A newly released bombshell filing in Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox News has revealed previously unknown details about Fox Corp. Chair Rupert Murdoch’s failure to stop his network’s misinformation leading up to the January 6 insurrection. The new revelations from Dominion’s opposition to Fox's motions for summary judgment significantly deepen the public’s understanding of how the family behind Fox News reacted to former President Donald Trump’s extralegal attempts to remain in power, both before and after the attack on the Capitol.
According to the filing, former Speaker of the House and current Fox Corp. board member Paul Ryan urged Rupert Murdoch to instruct Fox personalities to give “solid pushback (including editorial) of [Trump’s] baseless calls for overturning electors” in December 2020. Ryan identified the moment “as a key inflection point for Fox, where the right thing and the smart business thing to do line up nicely.”
The filing then provides two examples that show Rupert Murdoch was aware of what his media empire could do to combat Trump’s unraveling as his grip on power slipped.
The filing explains that Fox News stopped hosting Trump legal advisers and conspiracy theory fountainheads Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell after Rupert Murdoch told Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott that the former president’s “crazy” behavior was “making it harder to straddle the issue!” (The filing specifies that the issue, according to Paul Ryan, “was trying to navigate this dynamic between a core group of Trump loyalists who were ignoring the truth and the truth itself.”)
It also puts forth an exchange between News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson and Rupert Murdoch, in which Murdoch reacted positively to a strong rebuke of Trump in the New York Post. Murdoch told Thomson, “Just read the whole editorial. Just Great.”
Yet Murdoch did not apparently make any effort to rein in Fox News. From the filing (emphasis in original, citations removed):
Rupert understood that Fox could do something about the false claims. Indeed, he believed Fox was “uniquely positioned to state the message that the election was not stolen.” On January 5, Rupert and Scott discussed whether Hannity, Carlson, and Ingraham should say some version of “The election is over and Joe Biden won.” He hoped those words “would go a long way to stop the Trump myth that the election stolen.” Scott told Rupert that “privately they are all there” but “we need to be careful about using the shows and pissing off the viewers.” So nobody made a statement.
The next day was January 6.
Ultimately, the network played a key role in laying the groundwork for the insurrection, casting doubt on the election even before it happened and later spreading lies that the results were fraudulent and could be overturned.
According to the filing, Murdoch attempted to placate concerned Fox board members and executives immediately after the attempted coup by telling them Fox News was working on making a change in coverage. On January 8, Murdoch told now-former Fox executive Preston Padden: “Fox News very busy pivoting….We want to make Trump a non person.”
He also instructed his son and Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch to tell board member Anne Dias that “Fox News, which called the election correctly, is pivoting as fast as possible. We have to lead our viewers which is  not as easy as it might seem.”
At one point, Murdoch told Paul Ryan the insurrection was a “wake-up call for Hannity, who has been privately disgusted by Trump for weeks, but was scared to lose viewers.”
But the network’s on-air commentary belied the idea of a “wake-up call” or “pivot.”
On the day of the attempted coup, Fox News initially downplayed the events and offered sympathetic coverage and commentary: Fox News chief political anchor Bret Baier minimized the riot, one correspondent claimed there was “no vandalism” taking place, another told viewers the day was “peaceful,” and hosts Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs defended the mob’s actions. The list of Fox News figures who downplayed, excused, or justified the riot as it was happening goes on.
“Obviously this is a huge victory for these protesters,” Fox anchor Martha MacCallum said as they breached the Capitol. “They have disrupted the system in an enormous way.”
Fox News and other conservative media soon shifted to promoting conspiracy theories about the riot, saying it was the work of anti-fascists who had infiltrated the crowd. The network also almost immediately began making outlandish comparisons between the insurrection and racial justice protests, claiming the latter were the true threat to public safety.
Murdoch himself admitted in his deposition the reason for his failure to act: money. Commenting on MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, one of Fox News’ biggest advertisers and a chief architect of the election fraud lies that led to January 6, Murdoch said his network’s continued association “is not red or blue, it is green.”
The defamation lawsuit has already exposed the inner workings of Fox News, specifically regarding the network’s response to false claims of election fraud from Trump’s lawyers. In a motion for summary judgment made public on February 16, Dominion’s lawyers revealed:
- Fox prime-time star Tucker Carlson tried to get a colleague fired for accurately fact-checking Trump’s false claims about Dominion.
- Laura Ingraham’s producer knew the voter fraud claims were baseless and texted an executive: “This dominion shit is going to give me a fucking aneurysm—as many times as I’ve told Laura it’s bs, she sees shit posters and trump tweeting about it.”
- Hannity knew Trump lawyer Sidney Powell was selling lies about the election, but he repeatedly offered a platform to spread her false message.
- Two days after the election, Baier acknowledged, “There is NO evidence of fraud. None.”
- Murdoch emailed Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott that the network “should concentrate on Georgia” for the upcoming U.S. Senate runoff election by “helping any way we can,” laying bare Fox News’ partisan goals.
- Top stars and executives knew the election fraud claims were “crazy” and “reckless” but continued to push them regardless.
Overall, the filing released on February 16 persuasively argues that Fox News embraced voter fraud conspiracy theories that executives and on-air personalities knew were false at least partly out of fear that viewers would turn to competitor Newsmax, which had gone all-in on the absurd claims. Media Matters President Angelo Carusone argued the filing showed Fox News’ misinformation campaign was operating on an “industrial scale.”
Last year, Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch sued Australian website Crikey over an article that argued the Murdoch family was partially responsible for the events of January 6. The judge in that case recently warned it might not go to trial until October.