April 18, 2024

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Dominion lawsuit documents show Rupert Murdoch rejected election conspiracy theories

Dominion lawsuit documents show Rupert Murdoch rejected election conspiracy theories


New York
CNN
 — 

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 defamation lawsuit against the right-wing channel.

Among the the hundreds of pages of previously unreleased documents include repeated statements from Fox Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch rejecting conspiracy theories about Dominion that his own network promoted after the 2020 election. And Internal Fox News emails and messages — also made public Tuesday — further show how Fox News’ staff privately dismissed some of the election conspiracies that were promoted on-air.

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 statement Tuesday, Fox News accused Dominion of distortions, misinformation and misattributing quotes as part of an attempt to “smear Fox News and trample on free speech and freedom of the press.”

Dominion on Tuesday said, “the emails, texts, and deposition testimony speak for themselves.”

“We welcome all scrutiny of our evidence because it all leads to the same place — Fox knowingly spread lies causing enormous damage to an American company,” Dominion said.

Months after the 2020 presidential election, and two days before the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, Tucker Carlson wrote in a text message that he hated then-President Donald Trump “passionately,” according to the newly released court documents.

“We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights,” Carlson wrote on Jan 4, 2021, the filings show. “I truly can’t wait.”

“I hate him passionately,” the Fox host continued. “I blew up at Peter Navarro today in frustration. I actually like Peter. But I can’t handle much more of this.”

“That’s the last four years,” Carlson added. “We’re all pretending we’ve got a lot to show for it, because admitting what a disaster it’s been is too tough to digest. But come on. There isn’t really an upside to Trump.”

The text messages reveal that Carlson was harshly critical of Trump in private despite regularly expressing support for the former president on his Fox News primetime show and suggesting the 2020 election could have been stolen from him.

“He was pushing voting fraud stuff. I have no doubt there was fraud. But at this point, Trump and Lin and Powell have so discredited their own case, and the rest of us to some extent, that it’s infuriating. Absolutely enrages me,” Carlson wrote.

Days later, on Jan. 6, 2021, Carlson wrote in a text message to his producer, Alex Pfeiffer that Trump was “a demonic force, a destroyer.”

“But he’s not going to destroy us,” Carlson wrote.

In one Nov. 11, 2020 text message exchange, Carlson said Trump’s decision to snub Biden’s inauguration was “hard to believe. So destructive.”

Carlson added that Trump’s post-election behavior was “disgusting. I’m trying to look away.”

In a January deposition, Murdoch rejected conspiracy theories about Dominion, according to a transcript of his deposition released Tuesday.

“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.

In messages from November 2020, then-Fox Business host Lou Dobbs asked producer John Fawcett what he thought of a recent lawsuit Sidney Powell filed attempting to overturn the 2020 election.

“It’s complete bs,” Fawcett responded, according to court filings made public Tuesday. “I can’t believe that was the kraken,” he added, referring to the phrase Powell used to describe the meritless suits she filed across the country.

Dobbs was one of the most notorious on-air promoters of Powell’s conspiracy theories related to Dominion and the 2020 election before his show was canceled in February 2021.

Additionally, shortly after the 2020 election, Fox News host Tucker Carlson acknowledged that Powell wasn’t telling the truth.

According to a court filing released Tuesday, Carlson told an unknown number on November 17, 2020, that “Sidney Powell is lying” and called her an expletive.

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.

Murdoch said in a January 2021 email that two of his top TV hosts maybe “went too far,” in an apparent reference to their election denial after Donald Trump lost.

“Maybe Sean and Laura went too far,” Murdoch wrote in the email, referring to Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. “All very well for Sean to tell you he was in despair about Trump, but what did he tell his viewers?”

Murdoch sent the email to Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott on January 21, 2021, the first full day of President Joe Biden’s administration. The email also mentioned the ongoing impeachment proceedings against Trump.

In the email, Murdoch asked Scott if it was “unarguable that high profile Fox voices fed the story that the election was stolen and that January 6th (was) an important chance to have the result overturned”?

Later, Scott sent the question to Irena Briganti, Fox News’ senior vice president for corporate communications, requesting a specific answer. Briganti responded with more than 15 pages of transcript excerpts from Fox hosts Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.

In the final stretch of the 2020 presidential campaign, Fox Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch informally helped the Trump campaign with its TV ad strategy, according to the new filings.

Murdoch prodded Jared Kushner to improve the Trump campaign’s TV ads, the documents show. Murdoch said candidate Joe Biden’s advertisements were “a lot better” than Trump’s, pointed out that Trump’s campaign was “spending less on TV than Biden.”

Dominion Voting Systems, which is suing Fox News for defamation, previously revealed the existence of the Murdoch-Kushner exchange. But the email itself became public Tuesday, as part of a massive trove of depositions and internal Fox messages.

The email exchange yet again highlights Murdoch’s controversial dual role as a TV news mogul and an informal political adviser to senior Republicans in Washington.

On September 24, 2021, Murdoch texted Kushner: “Know you are spending less on tv than Biden. However my people tell me his advs are a lot better creatively than yours. Just passing by it on.”

Kushner replied: “Should have some new creative out this week. I did a review and like what I’m seeing. I will now be reviewing this every week until the end as the real money is starting to be spent on TV and Digital to move voters universes and turn out the base voters.”

Murdoch responded, “Your adv at 1 pm this Sunday an improvement, but Biden in same football is extremely good. Or I think so! Will send it.” It’s not clear what he was referring to by mentioning football. Dominion claimed in previous filings that Murdoch gave “confidential information” to Kushner by sending him versions of Biden’s paid TV ads that hadn’t publicly aired yet on the network.

Fox and its parent company have denied wrongdoing and say the defamation claims are meritless.

Murdoch lashed out in an email on Nov. 7, 2020, over an imminent projection by Fox News to project that Joe Biden would become the next president.

“CNN declares and FOX coming in minutes,” Murdoch wrote to former New York Post editor-in-chief Col Allan. “I hate our Decision Desk people! And pollsters! Some of the same people I think. Just for the hell of it still praying for Az to prove them wrong!,” he said in reference to Biden’s victory over Donald Trump.

In a separate email that same day, Murdoch emailed his son, Lachlan, lamenting: “We should and could have gone first (calling the election for Biden) but at least being second saves us a Trump explosion!”

Lachlan, the Fox Corporation CEO, responded, “I think good to be careful. Especially as we are still somewhat exposed on Arizona.”

Two days later, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott texted Lachlan Murdoch that Fox viewers were “going through the 5 stages of grief” over Trump’s election loss.

“It’s two days after Biden was declared President elect. Viewers going through the 5 stages of grief,” Scott wrote to Lachlan Murdoch, according to court documents. “It’s a question of trust – the AZ was damaging but we will highlight our stars and plant flags letting the viewers know we hear them and respect them.”

“Yes. But needs constant rebuilding without any misteps [sic],” Lachlan Murdoch responded, before adding criticism of anchor Neil Cavuto and correspondent Chad Pergram, who are some of the less-partisan personalities at the right-wing network.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson claimed shortly after the 2020 election that the network’s national correspondent called him to apologize for saying there wasn’t voter fraud.

Carlson was referring to Fox News national correspondent Bryan Llenas. Among other things, Llenas had tweeted one day after the election that “There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Pennsylvania.” That was off-message with what Donald Trump and many Fox News personalities were claiming about massive election-rigging.

In a text chat with fellow Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, Carlson said on Nov. 13, 2020, that Llenas offered him a personal apology.

“He called me last night to apologize for that,” Carlson said.

Carlson went on to reassure his fellow hosts that “he won’t do that again.”

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.

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.