The bombshell filings recently released in Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News tell two stories. The first, which is front and center in the documents and in the newspaper headlines reporting on their contents, is that Fox’s top executives and stars knew that the claims that were being made on the network about the company’s purported role in stealing the 2020 election were false, but they continued to push them because they feared that angry viewers would abandon it for its competitors. Experts say that the voluminous evidence the filings reveal from internal documents and depositions leaves Fox and its parent company in grave legal jeopardy.
But the second story, buried within the filings, may prove even more devastating to Fox. Dominion, in documenting Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch’s direct oversight of the network, revealed numerous cases in which the Fox News co-founder brazenly used its resources to aid the Republican Party. These include a report that Murdoch shared ads then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign planned to run on the network with then-President Donald Trump’s White House, as well as his repeated and explicit instructions to Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott to use the network to help GOP Senate candidates win their elections.
It’s not exactly news that Fox is a GOP propaganda outlet devoted to the party’s political success. Media Matters and other critics have made that case for years based on its programming and previous documents and reporting that provided glimpses inside its operations.
But Fox’s business model requires the network to deny that obvious point: It needs to prop up its reputation as a credible journalistic organization in order to retain advertisers and other business partners, and to book guests who might not want to be associated with an openly partisan outfit. The Dominion filings, which show Murdoch himself treating Fox as an extension of the GOP’s political machine, shred the plausibility of those denials.
Murdoch shared Biden ads with Trump adviser Jared Kushner
Perhaps the single most damaging new allegation about Fox’s politicized operations is the claim in Dominion’s second filing that Murdoch shared Biden’s campaign ads with the Trump team. That’s an astounding ethical breach that should give pause to Democratic candidates who seek to run ads on Murdoch’s media properties in the future.
“During Trump’s campaign, Rupert provided Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, with Fox confidential information about Biden’s ads, along with debate strategy … (providing Kushner a preview of Biden’s ads before they were public),” the filing alleges, citing Murdoch’s sworn deposition.
Murdoch has a long personal relationship with Kushner and was speaking with him weekly during his tenure in the Trump White House, The New York Times reported in December 2017. The Fox honcho also regularly advised Trump as president. These relationships paid off for Murdoch, with federal regulators repeatedly acting in his benefit over the course of the Trump administration.
Future Democratic candidates should be aware that if they seek to run campaign ads on Fox News, Fox Business, or one of the numerous owned-and-operated Fox broadcast stations, the network’s executives may turn them over to their Republican opponents.
Murdoch demanded Fox intervene to help Republicans win Senate races
The filings also repeatedly show Murdoch directing Fox News’ CEO to use the network to help other Republican candidates.
The first filing reports that in an email Murdoch sent on November 16, 2020, he told Scott, “we should concentrate on Georgia, helping any way we can.” At the time, both of the state’s U.S. Senate races were in runoffs whose results would determine which party controlled the body.
Ultimately, Fox did not pursue this strategy. Instead, chasing viewers who were fleeing to Newsmax, the network doubled down on election fraud conspiracy theories – including in Georgia, where Trump baselessly alleged Democrats had rigged the election for Biden. Notably, the network’s stars suggested that the state’s Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, both Republicans, were corruptly refusing to aid Trump’s effort to change the results. With GOP turnout depressed in the runoff – perhaps linked to Trump’s claims that the state’s elections were rigged – Democrats won both seats and thus the Senate.
This wasn’t the only time Murdoch told Scott to use the network to help Republicans hold the Senate. “Rupert had conversations with Scott about the ‘importance of giving exposure to Republicans in close Senate races,’” the second filing states, citing Murdoch’s deposition and an exhibit. It’s unclear when those conversations took place, but Republican Senate nominees made at least 47 weekday appearances on the network between October 2020 and Election Day, according to the Media Matters database, and similarly flooded the network in the run-up to the 2022 midterms.
