Update (4/5/23): According to CNN, a judge ruled today that “Dominion can force Fox Corporation executives Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch to testify on the witness stand at this month’s scheduled defamation trial.” The below piece lays out in detail how much operational and editorial control the Murdochs have exerted over Fox News, including during its 2020 election coverage.
Two recently released filings from Dominion Voting Systems’ lawsuit against Fox News reveal that Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch and CEO Lachlan Murdoch were both actively involved in the network’s coverage during the 2020 presidential cycle and held sway in Fox’s guests and staff decisions — revelations that shine a more intense spotlight on the father-son duo as their network faces lawsuits for knowingly pushing lies about election fraud.
The filings, released to the public in February, are part of a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit Dominion filed against Fox in March 2021 after the network spent months pushing the lie that there were irregularities in its voting machines, which rigged the 2020 election in favor of now-President Joe Biden. Dominion’s lawyers started deposing Fox News figures around August 2022, and these filings contain the biggest disclosure of evidence in the case so far, including texts, emails, and statements. They show Fox employees and executives knew there was no evidence of election fraud and Fox personalities and guests were lying about Dominion; that Rupert Murdoch provided then-President Donald Trump’s adviser Jared Kushner with “confidential information” about the Biden campaign’s political ads and strategies; and that Fox executives and prime-time hosts attacked Fox reporters who tried to fact-check the 2020 election lies.
These revelations can put Fox in even more legal jeopardy than it is already in, and there’s speculation that Rupert Murdoch may scapegoat Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott, who oversees both Fox News and Fox Business, though Fox later “put out word that she was not in danger.” As CNN’s Oliver Darcy pointed out, multiple scandals in the Murdoch media empire over the past decade have ended with Rupert deciding “to sever ties with top personnel,” and the Dominion revelations could bring a similar outcome. From Darcy’s article:
There is no shortage of evidence to support the notion Scott is on the chopping block. Most notably, during his deposition, Murdoch sought to distance himself from decision making at Fox News. Instead, he pointed to Scott: “I appointed Ms. Scott to the job … and I delegate everything to her,” he said. In doing so, Murdoch made the case that Scott is in charge of the network — and if there was wrongdoing, it rests on her shoulders. Of course, astute media observers know that Murdoch is the person actually calling the shots. But it’s not hard to see how the company could advance this narrative.
As Darcy suggests and the filings clearly show, the responsibility of Fox’s coverage pushing baseless allegations of election fraud should ultimately lie with the Murdochs, as they were both actively involved in how Fox was covering the 2020 election. Both Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch were in regular contact with Scott (with Lachlan conversing with her daily), had strategic discussions about the direction of Fox’s coverage, and gave her feedback about what was airing on the networks and guidance on the tone and focus of the reporting — especially that in favor of the Republican Party and Trump. They also influenced which guests would appear on the air and weighed in on personnel decisions at the network. In fact, during his deposition, Lachlan Murdoch couldn’t remember a single time when the network did not follow his suggestions. The filings also reveal there were multiple instances where the Murdochs could have intervened to set the record straight on the election, but chose not to:
The Murdochs’ involvement in strategy decisions on Fox’s coverage, including its focus and tone
- Around November 8, 2020, when Fox was facing mounting criticism from mainstream media over its election coverage, Scott had a “long talk” with the Murdochs about “mounting viewer backlash to Fox, how to win back viewers (including by not booking Democratic guests), and ‘the direction that Fox should take.’” In his deposition, “Rupert conceded that in that conversation, they also spoke about ‘the future of Fox going forward.’”
- Rupert Murdoch also confirmed in his deposition that in the same conversation with Scott and Lachlan, “they discussed how Fox should react to the fact that Trump was not conceding” and made the decision “to allow these ‘wild claims’ on air.”
- Lachlan Murdoch admitted that between November 2020 and January 2021, he weighed in on the “specific direction on both the tone and narrative of Fox’s news coverage.”
- Lachlan Murdoch also admitted in his testimony that “he can and did share his views on what guests should or should not” appear on Fox. According to the second filing, Fox’s on-air talent and executives “affirmatively reached out to Lachlan to take his temperature on whether or not to have a particular guest on their program. … [He] even provided suggestions of specific questions to ask a particular guest.”
- On November 14, 2020, Lachlan Murdoch texted Scott while watching the network’s coverage of a rally in support of Trump, giving her notes on how that coverage should be. “Lachlan even communicated with Scott about what was being said in the ‘ticker’ at the bottom of the FNN screen,” writing, “Just FYI to discuss tomorrow, the ticker at bottom of screen is all wrong. Way too wordy and long. And anti trump whenever possible.”
