Maybe Peddling Lies Isn't Such A Hot Business Model

[ Posted Thursday, April 20th, 2023 – 16:25 UTC ]

There have been two legal developments this week which might go a long way toward proving that creating a business model out of peddling lies to unsuspecting people is maybe not the best plan of action -- unless, of course, your name happens to be Donald Trump. Trump is the king of all election-denying grifters, and so far nobody's scratched his Teflon coating -- although even Trump may eventually have to face some sort of music for monetizing falsehoods. One of the things the special counsel investigating Trump is reportedly looking into is how Trump made pitches to donors big and small between the 2020 election and January 6th. Trump raised a lot of money promising that it would be used to fight to "Stop The Steal," but he never actually created such a fund. But for the time being at least, Trump has been able to skate away from any consequences for gaslighting his supporters. This is now no longer true for others who jumped on the stolen-election bandwagon. Both Fox News and Mike Lindell are now having to pay for their lies, and this could just be the start of both of them -- and others -- having to cough up to pay for the damage they have done.

The bigger case was the Fox News settlement, by every measure. Fox News was being sued for defamation in Delaware (where most giant corporations incorporate) by Dominion Voting Systems, because Fox aired completely made-up lies about Dominion somehow being at the heart of a dastardly scheme to hand the election to Joe Biden no matter what the voters had said. This was and is, as mentioned, a gigantic lie. None of it was ever true. There was simply no evidence of this evil scheme, because it did not exist. In fact, there was plenty of evidence that the exact opposite was true -- that Dominion was a professional company that made elections equipment that functioned perfectly during the 2020 election. Fox News made a business decision to ignore all this evidence and go with the dark fantasy that the election-deniers were weaving instead. Fox prominently put on their airwaves several people who were obviously deranged about the subject and weren't afraid to make the wildest accusations without a shred of evidence. Fox News just settled for roughly half of what Dominion sued it for -- over three-quarters of a billion dollars. That is a heavy price to pay, you have to admit.

Fox News was terrified of losing their core audience to even-more-rightwing news channels, and there was reason for their fear. Fox had called the 2020 presidential election correctly long before any other station did. When they were proven correct, Fox fired the guys who had made the accurate prediction. Their audience (and Donald Trump and all his minions) raged at Fox for telling them the truth. So rather than continuing to tell the truth -- the 2020 election was the fairest and most secure election ever -- they decided that lying would be a better business model instead.

But any business model has to take into account not only the benefits (keeping their customers happy with deranged nonsense and lies) but also the drawbacks (paying $787.5 million to just one company for the damage those lies did). And this accounting is nowhere near finished.

There's another lawsuit against Fox News brought by a different elections equipment manufacturer (Smartmatic) in New York that hasn't progressed as far as the Dominion one had, but it is going to head to trial at some point. They're suing Fox for $2.7 billion. If Fox makes another settlement with them, it's going to cost them perhaps more than they just agreed to pay Dominion. If they go to court and lose, they may be hit with an even bigger penalty.

The Fox lawsuits are not the only ones in the pipeline. There are also suits against other rightwing media outlets that are smaller than Fox. There are suits against the people who went on the air and made these claims. Dominion alone has filed six other lawsuits, against: two media outlets (One America News and Newsmax), two of Trump's former lawyers (Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell), and two wingnuts who obviously had more money than sense (Mike Lindell and Patrick Byrne).

One of those wingnuts -- the wingnuttiest of them all, really -- is Mike Lindell, or "the MyPillow guy." And one of his legal headaches was the second bit of news made this week, as Lindell just lost an arbitration decision. Lindell has been at the forefront of peddling election lies from the start. He's spent millions on fruitless efforts to prove that the voting machines used in the 2020 election were "rigged," possibly by China. And he dared tech experts to prove his "evidence" wrong by holding a "cyber symposium" and putting up a $5 million reward for anyone who could "Prove Mike Wrong."

One guy did. And the arbitration panel has now ruled that Lindell's got to pay up. Here's the story:

MyPillow founder and prominent election denier Mike Lindell made a bold offer ahead of a "cyber symposium" he held in August 2021 in South Dakota: He claimed he had data showing Chinese interference and said he would pay $5 million to anyone who could prove the material was not from the previous year's U.S. election.

He called the challenge "Prove Mike Wrong."

On Wednesday, a private arbitration panel ruled that someone did.

The panel said Robert Zeidman, a computer forensics expert and 63-year-old Trump voter from Nevada, was entitled to the $5 million payout.

