The reason this is no ordinary Fox lie is that Smartmatic is not a public figure. Since New York Times v. Sullivan in 1964, it has been pretty much impossible to defame a public figure in the United States. Plaintiffs must show not just that the news story was wrong, but that it showed “reckless disregard for the truth or falsity” of the content. Though this policy permits the public square to be saturated with lies, it is considered worth the price to maintain uninhibited debate about matters of public importance.
The standard for private persons, or in this case companies, is different. There is no public purpose to be served by letting a newspaper falsely report without fear of a libel suit that Mr. Joe Smith is an embezzler. Most state laws require a plaintiff to show mere negligence on the part of a news organization or other defendant. The plaintiff must also show damages, namely that the defamatory content harms its capacity to do business. Smartmatic’s business is running elections. They may have a strong case.
As Ben Smith notes in today’s New York Times, the Smartmatic founder, Antonio Mugica, has hired the lawyer who “won the largest settlement in the history of American media defamation.” And “Mugica isn’t the only potential plaintiff”: Dominion Voting Systems, similarly smeared by the president and his media allies, is in a comparable legal position.