Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch admitted in a deposition that while he had the opportunity to stop former President Donald Trump’s legal team from peddling election fraud lies on his network, he decided not to take it.
“I could have. But I didn’t,” Murdoch told lawyers for Dominion Voting Systems when asked if he could have ordered Fox News to keep Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell off the air following the 2020 election.
On top of that, Murdoch also conceded that several of his network’s stars helped shape a false on-air narrative about the election being “stolen” from Trump due to corrupt voting machines. “They endorsed,” the Fox chairman declared under oath in a legal filing unsealed on Monday. “I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it in hindsight.”
This latest filing by Dominion, which is suing Fox News for $1.6 billion, comes on the heels of the voting software firm releasing an explosive batch of emails and text messages earlier this month from Fox News hosts, producers and executives. Both sets of documents portray the network’s head honchos and top stars blasting Team Trump’s “insane” voter fraud claims behind the scenes while simultaneously broadcasting them to millions of viewers.
Dominion is arguing that the damning internal communications between Fox employees and management prove that the network knowingly spread lies following Trump’s loss as a way to bolster its ratings.
Messages reveal that Fox executives and personnel were concerned about disgruntled MAGA viewers ditching them for alternatives such as Newsmax after the network called Arizona for Joe Biden, sparking outrage from Trump and his supporters. Shortly after the early Arizona call, many of the network’s hosts and commentators began amplifying outlandish theories that Dominion’s machines and software were part of a complex voter fraud conspiracy involving, among other, deceased Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.
In his deposition with Dominion’s attorneys last month, Murdoch was forced to concede that even though Fox has argued that its hosts reported “neutrally” on Trump’s election fraud claims, many of them actually did endorse the ex-president “solen election” lies.
Stating that former Fox Business host Lou Dobbs amplified the baseless voter fraud narrative “a lot,” Murdoch also admitted that current Fox News stars Jeanine Pirro, Maria Bartiromo and Sean Hannity also peddled the Trumpworld falsehoods on air.
“Yes. They endorsed,” he stated.
While these latest documents reveal that Murdoch was very much concerned about the impact Trump’s election loss was having on the network’s viewership and reputation, they also show he was willing to remain hands-off as Fox gave airtime to Giuliani and Powell to air their groundless accusations.
“And you could have said to [Fox News CEO] Suzanne Scott or the hosts, ‘Stop putting Rudy Giuliani on the air,’” one attorney asked the Fox News owner.
“I could have. But I didn’t,” Murdoch answered.
Dominion’s filing also included a deposition from Fox chief legal officer Viet Dinh, who said that he expressed concern about Hannity’s on-air rhetoric in the days following the election. Noting that Hannity said on Nov. 5, 2020, that it would be “impossible to ever know the true, fair, accurate election results,” Dinh noted that he told other Fox executives that “Hannity is getting awfully close to the line with his commentary and guests tonight.”
Asked whether the network’s management had an obligation to stop its hosts from spreading lies, Dinh responded: “Yes, to prevent and correct known falsehoods.”
However, with viewers fleeing the network in the days after the election, Murdoch and other executives began talking about “the direction that Fox should take” and how to win back that audience. On Nov. 8, 2020, Murdoch confirmed that part of that decision was to allow Team Trump’s “wild claims” on air, framing it as “big news” and it was merely the network “talking about the news.”
Fox “Brand Protection Unit” chief Raj Shah, a former Trump administration official, warned executives after the early Arizona call that the network would “get hit very hard by the right” if it was early in calling the presidency for Biden. Shah would later share polling data with Murdoch and others showing “positive impressions of Fox news among our viewers dropped precipitously after Election Day to the lowest levels we’ve ever seen.”
While many of the executives at Fox News were freaking out about the viewer exodus, Fox Corp. board member Paul Ryan to both Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch “that Fox News should not be spreading conspiracy theories.”
A Fox News spokesperson reacted to Dominion’s latest filing by saying it shows “an extreme, unsupported view of defamation law that would prevent journalists from basic reporting.”
In its counterclaim earlier this month, Fox attorneys said “a reasonable viewer would have readily understood that hosts were not espousing the President’s allegations themselves, but were providing a forum for the principal architects of those legal challenges,” adding that “there is no potential for defamation at all.”
At the same time, the network is going out of its way to keep its audience in the dark about the blockbuster lawsuit and the latest revelations. Besides telling Fox News media host Howard Kurtz he is not allowed to cover the damning texts, the channel also rejected an ad showing its stars dismissing Trump’s election lies behind the scenes.