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Rupert Murdoch’s big admission about Fox News

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When an election technology company first filed a defamation lawsuit against Fox News in early 2021, the network projected confidence in its journalism.

“Fox News Media is committed to providing the full context of every story with in-depth reporting and clear opinion,” it said in the face of Smartmatic’s lawsuit. “We are proud of our 2020 election coverage and will vigorously defend against this meritless lawsuit in court.”

The revelations in another lawsuit against Fox, from Dominion Voting Systems, have now sharply undercut Fox’s claim to providing “full context of every story.” (Indeed, the legal filings thus far show a network quite uninterested in fact-checking the various stolen-election claims, for business reasons.) And now it appears its corporate head actually isn’t all that “proud” of the claims it aired, after all.

The headline from a new court filing Monday is that Fox Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch expressed regret for his hosts airing false claims about a stolen election.

“I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it, in hindsight,” Murdoch said in a deposition.

The newly public comments come as a growing volume of evidence shows that Fox News hosts and executives knew the claims by Trump’s team and some of its hosts were bogus, crazy or unfounded and that the people being booked on-air weren’t credible. But it still afforded them a platform and even rebuked employees who fact-checked or undercut the claims, because it viewed the audience as abhorring such pushback.

(A Murdoch spokesman declined to offer further comment beyond the network’s statement that Dominion had “cherry-pick[ed]” salacious details “utterly irrelevant to the legal issues in this case.”)

Beyond that, there’s Murdoch’s acknowledgment that his own hosts endorsed such claims, despite executives and even some hosts deriding them behind the scenes.

In the deposition, Dominion’s lawyers posited to Murdoch that “Fox did more than simply host these guests and give them a platform.” He granted that evidence supported that conclusion.

“In fact, you are now aware that Fox endorsed at times this false notion of a stolen election?” the lawyers asked.

This time, Murdoch did quibble — but only with the idea that Fox as an entity endorsed such claims. He granted that certain hosts did.

Maria Bartiromo? “Yes. C’mon.”

Jeanine Pirro? “I think so.”

Lou Dobbs? “Oh, a lot.”

Sean Hannity? “A bit.”

“Some of our commentators were endorsing it,” Murdoch acknowledged, repeating that, “Yes. They endorsed.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dominion’s filing treats this acknowledgment as significant, pointing to it early in its filing. It says that this shows Fox can be held liable for defaming Dominion. Such defamation lawsuits do not require knowingly lying, but absent that, it must be proven the network acted with a “reckless disregard” for the truth, which is a thornier standard.

There are a couple potential holes in Dominion’s aha moment. One is that it’s not clear Murdoch technically granted that all the stolen-election claims were false and that the hosts knew or should have known better — though he didn’t take issue with the Dominion lawyer’s use of the f-word and acknowledged Fox fell short by airing such claims. The second is that the issue here doesn’t so much concern claims of a stolen election, generally, as it does claims that Dominion, specifically, took part in stealing the election.

There is no question that Fox aired such claims about Dominion — and credulously so. When it comes to whether the hosts actively endorsed them or acted with a reckless disregard for the truth, that will be for the courts to decide.

We ran through this when Smartmatic and Dominion first filed suit, and some hosts went further than others.

Sidney Powell spouted the claim repeatedly — on Bartiromo’s, Dobbs’s, Pirro’s and Mark Levin’s shows. Mike Lindell was also one of its chief promoters, even encouraging these companies to sue him over it. As for the hosts themselves?

Bartiromo suggestively cited Dominion and Smartmatic while displaying “a graphic showing the states where they stopped counting, which I thought was also strange — to stop counting in the middle of election night.” She solicited an answer from Powell at another point, saying, “We talked about the Dominion software; I know that there were voting irregularities. Tell me about that.”

Pirro cited the Trump lawyers’ allegations against Dominion, including “a back door [that] is capable of flipping votes,” and added, “These are serious allegations, but the media has no interest in any of this. But you and I do, as we should, because 73 million Americans voted for Donald Trump.”

Dobbs cast doubt on the stated reasons for the lack of disclosure about how the software worked, using air quotes while noting the company called that information “proprietary.” During a long interview with Powell that touched repeatedly on Dominion, he also cited “what is apparently a broadly coordinated effort to actually bring down this president.”

Dobbs’s comments are a case in point. He was clearly leaning in on the stolen election claims, but he didn’t explicitly link that “broadly coordinated effort” to Dominion. One could certainly infer that’s what he was implying, given Powell had been pushing these theories immediately before those comments, but they weren’t quite so direct.

Indeed, the most direct claims about Dominion on Fox’s airwaves came from the guests, rather than the hosts. The hosts were clearly happy to indulge them — for reasons that have become clear from the filings — but the difficult legal issue is whether Fox can be held liable for airing these claims.

Crucial to that issue is whether the network recklessly disregarded the truth. Certainly, it was broadly clear at the time that these claims were baseless or false, and the filings indicate many at Fox understood that.

What Murdoch and Fox seem to be doing is making the case that even as hosts were airing claims Fox executives might have known to be false or baseless, the hosts acted on their own.

In its own filing, Fox’s lawyers stated that Dominion “has produced zero evidentiary support for its dubious theory that high-level executives at Fox Corporation ‘chose to publish and broadcast’ or played a ‘direct role in the creation and publication’ of false election lies.”

But the filings make clear that Fox executives saw utility in allowing such claims to be aired and in avoiding applying skepticism to them. They repeatedly cited the idea that this is what their viewers wanted.

“This type of conspiratorial reporting might be exactly what the disgruntled FNC viewer is looking for,” one executive wrote while discussing how Fox’s rival, Newsmax, was citing the conspiracy-theory website Gateway Pundit in its reporting.

Murdoch in his deposition explained booking Lindell on air by saying, “It is not red or blue, it is green.”

It seems Fox has decided it can no longer quibble with the idea that its hosts were irresponsible. Indeed, Murdoch says at another point in the deposition that it was “wrong” to welcome Lindell on Tucker Carlson’s show on Jan. 26, 2021, “to repeat those allegations against Dominion” if Carlson “didn’t contest it.” (A transcript of Carlson’s show that night shows that, indeed, Carlson didn’t contest it.)

That was Fox’s modus operandi in the weeks after the 2020 election. People there clearly knew better, but still allowed guests on their shows whom Fox executives and hosts privately derided. Even Murdoch conceded in his deposition that he could have prevented hosts from booking Rudy Giuliani: “I could have. But I didn’t.”

That, and the Lindell quotes, might actually wind up being a more significant than anything Murdoch said about his hosts endorsing broader stolen-election claims.

This is certainly journalistic malpractice, at the least — which Murdoch has effectively acknowledged. The question before the court now is whether it’s bad and reckless enough to make Fox as an entity pay up.

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