Murdoch & Friends: Revelations from an Unsealed Dominion Filing in Suit Against Fox

In this Oct. 20, 2015 file photo, Rupert Murdoch, Chair of Fox Corporation and Executive Chairman of News Corporation, takes part as a judge during a global start-up showcase at the Wall Street Journal Digital Live conference at the Montage hotel in Laguna Beach, California. (Reuters/Mike Blake)

By Susanna Granieri

The recently unsealed filing in Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox includes revelations into internal conversations at the network, and its knowledge that Donald Trump’s claims of a fraudulent presidential election in 2020 were false, but aired them anyway

The filing includes deposition testimony of top Fox executives, hosts of Fox commentary programs and the news organization’s chief legal counsel.

According to the filing, Fox claimed Dominion didn’t engage with the network about the broadcasts, but instead filed “an eye-catching $1.6 billion lawsuit” for financial gain “rather than to prove its innocence.”

But Dominion argues Fox ignored its “massive effort” to convince the network to stop airing the allegedly defamatory statements, as the voting systems technology company “sent 3,682 emails to Fox recipients,” the filing stated.

In its filing, Dominion categorizes the allegedly defamatory statements chronologically from November 3, 2020 to January 6, 2021, using broadcasts, social media posts, and internal emails and messages.

Dominion argues, using its timeline and depositions of Fox employees, hosts and journalists, that Fox’s “neutral reportage argument fails,” its “fair report defense is meritless,” its “opinion argument misses the point,” its executives “participated in the publication of the defamatory broadcasts,” and that Fox News and the Fox Corporation “acted with actual malice,” which a plaintiff with public figure status must prove. Actual malice means publishing an intentional falsehood or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or not. Recklessness has been defined as publishing with a high degree of awareness of probable falsity or entertaining serious doubts as to truth.

First Amendment Watch has gathered revelations from the nearly 200-page Dominion filing, the second document released Feb. 27 by Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis. We’ve included Dominion comments about and also deposition testimony from the following: Rupert Murdoch; Viet Dinh, chief legal counsel; former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a Fox Corp board member; and Meade Cooper, Fox News Network’s vice president of primetime programming.

See more of First Amendment Watch’s coverage of the lawsuit here

Rupert Murdoch, Fox Chairman

Verbatim from the Dominion filing:

Q: What should the consequences be when Fox News executives knowingly allow lies to be broadcast?

Murdoch: They should be reprimanded — They should be reprimanded, maybe got rid of.   Page 1.

While Fox does argue at times that its hosts were reporting “neutrally” — without “endorsing” any of the lies about Dominion—the record demonstrates the opposite. The hosts of the accused shows repeatedly endorsed the “stolen election” lies. Even Rupert Murdoch had to concede the point: 

Q: You are aware now that Fox did more than simply host these guests and give them a platform; correct?

A: I think you’ve shown me some material in support of that.

Q: In fact, you are now aware that Fox endorsed at times this false notion of a stolen election?

A: Not Fox, No. Not Fox. But maybe Lou Dobbs, maybe Maria, as commentators.

Q: We went through Fox hosts Maria Bartiromo, yes?

A: Yes. C’mon.

Q: Fox host Jeanine Pirro?

A:I think so

Q: Fox Business host Lou Dobbs?

A: Oh, a lot.

Q: Fox host Sean Hannity?

A: A bit.

Q: All were in that document; correct?

A: Yes, they were.

Q: About Fox endorsing the narrative of a stolen election; correct?

A: No. Some of our commentators were endorsing it.

Q: About their endorsement of a stolen election?

A: Yes. They endorsed.   Page 3.

During Trump’s campaign, Rupert provided Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, with Fox confidential information about Biden’s ads, along with debate strategy. But, on election night, Rupert would not help with the Arizona call. As Rupert described it: “My friend Jared Kushner called me saying, ‘This is terrible,’ and I could hear Trump’s voice in the background shouting.” But Rupert refused to budge: “And I said, ‘Well, the numbers are the numbers.’” By this point, Rupert knew no fraud had occurred: 

Q. It is fair to say you seriously doubted any claim of massive election fraud? 

A. Oh, yes. 

Q. And you seriously doubted it from the very beginning? …

A. Yes. I mean, we thought everything was on the up-and-up. I think that was shown when we announced Arizona.   Pages 12-13.

Rupert Murdoch emailed Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott on Nov. 8:

that Fox was “[g]etting creamed” by CNN … Soon after Rupert’s email, Scott had a “long talk” with both Rupert and Lachlan. They discussed the mounting viewer backlash to Fox, how to win back viewers (including by not booking Democratic guests), and “the direction that Fox should take.” Rupert conceded that in that conversation, they also spoke about “the future of Fox going forward.” Rupert confirmed that they discussed how Fox should react to the fact that Trump was not conceding.

And Rupert confirmed that the decision was to allow these “wild claims” on air, although he phrased it as his lawyers now do that it was only a matter of “reporting the news”:

Q. And you were aware that Fox News was having these people appear on the television under Fox’s banner to spread these charges? 

