A lawyer for Fox News and Fox Corp. told a judge in Delaware that MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a top advertiser for the network, was not a reliable source of information when he appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show in January of 2021, during a hearing held earlier this week. It is rare for a broadcaster to publicly disparage a top sponsor, and could be a signal of growing tensions between Fox and Lindell.
Erin Murphy, the lawyer, was defending Fox against a defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems in response to the network’s post-2020 election coverage. Dominion alleges that Fox knowingly and deliberately aired false information about the company’s voting machines and software, in a bid to win back viewers who were fleeing to right-wing competitor Newsmax.
Dominion claims that Fox attempted to draw those viewers in by indulging their incorrect belief that the 2020 election was rigged, a position held by former President Donald Trump and his lawyers. Private communications at Fox News revealed through the lawsuit show that on-air talent and top executives – including Fox Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch and his son and Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch– knew that Trump’s conspiracy theories about the hacked election were false, but aired them anyway.
Much of Murphy’s defense of Fox rested on her argument that a “reasonable viewer” could discern that Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs, and others at the network who provided a platform for Trump’s lawyers were merely covering newsworthy allegations, rather than presenting the false claims as statements of fact.
But Murphy’s defense of an interview that top star Tucker Carlson conducted with Lindell took a different tack. Lindell’s appearance on Carlson’s January 26, 2021, program, she argued, was so incoherent that Fox News’ audience would be confused enough to find him inherently unreliable.
A “reasonable viewer would be puzzled on anything he is talking about,” Murphy told Judge Eric Davis, who is presiding over the case.
Murphy told the judge that Carlson invited Lindell on his show to discuss “cancel culture,” rather than Dominion machines specifically. She acknowledged that Lindell did bring up Dominion voting machines, but argued his comments were so disjointed that a viewer wouldn’t be able to follow his train of thought.
Murphy additionally presented Lindell’s commentary as absurd on its face. At one point in the interview, “he dares Dominion to sue him,” she said, exasperated.
Murphy argued that, contrary to Dominion’s claims that Carlson endorsed Lindell’s false allegations, he in fact treated them as “conspiracy theories” and signaled to his audience that they shouldn’t believe anything his guest was saying. In reality, Carlson made a much more couched statement, that mainstream outlets who ostracized Lindell were “not making conspiracy theories go away."
Dominion’s position is that Carlson knew Lindell would bring up baseless allegations about voter fraud, and that Fox wanted to “assuage” a major advertiser. Providing Lindell with a platform to spread known falsehoods, Dominion argued, served as a de facto endorsement of them. That argument is supported by Carlson’s own deposition in the case. “As far as I know, Mike Lindell makes that same claim every single day of the year on his website and any interview that he does,” Carlson said in sworn testimony.
Rupert Murdoch later acknowledged under questioning from Dominion lawyers that it was “wrong” for Carlson to have had Lindell on his show in the weeks after January 6.
Last month, Lindell addressed the issue on his own show, telling his viewers that he “had to tell the truth” about Dominion on Carlson's show.
Lindell and Fox have had public feuds in the recent past. In July of 2021, Lindell threatened to pull his ads from Fox News because the network wouldn’t air a spot for his bogus cyber symposium. (The Dominion case has already revealed that Fox News' CEO sent Lindell a gift to woo him back after that; by mid-2022 Fox News was running more MyPillow ads than ever.)
Whether Fox’s legal strategy of characterizing him as an unreliable conspiracy theorist will further inflame those tensions remains to be seen.