Here’s a breather from headlines about the recent leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that overturns Roe v. Wade. Under the radar, there’s some good news this week about the legal system’s role in upholding the truth.
Sometimes David’s precisely aimed litigation slingshot can fell Goliath and strike a blow against “alternative facts.” If the sling launching the shot is a complaint for defamation, it helps if it was fashioned by talented pro bono lawyers like those from the nonprofit, United to Protect Democracy, and associated law firms.
In this case, the story is a lawsuit by two ordinary citizens against the extreme-right television network, One America Network (OAN).
OAN’s audience was surely surprised on May 9 when a host stated, “Georgia officials have concluded that there was no widespread voter fraud by election workers who counted ballots [in Atlanta] in November 2020.”
The network has catered to those who believe the Big Lie—that election fraud “stole” the 2020 presidential election and Donald Trump won. OAN’s May 9 reckoning with truth was not purely voluntary; it clearly arrived on the short-end of the April settlement of the lawsuit’s stick.
Here’s the story. Back in December, two women, Ruby Freeman, a 62-year-old grandmother, and her daughter, Wandrea ‘Shaye’ Moss, sued OAN. The Georgia women were November 2020 election workers in Atlanta. By a stroke of bad luck, a conspiratorially interpreted video of them doing their jobs as 2020 election workers on November 3 turned them into right-wing bête noires in the months following the election.
OAN ran the video. It went viral among election deniers.
Rudolph Giuliani, a regular on OAN, accused the mother and daughter of “surreptitious activity” like “drug dealers.”
Then-President Donald Trump jumped aboard. In his infamous January 2 phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Trump referred to Ruby Freeman by name: “She’s a vote scammer, a professional vote scammer and hustler Ruby Freeman.”
She and her daughter received death threats. A Capitol invader arrested for his role in the January 6 siege carried a list that included their names among those to be executed.
In the video, Jacki L. Pick, a Trump campaign legal volunteer, breathlessly narrated as the camera showed multiple election workers—including one whom Pick said had the name “Ruby” on her tee-shirt—pulling “suitcases” from under a table, taking ballots from them and “stuffing” election counting machines with them, supposedly when no election observers were in viewing.
Georgia election officials quickly debunked the conspiracy theory. The “suitcases” were standard boxes used in Fulton County to carry and store ballots. Georgia Secretary of State office COO Gabriel Sterling explained that the full video shows that the workers proceeded in full view of the media and partisan monitors.
The local NBC affiliate 11 Alive, filed a report captioned “These ‘suitcases’ are actually ballot containers,” and confirmed that no one was asked to leave.
Per its April settlement of the two election workers’ suit, OAN’s May 9 announcement specifically distanced the network from the claims it had previously amplified: “The results of this investigation indicate that Ruby Freeman and Wandrea ‘Shaye’ Moss did not engage in ballot fraud or criminal misconduct.”
The network is not alone in newfound honesty. It joins Fox News and Newsmax. Not coincidentally, each of them is also a defendant in a major defamation lawsuit. The suits come from ballot counting machine manufacturers, Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic.
You may recall that former General Michael Flynn’s lawyer Sidney Powell was all over television in the post-election period falsely claiming that those companies’ machines were programmed by former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to rig elections.
In December 2020, after Smartmatic issued a demand letter to Fox News, it ran a full story in which an expert contradicted claims of voting-machine fraud on its own programming.
In parallel, the far-right network, Newsmax, in April 2021, issued a statement apologizing to Eric Coomer, a top official at Dominion Voting Systems, who had sued the company. “Newsmax subsequently found no evidence that allegations [that Coomer interfered with election counting and had a connection to Antifa] were true.”
The statement then undercut the Big Lie: “Many of the states whose results were contested by the Trump campaign after the November 2020 election have conducted extensive recounts and audits, and each of these states certified the results as legal and final.”
These outlets helped convince millions of Americans that the 2020 election was riddled with fraud. The networks’ walking back the Big Lie shows that Americans and their lawyers unwilling to take falsehood lying down can score a win for truth.