks for the reading of the verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial on Tuesday, a huge viewership total for a late afternoon, according to preliminary data from Nielsen.

An average of four million people watched CNN from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., more than double the number of viewers the network drew the previous day in the same time slot, according to Nielsen. Another four million watched on ABC, and 3.4 million saw it on Fox News. MSNBC and CBS each had about three million viewers.

NBC’s viewership totals were not yet available, which means the verdict was likely seen on television by an audience of more than 20 million. And because Nielsen’s numbers do not include people who watched the proceedings on their phones or laptops, the total number of people who watched was certainly even bigger than that.

Viewer interest was strong throughout the three-week trial of Mr. Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd last May. On several days, CNN had more viewers during key portions of the trial in the afternoon than it did in prime time, usually its most watched hours.

CNN’s sibling network, HLN, which covered the entirety of the trial, had its highest ratings since its coverage of the George Zimmerman trial in 2013. Mr. Zimmerman was the neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida who fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager.

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Smartmatic says disinformation on Fox News about the election was ‘no accident.’

The election technology company Smartmatic pushed back on Monday against Fox News’s argument that it had covered the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election responsibly, stating that Fox anchors had played along as guests pushed election-related conspiracy theories.

“The First Amendment does not provide the Fox defendants a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Smartmatic’s lawyer, J. Erik Connolly, wrote in a brief filed in New York State Supreme Court. “The Fox defendants do not get a do-over with their reporting now that they have been sued.”

The brief came in response to motions filed by Fox Corporation and three current and former Fox hosts — Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro and Lou Dobbs — to dismiss a Smartmatic lawsuit accusing them of defamation.

Smartmatic and another company, Dominion Voting Systems, became the focus of baseless conspiracy theories after the Nov. 4 election that they had manipulated vote totals in contested states. Those conspiracy theories were pushed by Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell, serving as personal lawyers to former President Donald J. Trump, on Fox News, Mr. Trump’s longtime network of choice. Smartmatic, which says that the conspiracy theories destroyed its reputation and its business, provided election technology in only one county during the election.

also sued Fox News. Together, the two suits represent a billion-dollar challenge to the Fox empire, which, after Smartmatic filed its lawsuit, canceled the Fox Business program hosted by Mr. Dobbs.

“The filing only confirms our view that the suit is meritless and Fox News covered the election in the highest tradition of the First Amendment,” the network said in a statement late Monday.

Fox’s motion, as well as those of its anchors, argued that the mentions of Smartmatic were part of its reporting on a newsworthy event that it was duty-bound to cover: A president’s refusal to concede an election and his insistence that his opponent’s victory was not legitimate.

But the response Smartmatic filed on Monday, which runs for 120 pages, said that argument amounted to wishful thinking and that Fox had not covered the claims about Smartmatic objectively or fairly.

“The Fox defendants wedded themselves to Giuliani and Powell during their programs,” the brief said. “They cannot distance themselves now.”

Fox will have several weeks to respond to the brief, and a judge will eventually consider whether to allow Smartmatic’s case to proceed.

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Dominion Sues Fox News, Claiming Defamation in Election Coverage

Fox News and its powerful owner, Rupert Murdoch, are facing a second major defamation suit over the network’s coverage of the 2020 presidential election, a new front in the growing legal battle over media disinformation and its consequences.

In the latest aftershock of Donald J. Trump’s attempt to undermine President Biden’s victory, Dominion Voting Systems, an election technology company that was at the center of a baseless pro-Trump conspiracy about rigged voting machines, sued Fox News on Friday for advancing lies that devastated its reputation and business.

Dominion, which has requested a jury trial, is seeking at least $1.6 billion in damages. The lawsuit comes less than two months after Smartmatic, another election tech company, filed a $2.7 billion lawsuit against Mr. Murdoch’s Fox Corporation and named the Fox anchors Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro as defendants.

In a 139-page complaint filed in Delaware Superior Court, Dominion portrayed Fox as an active player in spreading falsehoods that the company had altered vote counts and manipulated its machines to benefit Mr. Biden in the election.

Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell for defamation. The company also sued Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow and a Trump ally who was also a frequent guest on Fox and other conservative media outlets. Each of those suits seeks damages of more than $1 billion.

“The truth matters,” Dominion’s lawyers wrote in Friday’s complaint against Fox. “Lies have consequences. Fox sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion in the process. If this case does not rise to the level of defamation by a broadcaster, then nothing does.”

In a statement on Friday, Fox said that its 2020 election coverage “stands in the highest tradition of American journalism” and pledged to “vigorously defend against this baseless lawsuit in court.”

Dominion’s filing on Friday represented what its lawyers called a new phase in its battle against its detractors, and Thomas A. Clare, part of the company’s legal team, said it was unlikely to be the last lawsuit filed. His firm, Clare Locke, has in recent weeks joined with the firm Susman Godfrey, which is known for taking cases to trial.

filed a motion to dismiss the Smartmatic lawsuit, arguing that the false claims of electoral fraud made on its channels were part of covering a fast-breaking story of significant public interest. “An attempt by a sitting president to challenge the result of an election is objectively newsworthy,” Fox wrote in the motion.

The narrative that Mr. Trump and his allies spun about Dominion was among the more baroque creations of a monthslong effort to cast doubt on the 2020 election results and convince Americans that Mr. Biden’s victory was not legitimate.

Dominion, founded in 2002, is one of the largest manufacturers of voting machine equipment in the United States; its equipment was used by election authorities in more than two dozen states last year, including several states carried by Mr. Trump.

Allies of Mr. Trump falsely portrayed Dominion as biased toward Mr. Biden and argued, without evidence, that it was tied to Hugo Chávez, the long-dead Venezuelan dictator. John Poulos, Dominion’s founder, and other employees received harassing and threatening messages from people convinced that the company had undermined the election results, according to the complaint.

Fox News and Fox Business programs were among the mass-media venues where Mr. Trump’s supporters denounced Dominion. The lawsuit also cites examples of Fox hosts, including Ms. Bartiromo and Ms. Dobbs, uncritically repeating or vouching for false claims made by Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell.

“Fox took a small flame and turned it into a forest fire,” Dominion wrote in the lawsuit. “As the dominant media company among those viewers dissatisfied with the election results, Fox gave these fictions a prominence they otherwise would never have achieved.”

faced a reckoning of sorts from the threat of defamation litigation, a relatively novel tactic in a battle against disinformation that had previously been limited to ad boycotts and liberal public pressure campaigns.

In February, two days after Smartmatic filed its suit, Fox Business canceled “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” its highest-rated program. Newsmax, a pro-Trump cable channel also facing potential legal action, cut off Mr. Lindell when he repeated falsehoods about rigged voting machines.

Taken together, Dominion and Smartmatic are demanding at least $4.3 billion in damages from Fox. Controlled by Mr. Murdoch, 90, and his elder son, Lachlan, the Fox Corporation reported that it had made $3 billion in pretax profit from September 2019 to September 2020, on revenue of $12.3 billion.

the network’s early projection that Mr. Biden would carry Arizona.

Dominion also makes the case that Fox and its hosts benefited from uncritically repeating these baseless claims. The suit cites a postelection rise in ratings for anchors like Ms. Bartiromo and Ms. Dobbs, and notes that the ex-husband of Ms. Pirro, who spoke on-air of a stolen election, later secured a pardon from Mr. Trump.

“Fox has had a problem because a lot of its pundits have said the very things that have led Dominion to bring this lawsuit,” the First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams said in an interview.

In its response to the Smartmatic suit, Fox argued that its reporting on the election should be viewed in its totality — pointing out that at least one host, Tucker Carlson, voiced skepticism about Ms. Powell’s statements — and that claims by the president’s lawyers in an election dispute were inherently newsworthy. “This lawsuit strikes at the heart of the news media’s First Amendment mission to inform on matters of public concern,” Fox wrote in that motion.

Mr. Zick, the First Amendment lawyer, said that Dominion had included an implicit response to that argument: “This isn’t neutral reportage. It’s disinformation for profit.”

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