Some Fox News anchors ‘endorsed’ false election fraud claims
Members of Rise and Resist participate in their weekly “Truth Tuesday” protest at News Corp headquarters on February 21, 2023 in New York City.
Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch said some anchors of the company’s TV networks parroted false fraud claims in the months following the 2020 election, according to new court papers out Monday.
In new filings as part of Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox and its networks, Murdoch said he doubted the election fraud claims being aired on Fox News and Fox Business Network.
Murdoch also acknowledged that Fox’s TV hosts endorsed the false election fraud claims. In unveiled question and answers from Murdoch’s deposition, when Murdoch was asked if he was “now aware that Fox endorsed at times this false notion of a stolen election,” Murdoch responded, “Not Fox, no. Not Fox. But maybe Lou Dobbs, maybe Maria [Bartiromo] as commentators.”
“Some of our commentators were endorsing it,” Murdoch said in his responses during the deposition. “They endorsed.”
Dominion sued Fox and its right-wing cable networks, Fox News and Fox Business, arguing the networks and its personalities made false claims that its voting machines rigged the results of the 2020 election. Fox News has consistently denied that it knowingly made false claims about the election, and has said “the core of this case remains about freedom of the press and freedom of speech.”
In earlier court papers, Fox said that the past year of discovery has shown the company played “no role in the creation and publication of the challenged statements — all of which aired on either Fox Business Network or Fox News Channel.”
Murdoch and his son, Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch, as well as Fox’s chief legal and policy officer Viet Dinh, were questioned in connection with the lawsuit in recent months. Earlier in February court papers were released that showed snippets of the evidence Dominion gathered through the months-long process of discovery and depositions, which also included Fox TV personalities.
Text messages and testimony have shown Fox executives and Fox’s TV anchors were skeptical about claims that the election between Joe Biden, a Democrat, and Trump, a Republican, was rigged.
Dominion said in court papers filed Monday that Fox’s defense that the statements made were opinion “goes nowhere.”
“Even if some of Fox’s hosts’ statements could qualify as ‘opinions,’ they are still actionable if—as here—they are based on false or undisclosed facts,” Dominion said.
A representative for Fox News reiterated in a statement on Monday that Dominion mischaracterized the facts by cherry-picking soundbites: “When Dominion is not mischaracterizing the law, it is mischaracterizing the facts.”
Fox has also targeted Dominion’s private-equity owner in court papers regarding Dominion’s request for $1.6 billion in damages, saying the firm “paid a small fraction of that amount” to buy Dominion. Fox has also said in court papers the $1.6 billion figure has no connection to Dominion’s financial value.
“Dominion’s lawsuit has always been more about what will generate headlines than what can withstand legal and factual scrutiny, as illustrated by them now being forced to slash their fanciful damages demand by more than half a billion dollars after their own expert debunked its implausible claims,” said a Fox spokesperson in a statement Monday. “Their summary judgment motion took an extreme, unsupported view of defamation law that would prevent journalists from basic reporting and their efforts to publicly smear FOX for covering and commenting on allegations by a sitting President of the United States should be recognized for what it is: a blatant violation of the First Amendment.”
A Dominion spokesperson said Monday, “The damages claim remains. As Fox well knows, our damages exceed $1.6 billion.”
Dominion brought its lawsuit not only against the TV networks, but parent company Fox Corp., arguing the parent company and its top executives played a role in the spread of misinformation about voter fraud by Fox’s personalities. A Delaware judge had ruled Dominion’s case could be expanded beyond the networks to include Fox Corp.
Monday’s court filings show Murdoch and other Fox executives remained closed to Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott during the election coverage.
“I’m a journalist at heart. I like to be involved in these things,” Murdoch said during his deposition testimony, according to court papers.
Tucker Carlson, host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” poses for photos in a Fox News Channel studio, in New York.
Richard Drew | AP
Earlier court papers have shown top anchors including Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham expressed disbelief in Sidney Powell, a pro-Trump attorney who aggressively promoted claims of election fraud, at the time.
Paul Ryan, the former Republican speaker of the House and a Fox board member, also sat for questioning as part of the lawsuit. Court papers out Monday show Ryan said that “these conspiracy theories were baseless,” and that the network “should labor to dispel conspiracy theories if and when they pop up.”
Ryan also told both Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch “that Fox News should not be spreading conspiracy theories,” according to the filings.
Dominion alleges that Fox News anchors were feeling pressure from the audience and related to rival right-wing networks like Newsmax, fueling on-air fraud claims.
The court papers have also shown other glimpses of the network’s internal response to the events that occurred on Jan. 6, 2021, the day a violent mob breached the U.S. Capitol in support of then-President Donald Trump.
Fox executives shut down Trump’s attempt to appear on the network’s air that evening, after he dialed into on-air personality Lou Dobbs’ show in the afternoon, court filings show.
That same evening, Carlson texted his producer calling Trump “a demonic force. A destroyer. But he’s not going to destroy us,” referring to Fox’s network and its audience, court papers show.
Meanwhile, the night before Jan. 6, court papers showed, Murdoch told Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott, “it’s been suggested our prime time three should independently or together say something like ‘the election is over and Joe Biden won.'”
The lawsuit is being closely monitored by First Amendment watchdogs and experts. Libel lawsuits are typically focused on one falsehood, but in this case Dominion cites a lengthy list of examples of Fox TV hosts making false claims even after they were proven to be untrue. Media companies are often broadly protected by the First Amendment.
A status conference in the case is slated for next week, and the trial is set to begin in mid-April.