Newsmax ‘clarifies’ election conspiracy theories after legal threat from voting technology company

© Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images Protesters rally outside the Georgia State Capitol during a 'March for Trump' protest against the results of the 2020 Presidential election on November 21, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. This week Georgia finished their hand recount of the ballots which also confirmed President-Elect Joe Biden's win in the state. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

(CNN)-All throughout Monday, Newsmax viewers were treated to a short — yet remarkable — disclosure from the network’s hosts: That Newsmax has no evidence Dominion or Smartmatic manipulated votes in the 2020 election; that Newsmax has no evidence Dominion or Smartmatic has any relationship with George Soros; that Newsmax has no evidence Dominion uses Smartmatic’s software or vice versa; and that Smartmatic is a US company, not owned by the Venezuelan government. Newsmax framed the disclosure as a “clarification,” though the network maintained it itself had never peddled any conspiracy theories about the companies.

The extraordinary about-face came after Smartmatic sent a blistering legal threat to Newsmax and other right-wing media outlets earlier this month. Ben Rhodes summed up the Monday messages succinctly, tweeting, “So, we’re going to spread massive amounts of total disinformation like cancer metastasizing through American democracy, but we also don’t want to get sued so we’re offering this clarification.”

And while Fox News also ran a similar news package over the last few days debunking some of the very claims its own hosts and guests had peddled, it felt far more surreal coming from Newsmax. It also might have more business implications for the smaller network. Newsmax, after all, has picked off viewers from Fox by positioning itself as the home for election denialism. Whereas Fox hadn’t gone far enough for some people, Newsmax was willing to do so — refusing, for instance, to recognize Joe Biden as president-elect until the Electoral College had officially cast its votes. Will this have an impact on some of the gains the network has made? Time will tell…

‘Imagine how confusing and infuriating this must be for viewers’

In addition to telling viewers that Newsmax had no evidence to support some of the wild conspiracies that have been floated on the network, it appears that hosts may have been cautioned to be more careful about the claims made on their programs. As Sebastian Gorka filled in for Greg Kelly’s 7pm show, MyPillow CEO Michael Lindell started to talk about Dominion. Gorka immediately cut him off. “That’s enough,” Gorka interjected. “I don’t want to discuss — Mike, Mike, we aren’t going to get into the minutiae of the details.”

The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona made a great point about the sequence of events. Baragona tweeted, “Imagine how confusing and infuriating this must be for the viewers who flocked to Newsmax specifically because the channel was telling them that the election was stolen from Trump by corrupt voting software and Hugo Chavez.” I asked Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy on Monday night what he would tell perplexed viewers. I didn’t hear back…

At least the network had its hosts deliver the “clarifications” to its viewers. As WaPo’s Jeremy Barr tweeted, “It feels a bit different when it comes directly from a Newsmax personality, rather than what Fox News did, which was to use an industry expert who had no idea what his interview was going to be used for.”

OAN still feeding viewers fantasy

Fox and Newsmax might have run these packages acknowledging the reality of the situation, but it should be pointed out that One America News continues to feed its viewers pure fantasy about the election. A Monday report from one of its personalities, for instance, had a chyron that read, “‘DOMINION-IZING’ THE VOTE.” Another chyron read, “THE ART OF THE STEAL.”

For the record

— Will Fox News and Newsmax backing off conspiracy theories spare them in a lawsuit? Attorney Ken White said, “I think they’re in big trouble.” (Law & Crime)

— Ben Collins notes that Newsmax’s “clarifications” were a “tremendous recap of the gargantuan amount of insane nonsense this network has been airing over the last few months. If somebody yelled this stuff naked on a subway, it would not be out of place, and yet people are mainlining this stuff like it’s actual news.” (Twitter)

— Charlotte Klein points out that “a slate of Republican officials have used [Newsmax] as a place to let their unsubstantiated claims run wild.” (Vanity Fair)

— Mona Charen offers a great look at the difference between how NYT corrected its “Caliphate” error versus how Fox News corrected the multitude of election falsehoods and conspiracy theories peddled on its various programs. (The Bulwark)– Geraldo Rivera again pushed back against Trump’s election denialism, saying on Monday that the “whining” would only make him look like a “sore loser.” (Mediaite)

— Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz is quoted in this USA Today piece about Newsmax and other right-wing challengers: “Fox News is being forced to actually compete for its audience for the first time in years.” (USA Today)

— Quite the sentence in this WaPo story: “Trump’s unofficial election advisory council now includes a pardoned felon, adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory, a White House trade adviser and a Russian agent’s former lover.” (WaPo)