The recently released legal filing in Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News shows the extent to which multiple Fox executives and anchors knew that the network was pushing lies about the 2020 presidential election results on air. The filing also contains a startling statement by Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch: that Fox News executives who knowingly allowed lies to be broadcast should potentially be fired. From the filing (emphasis in original):
Q. What should the consequences be when Fox News executives knowingly allow lies to be broadcast? A.They should be reprimanded – They should be reprimanded, maybe got rid of. Rupert Murdoch, Chairman, Fox Corporation.
The filings also show the extent to which Fox executives knowingly spread the conspiracy theory that Dominion Voting Systems had rigged the election at least in part in order to keep up with its far-right media competitors. These decisions now leave multiple Fox executives implicated as potentially worthy of firing, according to Rupert Murdoch’s own declared standard.
First off, and most obvious, is Rupert Murdoch himself. As chairman of the Fox Corp., Murdoch could have intervened at any time and stopped the hosts and guests featured on his network from spreading lies about the 2020 election, a fact that he bluntly admitted under questioning by Dominion’s lawyers. From the filing:
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.
Furthermore, Murdoch did nothing about the entreaties by Fox board member Paul Ryan, a former Republican speaker of the House, who argued according to the filing “that Fox News should not be spreading conspiracy theories.”
Murdoch did, however, take direct action to get rid of a Fox executive who told the truth. On November 20, 2020, Murdoch personally signed off on firing vice president and Washington managing editor Bill Sammon, who had been involved in the network’s projection that President Joe Biden had won Arizona, which assured Biden his Electoral College victory. “Maybe best to let Bill go right away,” Murdoch said, per the filing, adding that this move would “be a big message with Trump people.”
Rupert Murdoch’s son and Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch is also clearly guilty under the standard that his father enunciated, as he helped tailor the network’s messaging to help promote lies about the election. As just one example, Lachlan instructed the network to give positive coverage to a “Stop the Steal” rally on November 14, 2020, which served as a prelude to the January 6 insurrection, and to brand the violent and far-right event as a “celebration of the president.”
The Dominion filing further alleges that in addition to Lachlan’s close interactions with his other key executives, “specific evidence shows he attended the November 13 afternoon editorial meeting” that preceded an episode of Lou Dobbs Tonight that featured disgraced Trump-allied attorney Sidney Powell. The then-Fox Business host Lou Dobbs repeatedly called Powell a “great American,” while she claimed that Dominion had been “created to produce altered voting results in Venezuela for Hugo Chavez, and then shipped internationally to manipulate votes for purchase in other countries, including this one.”
Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott also played a clear role in spreading lies and suppressing the truth on the network. Under questioning, Scott affirmed that she had always believed, since at least when the network itself had called Arizona and thus the election on November 7, 2020, that in fact Biden had won legitimately.
And yet on multiple occasions, Scott reprimanded on-air talent who called out the lies and conspiracy theories. Examples include her involvement with Lachlan Murdoch in reprimanding then-anchor Leland Vittert’s coverage of the November 14 “Stop the Steal” rally, as well as her reported “screaming” about negative coverage by anchor Dana Perino and then-Fox reporter Kristen Fisher of the infamous November 19 press conference by Trump attorneys and election conspiracy theorists Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell. “The audience feels like we crapped on [them] and we have damaged their trust and belief in us….We can fix this but we cannot smirk at our viewers any longer,” Scott said at the time.
The filing also reveals that Scott worked personally to preserve the network’s relationship with right-wing billionaire conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow, assisting him in spreading dangerous lies about the election and Dominion Voting Systems. In mid-December, after Lindell publicly claimed that Fox was supposedly “in on” stealing the election, the filing details that Scott sent a personal note and a gift to Lindell. She further suggested that shows should book Lindell in order to “get ratings.” (Rupert Murdoch himself admitted that Fox went out of its way to preserve its relationship with Lindell, one of the network’s largest advertisers, to shore up its profits.)
When the network later hosted Lindell on the January 26, 2021, edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, the star prime-time host depicted his network’s top advertiser as a champion of free speech, rather than challenging him on his false claims about the election or his apparent effort to urge Trump to impose martial law.
Fox Corp. chief legal and policy officer Viet Dinh also admitted during his testimony that Fox executives had a duty to “prevent and correct” falsehoods.
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.
Dinh confirmed under questioning that he had “pretty easily” been able to look up and debunk the claim that Dominion was owned by a Venezuelan company and founded in order to rig elections for the late dictator Hugo Chavez. But the filing suggests Dinh failed to require Fox News hosts and guests to debunk such easily discredited lies. On the contrary, the network aired that bogus claim over and over again.
