Private messages from Fox News execs and hosts released in Dominion’s $1.6 billion lawsuit against the network
A trove of text messages, emails, and other material from Fox News executives and on-air personalities were made public Tuesday as part of Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion lawsuit against the right-wing channel.
The hundreds of pages of new documents include previously unreleased excerpts from key depositions, including Fox Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch, and are part of Dominion’s defamation lawsuit against Fox News.
Dominion has alleged in its lawsuit that during the 2020 presidential election the right-wing talk channel “recklessly disregarded the truth” and pushed various pro-Donald Trump conspiracy theories about the election technology company because “the lies were good for Fox’s business.”
In a January deposition, Murdoch repeatedly rejected conspiracy theories about Dominion Voting Systems that his own network promoted after the 2020 election, according to a transcript of his deposition released Tuesday.
The transcript was part of a trove of text messages, emails, and other material from Fox News executives and on-air personalities that were made public Tuesday as part of Dominion’s $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against the right-wing channel.
“Do you believe that Dominion was engaged in a massive and coordinated effort to steal the 2020 presidential election?” Murdoch was asked by Dominion lawyers.
“No,” Murdoch replied.
“Have you ever seen any credible evidence to suggest that Dominion was engaged in a massive and coordinated effort to steal the 2020 presidential election?” the Dominion lawyer pressed.
“No,” Murdoch replied.
“Have you ever believed that Dominion was engaged in a massive and coordinated effort to steal the 2020 presidential election?” the Dominion lawyer asked.
“No,” Murdoch replied.
“You’ve never believed that Dominion was involved in an effort to delegitimize and destroy votes for Donald Trump, correct?” the Dominion lawyer asked.
“I’m open to persuasion; but, no, I’ve never seen it,” Murdoch replied.
The hundreds of pages of new documents that came out Tuesday include previously unreleased excerpts from key depositions, including Murdoch, and are part of Dominion’s defamation lawsuit against Fox News.
Fox News denies wrongdoing and says the judge should resolve the case in favor before it even goes to trial, which is scheduled for next month in Delaware.
More than a month after the 2020 election, then-Fox News DC Managing Editor Bill Sammon decried the network’s coverage of false election claims in private messages to a colleague, fearing it had become an “existential crisis” for the right-wing channel.
“More than 20 minutes into our flagship evening news broadcast and we’re still focused solely on supposed election fraud – a month after the election,” Sammon wrote to then-political editor Chris Stirewalt. “It’s remarkable how weak ratings makes good journalists do bad things.”
Stirewalt replied, “it’s a real mess.”
The messages were part of hundreds of pages of documents released Tuesday in Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox News. (The network denies wrongdoing.)
“In my 22 years affiliated with Fox, this is the closest thing I’ve seen to an existential crisis – at least journalistically,” Sammon said.
“What’s most worrisome is that there doesn’t seem to be much conflict,” Stirewalt said.
“What I see us doing is losing the silent majority of viewers as we chase the nuts off a cliff,” Sammon replied.
Both men, Sammon and Stirewalt, departed the company in early 2021.
The Dominion lawsuit is one of two separate cases brought by voting technology companies against Fox News that collectively seek $4.3 billion in damages, posing a serious threat to the highly profitable arm of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. Fox News has not only vigorously denied the claims, it has insisted it is “proud” of its 2020 election coverage.
The recent court filings in the Dominion case have offered the most vivid picture to date of the chaos that transpired behind the scenes at Fox News after Trump lost the election.
The filings unearthed communications revealing that the most prominent stars — Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham — and highest-ranking executives privately trashed claims of fraud in the 2020 election, despite the network allowing lies about the contest to be promoted on its air.
In one particularly damaging admission revealed in the case last month, Murdoch acknowledged that several Fox News hosts endorsed false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
“They endorsed,” Murdoch said, referring to Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Maria Bartiromo, and former host Lou Dobbs.
“Some of our commentators were endorsing it,” he said, when asked about the talk hosts’ on-air positions about the election. “I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it, in hindsight,” he added.
In his deposition, Murdoch also acknowledged that it was “wrong” for Carlson to have hosted election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell on his program following the presidential contest.
Fox has defended the actions of its executives and hosts in its own legal filings countering Dominion’s lawsuit, alleging that its hosts’ on-air assertions about election fraud were taken out of context.
“Dominion’s summary judgment motion is flawed from top to bottom and should be rejected in its entirety,” lawyers for Fox News wrote in a filing last month.
And Fox Corporation, the parent company of Fox News, alleged Dominion “has produced zero evidentiary support for its dubious theory that high-level executives at Fox Corporation ‘chose to publish and broadcast’ or played a ‘direct role in the creation and publication’ of false election lies.”
While the First Amendment sets a high bar for defamation cases brought against media outlets, a protection that was reinforced in the landmark 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan, legal experts have told CNN that Dominion’s case appeared unusually strong.
“It’s a major blow,” renowned First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams said of Dominion’s evidence presented last month, adding that the “recent revelations certainly put Fox in a more precarious situation” in defending against the lawsuit on First Amendment grounds.
Rebecca Tushnet, the Frank Stanton Professor of First Amendment Law at Harvard Law School, described Dominion’s evidence as a “very strong” case that “clearly lays out the difference between what Fox was saying publicly and what top people at Fox were privately admitting.”
Tushnet said that in her years of practicing and teaching law, she had never seen such damning evidence collected in the pre-trial phase of a defamation suit.
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