- After then-Fox anchor Shepard Smith debunked the “Trump administration’s ‘lies’ on air,” Rupert Murdoch emailed Scott and Fox News Media President Jay Wallace saying it was “over the top” and writing, “Need to chat to him.”
Coverage directives to support Trump and the GOP, especially during the election cycle
- The second filing shows Rupert Murdoch had conversations with Scott “about the ‘importance of giving exposure to Republicans in close Senate races.’”
- In October 2020, then-Fox Business host Lou Dobbs attacked Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who was running for reelection, saying that he didn’t know “why anyone in the great state of South Carolina would ever vote for Lindsey Graham” and that Graham had “betrayed President Trump at almost every turn.” Rupert Murdoch wrote to Scott suggesting the network have some positive coverage for Graham: “You probably know about the Lou Dobbs outburst against Lindsey Graham. Could Sean [Hannity] say something supportive? … We cannot lose the Senate if at all possible.” Scott followed-up to note that she “addressed the Dobbs outburst.”
- In mid-November 2020, Rupert Murdoch emailed Scott, “We should concentrate on Georgia, helping any way we can. … Everything at stake here.” At the time, the closely contested Senate race in Georgia had gone into runoff.
- When the Trump administration presented a new tax bill, according to the filing, “Rupert told Scott ‘we must tell our viewers again and again what they will get.’”
- During the 2020 campaign, “when New York Post editor Col Allan told Rupert that Biden’s only hope for election was ‘to stay in his basement and not face serious questions,’ Rupert responded, ‘Just made sure Fox banging on about these issues. If the audience talks the theme will spread.’”
- In November 2020, Lachlan Murdoch was watching Fox cover a rally in support of Trump and told Scott that “news guys have to be careful how they cover” it, adding, “So far some of the side comments are slightly anti, and they shouldn’t be. The narrative should be this is a huge celebration of the president.” Scott replied, “Yes thanks.”
- Lachlan Murdoch also criticized then-Fox reporter Leland Vittert who was covering the rally for coming across as “[s]mug and obnoxious.” Scott said “she was ‘calling now’ to direct Vittert’s producer to fix the issue.” The filing shows that Fox executive David Clark got that feedback and texted Vittert to tell him to cut it out. Vittert stopped appearing on the network in January 2021 and in April that year Fox announced it had “parted ways” with him.
- Around the same time, Lachlan Murdoch also told Scott that Fox “should do a ton of pro-Trump legacy specials on Fox Nation.”
- Rupert Murdoch directed Scott and Wallace to get network figures to attack coal mogul Don Blankenship during a GOP primary after Trump asked for help. From the second filing: “He told Scott and Wallace when Donald Trump appealed for help defeating Don Blankenship in the West Virginia Senate race, ‘Anything during day helpful but Sean [Hannity] and Laura [Ingraham] dumping on him hard might save the day.’”
Personnel and guest decisions
- Rupert Murdoch was involved in firing Dobbs, as he said in his deposition, “I suggested, or urged, and we were in recognition that we had a problem, that he would be fired” because Dobbs “was an extremist.”
- Rupert Murdoch was also involved in the firing of Bill Sammon, Fox’s senior vice president who had editorial oversight of the network’s Decision Desk when it became the first outlet to call Arizona for Biden. The filings suggest that Rupert pushed Sammon’s firing to send a message to the Trump campaign that Fox was still aligned with it: “Thus, despite the call’s accuracy, Rupert suggested, ‘Maybe best to let Bill go right away,’ which would ‘be a big message with Trump people.’ … Sammon was indeed ‘told the inevitable’ that day (November 20, 2020).”
- In October 2020, Rupert Murdoch suggested the network bring on Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, “and two days later Hanson appeared on Fox News.”
- Next month, Rupert Murdoch mentioned to Scott that the network should hire Michael Flynn, a QAnon influencer and Trump’s first national security adviser, as a contributor. The filing shows that Flynn appeared as a contributor on Fox host Maria Bartiromo’s show just “a week later.”
- In December that year, Rupert Murdoch told Scott that “people are trying to steal” the New York Post’s Miranda Devine, saying, “It would be great if you signed her as a contributor.” Scott replied, “ok will work on this.” By the next month, Devine was listed as a Fox News contributor on the channel’s site.
- Rupert Murdoch also pulled sway on which guests Fox shouldn’t host, including former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and former Fox host Megyn Kelly.
- Rupert Murdoch apparently also sent emails to Scott about the ratings of Fox’s show The Five, suggesting writers and hosts.