Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has acknowledged that some Fox News commentators have raised false allegations by former US President Donald Trump and his allies that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, according to excerpts of a statement unsealed Monday.
The documents also show that the chairman of the Fox Corporation (FC) did not intervene to dissuade them from promoting the baseless election claims. Those falsehoods and the company’s handling of them are at the heart of a defamation lawsuit brought against the cable news giant by Dominion Voting Systems.
The recently unsealed documents include excerpts from a statement asking Murdoch if he knew that some of the network’s commentators — Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro and Sean Hannity — sometimes endorsed the bogus election claims.
Murdoch replied, “Yes. They endorsed.”
Murdoch’s statement is the latest filing in the libel suit to highlight concerns with the top-rated network about how it handled Trump’s claims. Fox News ratings plummeted after the network announced that Democrat Joe Biden had won the key battlefield state of Arizona, angering Trump and his supporters.
A previous filing showed a disconnect between the stolen election story the network aired in primetime and the doubts the stars raised behind the scenes. In a text dated November 16, 2020, Fox News host Tucker Carlson said Trump attorney “Sidney Powell is lying” about having evidence of election fraud.
The Dominion case is the latest example to show that those who spread false information about the 2020 election knew there was no evidence to support it.
The now-disbanded House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol revealed that many of Trump’s top advisers repeatedly warned him that his fraud allegations were false — and yet the president continued to make the claims.
In September 2020, weeks before the election, Murdoch pushed for Dobbs, one of Fox’s hosts, to be fired for being “an extremist,” according to the Dominion lawsuit.
Murdoch also said he thought it was “really bad” that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani advised Trump because Giuliani’s “judgment was bad” and he was “an extreme partisan,” according to an excerpt from a statement.
Both Giuliani and Powell appeared on Fox News as part of Trump’s team. Murdoch was asked if he could have asked that they not come on the air. ‘I could have it. But I didn’t,’ he replied.
Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems, which sells electronic voting hardware and software, is suing Fox News Network (FNN) and its parent company Fox Corporation for libel.
Dominion alleges that some Fox News employees deliberately amplified false claims by Trump supporters that their machines had switched votes in the 2020 election, and that Fox provided a platform for guests to make false and defamatory statements about the company.
Dominion lawyers argue that executives in both Fox News and Fox Corporation’s “chain of command” knew the network was broadcasting “known lies,” had the power to stop it, but chose to let it continue. That was wrong and both FC and FNN are liable for that.”
Attorneys 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 provided “zero evidence support” for the allegation that high-level executives at Fox Corporation played any role in the preparation or publication of the statements in question.
Dominion’s claim that the company should be held liable because Murdoch may have had the power to intervene and prevent the contested statements from being broadcast “has no basis in the defamation law,” they said.
Fox Corporation lawyers warned that such a ruling would “disappear the distinction between parent companies and subsidiaries.”
The “handful of selective quotes” cited by Dominion have nothing to do with the statements Dominion has contested 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 disputes,” they wrote. “The answer – every time, for every witness – was no.”
Meanwhile, Fox News lawyers note that when voice tech companies denied the allegations made by Trump and his surrogates, the network aired those denials, while some hosts provided shielded opinion comments on Trump’s allegations.