Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has acknowledged that some Fox News commentators advanced false allegations from former United States President Donald Trump and his allies that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, according to excerpts of a deposition unsealed on Monday.
The documents also reveal that the Fox Corporation (FC) chairperson did not step in to stop them from promoting the unsubstantiated election claims. Those falsehoods and the company’s handling of them are at the heart of a defamation lawsuit against the cable news giant by Dominion Voting Systems.
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The recently unsealed documents include excerpts from a deposition in which Murdoch was asked about whether he was aware that some of the network’s commentators — Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro and Sean Hannity — at times endorsed the false election claims.
Murdoch replied, “Yes. They endorsed.”
The Murdoch deposition is the latest filing in the defamation case to reveal concerns at the top-rated network over how it handled Trump’s claims. Fox News’s ratings plummeted after the network announced that Democrat Joe Biden had won the key battleground state of Arizona, angering Trump and his supporters.
An earlier filing showed a gulf between the stolen election narrative the network aired in primetime and the doubts raised by its stars behind the scenes. In one text from November 16, 2020, Fox News host Tucker Carlson said that Trump lawyer “Sidney Powell is lying” about having evidence of election fraud.
The Dominion case is the latest example to show that those spreading false information about the 2020 election knew there was no evidence to support it.
The now-disbanded House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol disclosed that many of Trump’s top advisers repeatedly warned him that his fraud allegations were false — and yet the president continued making the claims.
In September 2020, weeks before the election, Murdoch urged that Dobbs, one of Fox’s hosts, be fired because he was “an extremist”, according to Dominion’s court filing.
Murdoch also said he thought it was “really bad” for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to be advising Trump because Giuliani’s “judgment was bad” and he was “an extreme partisan”, according to a deposition excerpt.
Both Giuliani and Powell made appearances on Fox News as part of Trump’s team. Murdoch was asked whether he could have requested that they not be put on the air. “I could have. But I didn’t,” he replied.
Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems, which sells electronic voting hardware and software, is suing the Fox News Network (FNN) and its parent company Fox Corporation for defamation.
Dominion contends that some Fox News employees deliberately amplified false claims by Trump supporters that its machines had changed votes in the 2020 election, and that Fox provided a platform for guests to make false and defamatory statements about the company.
Dominion lawyers contend that executives in the “chain of command” at both Fox News and Fox Corporation knew the network was broadcasting “known lies, had the power to stop it, but chose to let it continue. That was wrong, and for that, FC and FNN are both liable.”
Lawyers for the Fox Corporation note in their filing that Murdoch also testified that he never discussed Dominion or voter fraud with any of the accused Fox News hosts. They say Dominion has produced “zero evidentiary support” for the claim that high-level executives at Fox Corporation had any role in creating or publishing the statements at issue.
Dominion’s contention that the company should be held liable because Murdoch might have had the power to step in and prevent the challenged statements from being aired “has no basis in defamation law”, they said.
Fox Corporation lawyers warned that such a ruling “would obliterate the distinction between corporate parents and subsidiaries”.
The “handful of selective quotes” cited by Dominion have nothing to do with the statements that Dominion has challenged as defamatory, the lawyers continued.
“Dominion repeatedly asked Fox News executives, hosts, and staff whether Fox Corporation employees played a role in the publication of the statements it challenges,” they wrote. “The answer — every single time, for every single witness — was no.”
Meanwhile, lawyers for Fox News note that when voting-technology companies denied the allegations being made by Trump and his surrogates, the network aired those denials, while some hosts offered protected opinion commentary about Trump’s allegations.