Zeidman had examined Lindell's data and concluded that not only did it not prove voter fraud, it also had no connection to the 2020 election. He was the only expert who submitted a claim, arbitration records show.

. . .

"There's a $5 million prize for anybody that can prove the election data that I have from the 2020 election was false, is not from the 2020 election," Lindell said on the conservative show The Glazov Gang, which streams online.

The data he planned to reveal, he said, were "packet captures" that would demonstrate Chinese government interference. Packet captures, or "pcaps," are a specific file format that is an industry standard for archiving internet traffic.

"They were captured in real time and preserved. They cannot be altered.... They're 100 percent evidence," Lindell said on the show. "So it will show an intrusion. This was an attack from China."

. . .

Lindell's claims that he had packet captures intrigued Zeidman, who has served as an expert for tech firms in intellectual property lawsuits. Describing himself as a "reasonable" and "moderate conservative" who voted twice for Donald Trump, Zeidman told the arbitration panel he was skeptical of Lindell's claims. But he said he also did not believe Lindell would promote unvetted data, so he thought the conference could offer a "great chance to see history in the making, perhaps an election overturned."

At the event, Zeidman received the contest rules. There was no mention of disproving Chinese interference, according to contest forms submitted in the arbitration case. Rather, winners would have to prove that the data provided "does NOT reflect information related to the November 2020 election."

. . .

The files provided to Zeidman and other experts were primarily text or PDF files. Zeidman testified that one was a flow chart purporting to show how elections generally work. Another, when unencrypted, was a list of internet IP addresses, and others were enormous files of what appeared to Zeidman to be random numbers and letters.

The packet captures that Lindell had promised were nowhere to be found, according to Zeidman.

Zeidman laid out his findings in a 15-page report. "I have proven that the data Lindell provides... unequivocally does not contain packet data of any kind and do not contain any information related to the November 2020 election," he wrote.

In other words, Lindell was peddling pure hokum. Lindell seems one of those tragicomic characters who actually believes the things that others are cynically using purely to pull the wool over the eyes of their dupes and marks. He tied his business model to his newfound fame as an unhinged election-denier. He advertised heavily on the rightwing news channels, to reach the audience that was already listening to him rant and rave. But once again, that business model will now have to adapt to paying penalties for all his unhinged moonbeams. The initial $5 million isn't a lot (as these things go), and it wasn't a defamation case (as most of the others are), but it's a warning sign of legal stormclouds ahead.

Lindell, for instance, is being sued by Dominion for a whopping $1.3 billion. Compared to that, $5 million is pocket change. And Fox just settled for a huge amount -- just for putting people like Lindell on the air. Proving defamation against the person who actually uttered the lies should be a lot easier in court, one assumes.

As we said at the beginning, so far none of this has really touched Donald Trump. He's got plenty of legal headaches of his own, but the chances of the fraudulent fundraising he did after the 2020 election might be seen as too small an issue to focus on (because there are bigger charges that could be filed against him). So Trump might actually get away with grifting based on pure lies -- it's impossible to say at this point. But with the Fox News settlement and Lindell losing his arbitration, we may have finally reached the point where making money hand over fist off of scurrilous lies begins to be seen as not such a great business model for people who are not named Donald Trump. Many were disappointed that the Dominion lawsuit against Fox didn't actually go to trial (because it would have exposed the lies and cynicism and grift at Fox for all to see in great detail), but please remember this is only the earliest of innings. One case is over. There are plenty more on deck, ready for their time at the plate.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


2 Comments on “Maybe Peddling Lies Isn't Such A Hot Business Model”

  1. [1] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    I know that Jack Smith is taking forever to lower the boom on Trump but I’m of the mind that,

    We are way past the point that DoJ will end up not indicting. Just behold the never ending parade of witnesses known to the public, and the court fights.

    Georgia will be the next non-New York indictment to land. As with NYC these are comparatively simple and straightforward crimes (besides the fake electors conspiracy. That could get hairy unless everyone flips on TFG.)

    The sheer number of interconnected moving parts, from Proud Boys to Congress to Trump is why DoJ will fall the lastest and the heaviest. Sometimes I let my imagination roam…over the parade of pardon seekers and recon tour givers and the multiple resulting mug shots.

    And that will be the end of teflon Don. And yes, Trump should be prosecuted for the grift and for every other thing he’s done. This would reinforce the Rule of Law concept, yea verily.

  2. [2] 
    Kick wrote:


    There have been two legal developments this week which might go a long way toward proving that creating a business model out of peddling lies to unsuspecting people is maybe not the best plan of action...

    There are two types of people in this world:

    (1) Those who can extrapolate from incomplete data

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