The Smartmatic story
Epic storytelling in a legal brief
Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash
Lawsuits are often interesting, but their prose is—well, prosaic.
But when Smartmatic filed a $2.7 billion defamation suit against Fox News, Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro, Rudy Giuliani, and Sidney Powell (see the news story reported by Reason), the Smartmatic team produced an outstanding example of Hemingwayesque storytelling:
Before Hemingway began publishing his short stories and sketches, American writers affected British mannerisms. Adjectives piled on top of one another; adverbs tripped over each other. Colons clogged the flow of even short paragraphs, and the plethora of semicolons often caused readers to throw up their hands in exasperation.
Right! I write that kind of shit all the time.
And then came Hemingway.
… a typical Hemingway novel or short story is written in simple, direct, unadorned prose. …
Simple prose. Direct prose. Unadorned prose. That’s this legal brief. Clear statements. No wasted words. A complex story told in simple sentences. No ambiguity. No frills. 278 pages. See the excerpt below. Or you can read the whole work here.
I think it’s interesting politically and super-interesting as a piece of literature.
Before you read the excerpt of the story I’ve copied below or the whole thing here, you can read the metastory.
Political campaigns attempt to motivate action. One action is: “vote for my guy.” Another is “vote against their guy.” Another is “don’t vote for either.” Another is “don’t vote for anyone.”
Political campaigns provide information to motivate action. Some people say, “All’s fair in love, war, and politics.” In politics, you can say anything you want.
To quote one of my favorite lines from “Snow Crash.”
This is America. People do whatever the fuck they feel like doing, you got a problem with that? Because they have a right to. And because they have guns and no one can fucking stop them.
Others believe there are rules. There are rules for war. What about politics?
In a political campaign in America, you can say anything you want. The law agrees. You can say it. If it is a lie and meets the legal test of defamation, whoever said it could be punished financially. This takes time. By then, the election may have been over for years, and your guy won, and the evidence might make it evident that the lying helped your guy win.
Too bad. All’s fair.
Some people are OK with that.
Other people believe that cultural norms are important and “don’t deliberately lie even in politics” is one of them. Exaggeration might be OK. Misrepresentation might take you past the edge. Quote out of context? Sketchy, but some are OK with that. But you don’t make shit up and pass it off as true.
The Smartmatic story—at least as told in their filing—seems to be about shit that was entirely made up and repeated over and over. What was said seems to qualify as bullshit described by philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt in his essay and later his book “On Bullshit.” (Yes, that’s the actual name of an actual book written by an actual philosopher.)
Respect for the truth and a concern for the truth are among the foundations for civilisation. I was for a long time disturbed by the lack of respect for the truth that I observed… bullshit is one of the deformities of these values.
I have vast respect for the truth. I am concerned for the truth. I am against bullshit.
Read this—extracted from the court filings, and see what you think—as literature, not as law.
The Earth is round. Two plus two equals four. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 election for President and Vice President of the United States. The election was not stolen, rigged, or fixed. These are facts. They are demonstrable and irrefutable.
Defendants have always known these facts. They knew Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 U.S. election. They knew the election was not stolen. They knew the election was not rigged or fixed. They knew these truths just as they knew the Earth is round and two plus two equals four.
Defendants did not want Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to win the election. They wanted President Donald Trump and Vice President Michael Pence to win re-election. Defendants were disappointed. But they also saw an opportunity to capitalize on President Trump’s popularity by inventing a story. Defendants decided to tell people that the election was stolen from President Trump and Vice President Pence.
Defendants had an obvious problem with their story. They needed a villain. They needed someone to blame. They needed someone whom they could get others to hate. A story of good versus evil, the type that would incite an angry mob, only works if the storyteller provides the audience with someone who personifies evil.
Without any true villain, Defendants invented one. Defendants decided to make Smartmatic the villain in their story. Smartmatic is an election technology and software company. It was incorporated in Delaware and its U.S. operations are headquartered in Florida. In the 2020 U.S. election, Smartmatic provided election technology and software in Los Angeles County. Nowhere else. Smartmatic had a relatively small, non-controversial role in the 2020 U.S. election.
Those facts would not do for Defendants. So, the Defendants invented new ones. In their story, Smartmatic was a Venezuelan company under the control of corrupt dictators from socialist countries. In their story, Smartmatic’s election technology and software were used in many of the states with close outcomes. And, in their story, Smartmatic was responsible for stealing the 2020 election by switching and altering votes to rig the election for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
Having invented their story, and created their villain, Defendants set about spreading the word. In November and December 2020, Fox News broadcasted thirteen (13) reports stating and implying that Smartmatic had stolen the 2020 U.S. election. They repeated the story in articles and social media postings. Night after night, publication after publication, Fox News reached out to its millions of viewers and readers around the world with a story: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris did not win the 2020 election; Smartmatic stole the election for them.
Defendants’ story evolved over time as they claimed evidence had come to their attention supporting the story. The story came to consist of eight themes:
<list of themes>
Defendants’ story was a lie. All of it. And they knew it. But, it was a story that sold. Millions of individuals who saw and read Defendants’ reports believed them to be true. Smartmatic and its officers began to receive hate mail and death threats…
Once again, you can read the whole work here.