Murdoch was particularly worried about the 2020 reelection fight of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who accounted for 12 of those interviews. The filing states (citation removed):
When Lindsey Graham was running for the Senate in October 2020, Rupert wrote to Scott, “‘You probably know about the Lou Dobbs outburst against Lindsey Graham. Could Sean [Hannity] say something supportive?’ Meaning of Lindsey Graham. ‘We cannot lose the Senate if at all possible.’” Scott followed up to confirm that she indeed “addressed the Dobbs outburst” as Rupert requested.
Murdoch’s comment that “we cannot lose the Senate if at all possible” is an explicit statement that he views Fox as inextricably linked to the GOP and its coverage as serving a partisan goal.
The filing does not give more detail about “the Dobbs outburst.” But on his Fox Business show on October 23, 2020, Dobbs urged his viewers not to support Graham’s campaign.
“Just to be clear, I don’t know why anyone in the great state of South Carolina would ever vote for Lindsey Graham,” Dobbs said. “Graham has betrayed President Trump at almost every turn. He has betrayed the American people and his oath of office.”
How did Scott “address” the situation? It’s unclear, but on October 26, 2020, Graham did a friendly interview on Sean Hannity’s prime-time Fox show. Graham used the opportunity to plug his campaign website and ask for support from Hannity’s audience. Hannity, meanwhile, told his viewers that Graham’s reelection was critical to stopping the Democratic agenda.
“Conservatives need to understand what court-packing would mean, what D.C., Puerto Rico statehood would mean,” the Fox host warned. “But all of this, higher taxes, amnesty. When I say this is the tipping point of all tipping point elections, you're right. It's your race.”
Murdoch urged Fox to take sides in a GOP Senate primary
Murdoch encouraged Fox attacks on coal mogul Don Blankenship during the 2018 Republican Senate primary in West Virginia.
Blankenship feuded with the Senate’s Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) during that campaign, calling him “Cocaine Mitch” and attacking his “China family,” a bigoted reference to McConnell’s Taiwan-born wife Elaine Chao, then Trump’s transportation secretary. Chao is a former Fox contributor and board member of its parent company.
According to the Dominion filing, Murdoch “told Scott and [Fox News President Jay] Wallace when Donald Trump appealed for help defeating Don Blankenship in the West Virginia Senate race, ‘Anything during day helpful but Sean and Laura dumping on him hard might save the day,’” apparently referencing Hannity and his fellow prime-time host Laura Ingraham.
Blankenship later filed an unsuccessful defamation lawsuit against Fox and the parent companies of several other media outlets, alleging that they had improperly described him as a “felon” when he in fact served a year in prison on a misdemeanor count of conspiring to willfully violate mine safety standards in connection with “the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in 40 years.”
Murdoch’s email to Scott and Wallace also appears in the judge’s order dismissing Blankenship’s complaint, with the judge finding that Blankenship had not proved that it constituted “an explicit instruction from Mr. Murdoch to others at Fox News to defame Mr. Blankenship by falsely referring to him as a felon.”
The Murdochs explain how Fox should cover Biden, Trump
Murdoch instructed Scott to ensure that Fox’s coverage of the 2020 elections focused on an issue that he thought would damage Biden’s campaign. From the filing (citation removed):
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.” Rupert explained at his deposition that to make sure Fox was “banging on about these issues” he “must have been talking to Ms. Scott.”
Murdoch wanted Fox to cover Trump in a very different way – he sought to use the network as a promotional vehicle for Trump’s policy agenda, the filings reveal.
“When Trump presented a new tax bill, Rupert told Scott ‘we must tell our viewers again and again what they will get,’” the second filing stated.
Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert’s son and Fox Corporation’s executive chairman and CEO, similarly weighed in following the election on Fox coverage of Trump that he considered insufficiently supportive. According to the filing (citations removed):
He told Scott on November 14 during Fox’s coverage of a rally in support of Donald Trump that “News guys have to be careful how they cover this rally. 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 responded: “Yes thanks”; and when Lachlan then criticized Leland Vittert’s coverage as “[s]mug and obnoxious,” Scott said she was “calling now” to direct Vittert’s producer to fix the issue.