Yes, a Joke // Truth can be funnier than fiction

I was considering a column for this Purim issue about, oh, I dunno, maybe some new herring flavors (avocado, kale, truffle, sushi—well, that last one would be redundant, I guess). Or about my decision, despite my age, waistline and height, to identify as a young, slim, seven-foot-tall man, so I could qualify for the NBA. Or about the discovery that those mysterious balloons overhead were being fueled by politicians’ hot air.

But truth is sometimes funnier than fiction. And so I’m writing instead about the recent revelations in Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News and others about what went on behind the scenes back in 2020.

You likely know that Toronto/Denver-based Dominion produces electronic voting machines and software, and that former President Trump alleged that the company was part of an international cabal that had machines transfer millions of votes that had been cast for Mr. Trump to the current president.

But did you know the ultimate source of that claim? No? Ah, well then you’re in for a Purim treat.

Lawyer Sidney Powell was the penultimate purveyor of the evidence-free accusation. But her own source was (drum roll, here, followed by the Looney Tunes theme) an anonymous woman whose self-defined qualification was her ability to experience something “like time-travel in a semi-conscious state.”

The time-traveler does, though, have other credentials. The “wind,” she says, told her that she’s “a ghost” (though she’s not mekabel). And she’s “had the strangest dreams since I was a little girl.” She added, disturbingly (well, to me, at least; Ms. Powell doesn’t seem to have been troubled by the claim) that “I was internally decapitated, and yet, I live.”

With or without an internal head, live on she did, in various Fox News hosts’ baseless assertions of election machine shenanigans. 

Fox personality Tucker Carlson was among the news organization’s employees who promoted the idea that Dominion may have engaged in nefarious vote switching. But, the court documents show, at the same time, he texted his colleague Laura Ingraham that Ms. Powell was “lying.” Ms. Ingraham responded that “Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy [Giuliani].” Sean Hannity texted that election fraud claimants were “lunatics.”

But court jester Ms. Powell continued to insist that “We have demonstrable, statistical and mathematical and computer evidence of hundreds of thousands of votes being injected into the computer systems repeatedly.” She didn’t.

And speaking of jesters, MyPillow founder Mike Lindell was invited by Mr. Carlson to appear on his program (which hosts ads for Mr. Lindell’s products) three weeks after the US Capitol attack. Mr. Lindell dared Dominion to sue him (a dare it took up; he’s part of the suit), insisting he had the evidence of voting fraud but that “they don’t want to talk about that.”

“No, they don’t,” Mr. Carlson replied. Neither man revealed who “they” are.

Fox News and other defendants (including those being sued by another maligned voting machine company, Smartmatic; there’s considerable overlap among the defendants) argue that they were simply exercising their right to free speech.

But, of course, there are limits to rights, and speech that harms a person or company can constitute defamation.

Dominion, the judge in the case ruled, is to be considered a “public figure.” Which means that, to be successful in its suit, Dominion must prove that the Fox defendants acted with “actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth.”

For what it’s worth, Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe commented: “I have never seen a defamation case with such overwhelming proof that the defendant admitted in writing that it was making up fake information in order to increase its viewership and its revenues.”

That latter charge was referring to how, on November 12, 2020, Mr. Carlson tried to get a Fox reporter, Jacqui Heinrich, dismissed for fact-checking a tweet from Mr. Trump and daring to assert that there was no evidence of voter fraud.

“Please get her fired,” Mr. Carlson said, adding, “It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”

Yes, a joke.

Not the stock price. The gantzeh megillah.


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