A. We report the news, and we have dozens of people a day on the channels that are talking about the news. And this was big news. The President of the United States was making wild claims, but that is news.   Pages 19-20.

On November 19, when Rupert watched Giuliani and [Sidney] Powell spread their stolen election lies at that now infamous press conference, he told [Suzanne] Scott: “Terrible stuff damaging everybody, I fear. Probably hurting us too.” Murdoch clarified at his deposition, “‘Us’ being Fox News.” And he sent News Corporation CEO Robert Thomson an email with subject “Watching Giuliani!” stating “Really crazy stuff. And damaging.” Of course, at the same time Rupert believed that Giuliani was spewing “Really crazy stuff,” Rupert testified he also “assumed” Giuliani was “pushing” those same lies on FNN.   Page 28.

On November 23, former Murdoch lieutenant and ABC News President Preston Padden sent Rupert an article from the website Mediaite entitled “Fox News Identity Crisis: Indulge Trump’s Election Conspiracy or Reject It…and Watch Its Audience Flee?” The article explained that FNN’s “top-rated opinion hosts have continued to entertain the increasingly loony conspiracy theory that the election was stolen from Trump through widespread voter fraud.” … Rupert reviewed the article and agreed that it had “[s]ome truth,” but noted that he had “been listening sometimes to Tucker Carlson” who had “called out that crazy would be lawyer,” Powell. Rupert told Padden that “generally, we are navigating it pretty well.” Rupert testified that by this he meant “we are reporting it well,” and he confirmed that Fox was “trying to straddle the line between spewing conspiracy theories on one hand, yet calling out the fact that they are actually false on the other.”

Rupert then explained why he believed it was acceptable to air these conspiracy theories: “We were treating it as news that the president and his lawyers were saying this. We were commenting on it to say it was nonsense, or Tucker was.” Rupert admitted, however, that other hosts did not call the claims nonsense and in fact endorsed “this false notion of a stolen election.” Indeed, Rupert said of Dobbs: “he’s mad”; i.e., crazy. And Carlson himself later hosted Mike Lindell to spout lies about Dominion without any pushback.

Rupert confirmed that he “could have” told Scott, “Stop hosting Sidney Powell.” He said the same of Giuliani: 

Q. And you could have said to Suzanne Scott or to the hosts, “Stop putting Rudy Giuliani on the air”?

A. I could have. But I didn’t.   Pages 29-30.

On January 8, Preston Padden sent Rupert an article from The Washington Post stating that “The pro-Trump media world peddled the lies that fueled the Capitol mob. Fox News led the way.” Padden followed up with an email stating “I do think Fox News needs a court correction.” Rupert responded, “Fox News very busy pivoting….We want to make Trump a non person.”   Pages 33-34.

On January 11, 2021, FC Board Member Anne Dias told Rupert and Lachlan that “considering how important Fox News has been as a megaphone for Donald Trump, directly or indirectly, I believe the time has come for Fox News or for you, Lachlan, to take a stance. It is an existential moment for the nation and for Fox News as a brand.” Lachlan emailed Rupert to discuss, and Rupert responded, “Just tell her we have been talking internally and [] intensely along these lines, and Fox News, which called the election correctly, is pivoting as fast as possible. We have to lead our viewers which is [] not as easy as it might seem.”   Page 34.

In mid-December, Mike Lindell criticized Fox for supposedly being “‘in on’ stealing the election from Trump.” [Suzanne] Scott sent a personal note and a gift to Lindell. She also suggested that shows book Lindell because he would “get ratings.” On January 26, 2021, Tucker Carlson had Lindell on air to spread lies about Dominion … As Rupert testified, “The man is on every night. Pays us a lot of money…At first you think it’s comic, and then you get bored and irritated. [next sentence is redacted]. Rupert confirmed that he could tell FNN to stop running Lindell’s advertisements, “But I’m not about to.” And when asked why Fox continues to give a platform to Lindell—who continues to this day to spout lies about Dominion—Murdoch agreed that “It is not red or blue, it is green.” Lindell brought—and brings—Fox a lot of green. He also predictably brought the same lies about Dominion to Fox’s viewers that had been peddled on Fox’s “alternate reality machine” for months.   Pages 35-36.

Viet Dinh, Fox Corporation’s Chief Legal and Policy Officer 

According to Dinh’s bio on the Fox Corporation website, he is a graduate of Harvard Law School, and before joining Fox, was a Georgetown University law professor for two decades. Dinh also served as U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Legal Policy from 2001-2003 under George W. Bush.

Verbatim from the Dominion filing:

Q: Mr. Dinh, should Fox broadcast election fraud allegations that it knows to be false?

Dinh: No.   Page 1.

The evidence confirms that executives in the “chain of command,” from both FC [Fox Corporation] and FNN [Fox News Network], knew Fox was broadcasting these known lies, had the power to stop it, but chose to let it continue. That was wrong, and for that, FC and FNN are both liable.

FC Chief Legal and Policy Officer (“CLPO”) Viet Dinh, the highest-ranking lawyer in the entire corporate structure, said it best: 

Q: If any of the people in that chain of command who had the power to exercise control over Lou Dobbs’ show knew that what Sidney Powell was alleging was false, didn’t they have an obligation to prevent her from coming on the show to tell those lies? 

