New court documents show that Rupert Murdoch and his top lieutenants at Fox News were aware that former President Trump’s claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election were false, but agreed to give them continued coverage in an effort to keep its unhappy viewers from fleeing.
The stunning revelations based on deposition testimony were in a brief filed Monday in Delaware State Court by Dominion Voting Systems, the latest salvo in the company’s $1.6-billion defamation suit against the conservative news network.
In his deposition, Murdoch acknowledged that he had the power to keep Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell from appearing on Fox News, where they spread misinformation about election fraud and falsely accused Dominion of using its machines to manipulate votes. But he chose not to exercise that power, even though behind the scenes he and others were aware that Trump’s legal team was spreading lies and even questioned their sanity, according to the deposition.
When asked as to whether he could have said to Fox News Media Chief Executive Suzanne Scott and the network’s hosts “stop putting Rudy Giuliani on the air,” Murdoch replied, “I could have. But I didn’t.”
Fox News has maintained that its coverage and commentary of Trump’s false allegations were newsworthy and therefore protected under the 1st Amendment.
The filing also reveals that Fox Corp. board member Paul Ryan warned the Murdochs “that Fox News should not be spreading conspiracy theories,” according to testimony from the former Republican Speaker of the House.
“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 de-legitimize the election,” Ryan told the Murdochs. “I see this as a key inflection point for Fox, where the right thing and the smart business thing to do line up nicely.”
The court document also shows how network executives debated over debunking Trump’s false claims without agitating its viewers, some of whom were flocking to upstart conservative network Newsmax, which was far more sympathetic to the falsehoods.
On Jan. 5, Murdoch and Scott discussed whether hosts Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Laura Ingraham should say some version of “The election is over and Joe Biden won.” Murdoch believed those words “would go a long way to stop the Trump myth that the election was stolen.”
Scott told Murdoch that “privately they are all there” but “we need to be careful about using the shows and pissing off the viewers.”
No statement was made that night and the next day, Jan. 6, Trump-supporting rioters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to stop the electoral vote count.
Dominion filed a motion for summary judgment on Feb. 16 that outlined how Fox News anchors and executives privately dismissed the claims of voter fraud and found no evidence to support them, but continued to give a platform on their programs to Trump lawyers and surrogates who presented wildly false allegations.
By having the case move forward, the inner workings at Fox News are being exposed through texts, e-mails and deposition testimony, presenting a picture of an operation panicked over how Trump supporters in its audience would abandon the network.
This is a developing story