On CNN, Kara Swisher discusses how Rupert Murdoch let Fox News hosts lie about the election

Swisher: “He did it for the money. He did it for the ratings.”

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Citation From February 27, 2023, edition of CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer

WOLF BLITZER (CNN HOST): In his own words, the man in control of one of the world's most powerful media empires knew all that was false at the time. The chairman of the Fox News admitted under oath he had the power to stop Rudy Giuliani and others from pushing lies about the 2020 presidential election. In new court documents out tonight, Rupert Murdoch is quoted as saying, and I'm quoting him now, I could have but I didn't. The revelation is part of a billion dollar defamation lawsuit against Fox News by the Dominion Voting Systems. I am joined now by CNN senior legal analyst Laura Coates and the host of both The Pivot and On with Kara Swisher podcast, Kara Swisher is with us as well, she actually interviewed the CEO of Dominion before the lawsuit on the issue of disinformation.

Laura, let me start with you. Because in the deposition with Murdoch, he tried to draw a line between Fox and the people on Fox. He was asked, for example, and I'm quoting now, if he was aware that Fox endorsed at times this false notion of a stolen election. He answered not Fox, no, not Fox. But maybe Lou Dobbs, maybe Maria Bartiromo as commentators. Legally, does such a line exist between the organization and what its people say on air?

LAURA COATES (SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST) I think what he was doing was giving a distinction without really a difference here. The idea these representatives of Fox, that they were speaking on behalf or knowingly representing Fox is the key issue here. One of his statements, Wolf, was I would have but I didn't. Well, the law will answer whether he should have. Because remember, you can't be a conduit of false information if you know that it's false or are disregarding the truth in some way. That's the actual malice standard of defamation law. You cannot present misinformation. Now of course, in a 24/7 news cycle, well, naturally we're going to have instances where you're going to have some level of not getting it right the first time or some level of having a benefit of the doubt. But if you are knowingly putting out false information and instead as they are articulating in their lawsuit, you are doing so because you are hoping to ingratiate yourself to Donald Trump or try to retain viewers over a rival network, in this case OAN, that's not going to be a justifiable news-making decision. It will be one that points more towards actual malice. This is a huge, huge case.

BLITZER: Kara, what do you make of Rupert Murdoch admitting his hosts were telling lies and he purposely didn't do anything to stop it.

KARA SWISHER (CNN GUEST): Well I'm just completely shocked having worked for him for many years. This is ridiculous. They lied. That's all. I mean it's very simple as they knew what they were doing. They did it anyway. He used the term green. He did it for the money. He did it for the ratings and he could have stopped it and he nonetheless didn't. And the distinction between — that he was trying to make there between people that work for him, sort of sounds a little like Donald Trump. Who are these people? I don't know who they are. They're just talking on a network I happen to own. And so, he's in a lot of hot water here. I'm not a lawyer, but boy is this stuff shocking, having worked for news organizations for many years. I have never seen anything like this in terms of, "We're lying and we know we're lying and we're going to keep lying and do nothing about it."

BLITZER: Let's not forget, this is a $1.6 billion lawsuit against Fox. That's a lot of money. In a statement to CNN, Fox News has said in part, and I'm quoting now, "Dominion's lawsuit has always been more about what will generate headlines than what can withstand legal and factual scrutiny." So, even if the revelations are journalistic malpractice, shall we say, do they rise to the legal threshold of actual malice against Dominion?

COATES: That's the decision for the jury to make if there's a trial in April ultimately. But, remember, the standard is that you cannot knowingly put forth false statements. If you were doing so for a public figure or a public entity like say a Donald Trump like a Fox News or other outlets or the personalities on Fox News, then you have to be, in order to be liable for defamation, engaged in actual malice. What does that mean? It means you knew that the statements were false or you knowingly disregard the likelihood that they were false. Now, those text messages that we have already seen from the Dominion lawsuit and beyond, the exchanges between people like Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham or others in the satellite orbit of Fox News suggest that behind the scenes they believe one thing with respect to Sydney Powell and other lawyers and the veracity of those big election lie claims. But in front of the cameras and to the audience, the goal was to preserve their credibility, particularly, Wolf, after the calling of the election for Biden in Arizona. That appeared to be the turning point and when the incentive to now try to promote that which they might have believed was false and knowingly knew was false is that turning point. That going to be a crucial distinction here, not whether they couldn't keep pace with information coming in, but that they knew something was false and chose the mighty dollar as opposed to the all mighty truth.

BLITZER: It is also interesting. We learned today how Murdoch himself assisted the Trump campaign including personally providing Jared Kushner with, quote, "confidential information about Biden's ads, along with debate strategy." Just how over the line is that kind of conduct?

SWISHER: There is no line anymore with these people. They have gone over the line appearing at rallies. There are stars appearing at rallies. And of course they went over the line, that's all he ever does is go over lines. It's Rupert Murdoch. That's his job. That's his brand, essentially. I think what's really interesting here is having interviewed John Poulos before this started, he's the CEO of Dominion, a lot of the people impacted are not public people, you know, calling someone from Venezuela, all this stuff had impact on executives there in ways that were really scary in terms of death threats, et cetera. And that they continued to do this is really -- I never -- I don't know what to say. It is just shameful. And I think what the question is, is did they help spread misinformation all over the place? And the fact that Dominion has stood firm here and pushed back is really quite something to see. But this company was badly damaged in terms of individuals there. When I talked to them at the time they were terrified actually.