A: Yes 

Q: But when the executives at Fox News know that hosts of shows are broadcasting allegations that the executives know or believe to be false, in that situation, the executives have an obligation to act, right?

A: If they are within the chain of command and if they – and if they come to that knowledge, yes.

Q: And by “act,” that means to put a stop to it, right? 

Q: They have an obligation under those circumstances, the executives do, in the chain of command, to put a stop to those broadcasts, right, sir? 

A: Yes, to prevent and correct known falsehoods.   Pages 6-7.

… Hannity told his audience that “it will be impossible to ever know the true, fair, accurate election results, that’s a fact.” That comment generated backlash and calls for boycotts. FC’s Viet Dinh commented to Lachlan [Murdoch], [Suzanne] Scott, and FNN Senior Executive Vice President of Corporate Communications Irena Briganti: “Let’s continue to buckle up for the ride for the next 24 hours. Hannity is getting awfully close to the line with his commentary and guests tonight.”   Page 14.

Dinh conceded that he was “skeptical” of the claim that Dominion rigged the election from the time it was made up through mid-December 2020. With respect to whether Dominion’s software and algorithms manipulated vote counts in the 2020 election, he likewise testified that “he did not believe” and “was skeptical of that allegation,” though he remained open to contrary evidence … At minimum, by his own admission, Dinh recklessly disregarded the truth by permitting the broadcasts to air.   Pages 161-162.

Viet Dinh testified that the claim regarding Dominion’s ties to Venezuela was “extraordinary” (leading him to quickly research and disprove it).   Page 165.

Paul Ryan, Fox Corporation Board Member

From October 2015 to January 2019, Ryan was the 54th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Verbatim from the Dominion filing:

As a Board Member, Ryan believed that the period immediately following the 2020 Presidential Election “was a pretty important inflection point, not just for the company Fox, but for the country and for the conservative movement itself,” and shared this “view as a fiduciary” with Rupert and Lachlan … He confirmed that the “inflection point” was not just one day; “it was the whole time” in the post-election November/December timeframe. Ryan knew that “these conspiracy theories were baseless” and that Fox “should labor to dispel conspiracy theories if and when they pop up.” Ryan also understood that when events occur, Fox “can clearly amplify that news being made by covering it.” Ryan believed “there ought to be a listing of all the allegations and then all the evidence or the validation or invalidation of those [election fraud] allegations just for the viewers’ sake,” and suggested as much to Fox’s senior management. Ryan told Rupert and Lachlan “that Fox News should not be spreading conspiracy theories.”   Page 23.

Sean Hannity, Host of Hannity on Fox News since 2009

Verbatim from the Dominion filing in reference to Hannity’s Nov. 30, 2020 broadcast:

Hannity admitted at his deposition that he never believed Powell’s claims, yet he did not “challenge” her false claims on that broadcast “to the extent that I would have had I had more time.” Hannity did not challenge her false claims at all. He did not tell his audience that he did not believe them, or that her excuses for not producing evidence were not credible, or disclose any of the evidence he had debunking those claims, such as the results of the statewide Georgia recount. To the contrary, in the lead-up to his interview with Powell, Hannity repeated his own well-worn lies about Dominion, repeatedly mischaracterizing numerous press reports and other sources to soften up his audience to believe Powell’s more drastic lies (a practice of Hannity’s that Dominion covered in detail with him at his deposition). Given the unreliability of the source, and Hannity’s woefully inaccurate reporting, this segment cannot possibly qualify as neutral reportage.   Pages 122-123.

Hannity testified that the “whole narrative that Sidney was pushing. I did not believe it for one second.” … (“nobody ever convinced me that their argument was anywhere near accurate or true”), … (“I did not believe those allegations”). When Powell appeared on Hannity’s November 30 show, he believed that it was “obvious” her allegations were false … (Powell’s claims about “Venezuela” were “crazy stuff”), … (“F’ing lunatic”). Hannity’s own words repeatedly confirm that he knew Powell’s claims were not true at the time of the November 30 broadcast.   Page 171.

Meade Cooper, Fox News Network’s Executive Vice President of Primetime Programming

Verbatim from the Dominion filing in reference to challenging statements made by guests on air:

FNN EVP Meade Cooper likewise conceded that “a token pushback is not really a fair reporting on either side.” 

Cooper also confirmed newsworthiness is not a license to lie, agreeing “you can cover the allegations and say they are conspiracy theories and not true” and “there are ways to cover the allegations without giving a platform to the people spewing lies.” FC executive Rah Shah similarly acknowledged, “it’s possible to cover those allegations while pointing out in the same breath that they are being made without any evidence to support them.” And while Fox’s hosts on a few occasions acknowledged Dominion’s denials, reporting a bare denial by a falsely accused party is nowhere near as powerful as reporting that denial alongside information the accused party provides to debunk the false charges, as FC CLPO Viet Dinh conceded.   Page 83.

Feb. 27, 2023 — Unsealed Dominion Filing