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Rupert Murdoch Throwing Fox News Reporters 'Under the Bus,' Lawyer Says

Newsweek 2/28/2023 Aleks Phillips

Rupert Murdoch has been accused of throwing Fox News reporters "under the bus" in a bid to "protect" the corporation in a defamation lawsuit being brought against it over claims of voter fraud in the wake of the 2020 presidential election.

Excerpts from a deposition in which the media mogul participated were unsealed on Monday, and show him drawing a distinction between Fox News and what its presenters were espousing on air. Murdoch admitted that hosts endorsed allegations by former President Donald Trump and his allies that the election had been stolen.

Fox News and its parent company, Fox Corporation are being sued for more than $1.6 billion by Dominion Voting Systems, an electronic voting provider, for defamation.

It contends that employees of the news network amplified false claims that it had altered votes in the 2020 election, and provided a platform for commentators to make defamatory statements about the company. Trump has continued to claim, without evidence, that he was the victim of election fraud.

Smartmatic, another electronic voting company, is also suing Fox News for what it calls "false, inaccurate, and disparaging attacks" to the tune of $2.7 billion dollars.

In a transcript of Murdoch's deposition, he was asked whether he agreed that Fox "endorsed at times this false notion of a stolen election." He replied that it was "not Fox," but some of its reporters "as commentators."

Murdoch said that former Fox Business host Lou Dobbs had endorsed the view "a lot," and Sean Hannity "a bit," also naming Jeanine Pirro. Murdoch declined to admit Tucker Carlson had endorsed the stolen election theory, the court documents show.

Newsweek reached out to Dobbs, Pirro and Hannity for comment.

"This is a really dangerous suit for them, and he's basically throwing reporter after reporter under the bus to protect Fox as a corporation," Harry Litman, a lawyer and former U.S. deputy assistant attorney general under Bill Clinton, told MSNBC on Monday.

"One after the other, he's copping to—what creates liability—that they knowingly lie even though the whole corporation knows that it's phony, but somehow trying to preserve a little bit of credibility for Fox itself," he said. "This is a really killer document."

The lawsuit not only provides a legal test of the extent to which a news outlet can publish unfounded allegations, but its outcome could also have legal implications for Trump and his allies who have espoused the claims.

The latest evidence to emerge places mounting pressure on Fox's defense. According to the court documents, Fox News contends that it is not liable as it was providing neutral reporting of allegations and that some of its hosts' statements were an expression of opinion.

Lawyers for Dominion argue that Murdoch's statements demonstrate the reports were not neutral and that the opinion defense fails if the statements are based on falsity.

A Fox logo is displayed on the News Corp. building on January 25, 2023 in New York City. Fox News and its parent company Fox Corp is being sued for more than $1.6 billion by Dominion Voting Systems. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images © Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images A Fox logo is displayed on the News Corp. building on January 25, 2023 in New York City. Fox News and its parent company Fox Corp is being sued for more than $1.6 billion by Dominion Voting Systems. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Dominion's attorneys also claim that executives in the corporation's "chain of command" knew the network was broadcasting "known lies, had the power to stop it, but chose to let it continue."

Deposition excerpts show Fox chiefs agreeing that those in management had an obligation to prevent falsehoods from being aired. They also argue that Murdoch engaged in the editorial process, quoting him as saying: "I'm a journalist at heart. I like to be involved in these things."

It also provides evidence that those executives believed that no voter fraud had taken place, referencing the network's decision to call Arizona for Joe Biden on election night—despite complaints from the Trump campaign and later a lawsuit from Trump to overturn the final result.

"My friend Jared Kushner [Trump's son-in-law] called me saying 'this is terrible,' and I could hear Trump's voice in the background shouting," Murdoch said. "And I said, 'Well, the numbers are the numbers.'"

However, when asked whether he could have prevented Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City Mayor and Trump adviser, and Sidney Powell, a Trump attorney—both of whom have touted the voter fraud allegation—from being aired on Fox News, Murdoch replied: "I could have. But I didn't."

When asked to comment, a spokesperson for Fox News did not respond directly to Litman's remarks but told Newsweek: "Dominion's lawsuit has always been more about what will generate headlines than what can withstand legal and factual scrutiny, as illustrated by them now being forced to slash their fanciful damages demand by more than half a billion dollars after their own expert debunked its implausible claims.

"Their summary judgment motion took an extreme, unsupported view of defamation law that would prevent journalists from basic reporting," they said.

Update 02/28/23, 12:12 p.m. ET: This article was updated with comment from Fox News.

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