By Paul Wagman
A Washington, D.C. jury’s decision that former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani must pay two former Georgia poll workers $148 million for lying about their role in the 2020 election leaves the stage nearly clear for the next act in the two women’s legal battles – to be played out in St. Louis against The Gateway Pundit.
A new battle between the women and Giuliani broke out in Washington Monday when the two women sued the former Mayor again, this time to obtain an injunction permanently banning him from repeating his lies about them. But the new suit appears to be only a kind of aftershock in the context of the huge penalty the jury handed down last week against the man once known as “America’s Mayor.”
The next major battle ahead for the two poll workers, Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, appears now to be their defamation case in St. Louis Circuit Court against The Gateway Pundit, a conspiracy-oriented, far-right website that is solely owned by St. Louisan Jim Hoft. He and his identical twin brother, Joe Hoft, are also defendants in the suit.
In October, lawyers for the two women filed a motion seeking an August, 2024 trial date. The court’s response is pending.
Lawyers for Freeman and Moss, who are mother and daughter, argued in their October motion that the Hofts’ attorneys had been pursuing a delaying strategy ever since the suit against their clients had been filed in December of 2021. The tactics, they said, included an “improper” attempt to transfer the case to federal court – a failed effort that nevertheless consumed six months – and only spotty cooperation with court-ordered pre-trial discovery. Other observers noted that the defendants also appeared to seek a delay by counter-suing the two women and some of their lawyers; the court dismissed that effort in July.
Meanwhile, the $148 million judgment against Guiliani can hardly be encouraging to the Hofts, considering the similarity of the cases. Both are civil in nature. Both involve some of the same lawyers on the side of the two women. And both involve the same lies, with the main difference being simply who was telling them.
In addition, Giuliani’s lawyer explicitly told the jury in Washington that it was The Gateway Pundit, not his client, who was more responsible for those lies. He called the Gateway Pundit “patient zero.”
All of the allegations by the two poll workers date from statements first made on Dec. 3, 2020 at a hearing conducted by the Georgia State Senate. Giuliani, then a lawyer for Trump, claimed there had been massive voter fraud. That testimony was complemented by a video played by another lawyer for the Trump Campaign, who said the video showed vote-counting chicanery for Biden. One America News Network (OANN) quickly began to broadcast the video.
Just a few hours later, The Gateway Pundit republished the same video in a story carrying the headline, “HUGE! Video Footage from Georgia Shows Suitcases Filled with Ballots Pulled from Under Table AFTER Supervisor Told GOP Poll Workers to Leave Tabulation Center.” And that evening, the publication followed up with a piece under Jim Hoft’s by-line identifying one of those “caught on video counting illegal ballots from a suitcase stashed under a table” as Ruby Freeman. The story called her a “Crook” who should perhaps get a visit from the police or Attorney General Bill Barr.
Early the next morning, Hoft published another story identifying the second woman as Moss Since then the publication has repeatedly bragged – here, for example — that it was the first to identify the two women.
Within 24 hours, Georgia election officials had publicly debunked the video and cleared the women of any wrongdoing. Both Giuliani and The Gateway Pundit, however, continued to accuse them by name of election fraud.
Death threats and other harassment soon followed. At the recommendation of the FBI, Freeman fled her own home; she didn’t return for two months. She also had to close down her business, which was conducted online and therefore exposed her to more harassment.
On Jan. 2, 2021, President Trump himself named Freeman as a vote “scammer” in his much-publicized phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffenspergter – the call during which Trump asked Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes.
Dozens of accusatory stories continued to appear in The Gateway Pundit during the months that followed – stories that the lawyers for the women have suggested are money-makers for the publication. On Nov. 22, 2021, lawyers for the two women sent The Gateway Pundit a cease-and-desist letter, but the publication continued its attacks. As a result, on Dec. 2, 2021, the two women sued in the Circuit Court of St. Louis.
Later that month, the two women also sued Giuliani and OANN. But in May of 2022, OANN settled with them, and acknowledged on air that “Ruby Freeman and Wandrea ‘Shaye’ Moss did not engage in ballot fraud or criminal misconduct while working at State Farm Arena on election night.”
Through most of 2022, The Gateway Pundit fell quiet on the subject; a search of the website showed only three stories mentioning Freeman or Moss in 2022.
But in recent months, aggressive coverage has resumed. On August 15, after Trump was indicted by a Fulton County, Georgia grand jury, Jim Hoft appeared on Steve Bannon’s “The War Room” podcast and accused the two women of “actual election fraud” and “cheat(ing)and steal(Ing) in the middle of the night.” Hoft posted the podcast to The Gateway Pundit. The next day, Hoft published another piece in which he incorporated the original OANN video that OANN itself had disavowed.
All this appears to have precipitated additional death threats against both women, threats cited in another cease-and-desist letter on August 31. “Defendants’ continuing repetition of false accusations about our clients is inflicting significant harm and endangering our clients,” the letter said. “It must stop.” The letter was signed by Matt Ampleman, an associate at St. Louis-based Dowd Bennett, part of the two women’s legal team.
But on Nov. 14, the publication carried a new story about Freeman, with a joint Jim and Joe Hoft by-line, which again republished the discredited video, linked back to some of the earlier allegations, and boasted again that The Gateway Pundit had been the “first new outlet to discover and report that the election workers and ballot counters in Atlanta really went to town.” Since 2020, Joe has been working full-time for his brother, Joe said in this podcast last year.
Also carrying stories recently about the two women has been Joe Hoft’s personal website, joehoft.com, which has nowhere the reach of The Gateway Pundit, but which republishes material from that site as well as original content.
Meanwhile, in advance of the recent United Nations Convention on Climate Change (COP28) in Dubai, a global coalition called Climate Action Against Disinformation also criticized The Gateway Pundit on entirely different grounds.
The coalition, made up of more than 50 organizations devoted to protecting the climate and fighting disinformation, issued a report that singled out 15 key websites for subverting efforts to combat climate change through such strategies as creating confusion and framing climate action as a “a pretext for State overreach or tyranny backed by elites.” The report is called “Deny, Deceive, Delay.”
One of the 15 websites is The Gateway Pundit. The report cites not only the popularity of the site with its own readers, but the way its stories can spread across social media and “serve to ‘normalize’ or legitimate false and misleading claims.”
Punch the term “climate change” into the search button on The Gateway Pundit and you will have no shortage of reading opportunities.
Some sample headlines drawn from just this past summer:
Paul Wagman is a former Post-Dispatch reporter and FleishmanHillard executive who is now an independent reporter, editor and communications consultant.