Fox Senior Vice President Raj Shah sent numerous internal communications about the damage to Fox’s reputation among conservative viewers, including the supposed “brand threat” posed by Fox figures who openly debunked Trump’s fake claims of mass election fraud. On November 13, he sent a “Brand Protection Unit Roundup” to Lachlan Murdoch, Dinh, and Scott, stating there was “strong conservative and viewer backlash to Fox that we are working to track and mitigate.” He further explained that “[p]ositive impressions of Fox News among our viewers dropped precipitously after Election Day to the lowest levels we’ve ever seen.”
In order to mitigate this damage, at one point he pitched the idea of “some sort of public mea culpa for the AZ call,” or “some programming that’s focused on hearing our viewers grievances about how we’ve handled the election.” In other words, Shah wanted the network to apologize for actually broadcasting a truthful story.
In another instance, when host Tucker Carlson briefly feuded with Sidney Powell, Shah instructed a producer for Carlson’s show to downplay the extent of her ludicrous claims. At the same time as Shah described Powell’s claims as “so fucking insane,” he also advised Carlson’s team to “pivot to being deferential.”
Shah suggested the phrasing “we hope she is able to provide the evidence in court and we’ll bring it to viewers when they do” — even though he knew no such evidence existed or could ever be offered in court. In another message just the next day, Shah described Powell’s claims as “MIND BLOWINGLY NUTS.”
Fox News President and Executive Editor Jay Wallace is also responsible for his inaction on the network’s continued lies about the election, even as a Dominion consultant repeatedly reached out to him personally (citations removed):
The day before the WSJ editorial and article appeared—November 16— Dominion’s Communications Consultant Tony Fratto, former Deputy White House Press Secretary under President George W. Bush, personally brought the false allegations to the attention of the two top executives at FNN—Scott and Wallace— telling them that Dominion, “as you know, has received a great deal of attention on FoxNews [sic] and from the President. An enormous amount of misinformation -- actually, completely and verifiable wrong information—is finding its way on-air.” Fratto offered to provide the two of them a briefing about Dominion and concluded: “I think this situation is crossing dangerous lines.” Scott responded asking Wallace to provide his thoughts, and Wallace and Fratto then spoke over the phone. When Lou Dobbs again broadcast lies about Dominion that very night, Fratto reached out again to Wallace. He forwarded part of the transcript to Wallace and told him: “More fucking out [and out] lies. Honestly. He is a disgrace.”
Irena Briganti, Fox News senior executive vice president of corporate communications, also presided over the network’s continued inaction, even as it was clearly brought to her attention via a press inquiry (citations removed):
On December 1, a reporter with The Washington Post emailed FNN stating that Powell had appeared on both Dobbs and Hannity’s programs the day before making claims of voting machine fraud. The reporter asked,
[D]oes Fox News Media management have any concerns about the veracity of the claims that Powell has been making on network shows? Is Sidney Powell welcome to appear on any Fox News Media show? Has Fox News Media encouraged show hosts to fact-check claims about voter fraud?
Irena Briganti forwarded the inquiry to Scott and Wallace, stating “FYI—we spoke with Lauren [Petterson] and Meade [Cooper] and there’s nothing to combat this, so we are not responding.”
David Clark, senior vice president for weekend news and programming, was directly responsible for Fox host Maria Bartiromo’s Sunday Morning Futures program, in which she hosted Giuliani and Powell. The filing reveals that he also agreed with the statement that there was “no credible evidence of massive cheating or fraud,” and yet he allowed her to continue spreading conspiracy theories by hosting figures such as Powell and Giuliani, and to not push back on them. Interestingly, the Dominion filing notes the ways in which Clark took active steps to temporarily rein in Fox host Jeanine Pirro, but he seemingly failed to do so with Bartiromo.
Fox Business executives
Fox Business executives Lauren Petterson and Gary Schreier spoke of using Fox Business shows to grab viewers who were going away from Fox News proper, by supporting the election lies. (They just couldn’t be as open about it, compared to Fox’s far-right competition at Newsmax.) From the filing (citations removed):
The night of November 7, after Fox called the election, Fox Business Network (“FBN”) President Lauren Petterson wrote FBN executive Gary Schreier that she had turned off Fox’s coverage: “I don’t know how we work here. Honestly. We are going to look back at this week and know this was when we lost a significant part of our audience who won’t come back. As soon as Facebook starts telling people to go to [N]ewsmax.” But Schreier and Petterson saw an opening: “You know though between us. This is a problem for the channel yes. But if we keep doing what we do, fbn will get a bunch of the disenfranchised folks too.” Petterson responded: “100 percent. I was talking about exactly that with my husband last night. It’s actually an opening for us.” Schreier: “Yes. We just can’t play for it openly like newsmax and oan.”