Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch testified that Fox News’s popular commentators “endorsed” Donald Trump’s false claim that the 2020 presidential election was rigged, even though Murdoch said he doubted the conspiracy theory right away, according to a filing in a defamation lawsuit.
“Some of our commentators were endorsing it,” Murdoch said while being questioned under oath in a $1.6 billion suit by Dominion Voting Systems Inc., which included excerpts of the deposition in a court filing Monday.
“About the endorsement of a stolen election?” a lawyer asked.
“Yes,” Murdoch said. “They endorsed.”
Fox News is accused of helping to promote false claims that the voting-machine maker flipped millions of electronic ballots away from Trump as part of a vast conspiracy involving corrupt Democrats and foreign hackers — a claim still touted by the former president and many of his allies.
Murdoch testified that he seriously doubted Trump’s conspiracy theory right away.
“It is fair to say you seriously doubted any claim of massive election fraud?” Murdoch was asked by a Dominion lawyer.
“Oh, yes,” Murdoch said.
“And you seriously doubted it from the very beginning?” he was asked.
“Yes,” Murdoch replied. “I mean, we thought everything was on the up-and-up. I think that was shown when we announced Arizona.” He was referring to when Fox declared Joe Biden the winner in the state on election night.
Murdoch’s testimony was partially disclosed by Denver-based Dominion in its response to a request by Fox in its favor without holding a trial, which is currently set for April in Delaware state court. Dominion has also asked the judge to rule in its favor without a trial.
The voting-machine company argues the depositions of Murdoch and others support its claim that Fox broadcast the defamatory claims while “knowing or recklessly disregarding the truth.” An earlier filing by Dominion cited text messages and emails to show that a slew of on-air talent and executives knew the theory was bogus.
Even so, Fox News went on to report on the conspiracy theory for weeks after the election, repeatedly hosting its biggest proponents, former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell and longtime Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, among others.
On Monday, Fox criticized Dominion’s filing as an attempt to “generate headlines” rather than put forth valid legal arguments.
“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,” Fox said.
Fox also argues that the text messages and emails cited in Dominion’s earlier filing fail to support the case because the seemingly damning comments weren’t made by anyone whose statements were allegedly defamatory.
Dominion said the case should proceed. “Fox asks the Court to hold that it has no legal responsibility whatsoever for broadcasting even the most horrible allegations that it knows to be false, as long as they are ‘newsworthy,’” the voting-machine maker said.
In its filing Monday, Dominion said Murdoch was cozy with Trump’s campaign, going so far as to give Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner access to “Fox confidential information about Biden’s ads, along with debate strategy.”
Even so, Murdoch declined to help Trump after Fox declared that Biden was the winner in Arizona, Dominion said.
“My friend Jared Kushner called me saying, ‘This is terrible,’ and I could hear Trump’s voice in the background shouting,” Murdoch testified, according to the filing. “And I said, ‘Well, the numbers are the numbers.’”
When Fox called the election for Biden on Nov. 7, 2020, Rupert Murdoch “lamented” to his son, Fox Corp. co-Chairman Lachlan Murdoch, that things could have been handled differently, according to Dominion’s filing.
“We should and could have gone first but at least being second saves us a Trump explosion!” the elder Murdoch said, according to the filing.
Murdoch said in an email to the New York Post’s Col Allan a few days after the election that Giuliani was a “terrible influence on Donald,” and that half of what Trump was saying was “bullsh*t and damaging.”
Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the US House who joined Fox’s board of directors in 2019, sent Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch a text message on Dec. 6, 2020, about a month after the election, blasting Trump’s behavior.
“We are entering a truly bizarre phase of this where [Trump] has actually convinced himself of this farce and will do more bizarre things to delegitimize the election,” Ryan said, according to Dominion’s filing.
On Dec. 7, after receiving Ryan’s text, Rupert wrote to Lachlan: “Call me later re Trump and Paul. Trump on Saturday sounded really crazy.”
In January 2021, after Fox News was accused of helping trigger the Capitol riot, Rupert Murdoch responded to internal concerns about the network’s role, telling a Fox executive: “Fox News very busy pivoting…We want to make Trump a non person.”