Donald Trump

Fox News Hosts, Rupert Murdoch Were Skeptical of Trump Election Fraud Claims

Richard Drew | AP
  • Dominion Voting Systems' $1.6 billion lawsuit against Fox and its TV networks is heating up.
  • Dominion unveiled messages and testimony from Fox News anchors expressing disbelief in Donald Trump and his lawyers' claims of a rigged election in 2020.
  • Rupert Murdoch called Rudy Giuliani's claims "crazy stuff." Tucker Carlson called Trump a "demonic force."
  • Fox News continued to deny the claims that it knowingly made false comments.

Rupert Murdoch and Fox News hosts expressed disbelief in former President Donald Trump's false election fraud claims, according to evidence released from Dominion Voting Systems' $1.6 billion lawsuit against Fox Corp. and its cable TV networks.  

In court papers filed Thursday, text messages and testimony from depositions show that Fox executives and TV personalities were skeptical about claims that the election between the victorious Joe Biden, a Democrat, and Trump, a Republican, was rigged. 

The release follows months of discovery and depositions that have remained private until Thursday, when the companies filed court papers before a Delaware judge laying out each of their cases and unveiling recently gathered evidence. The documents were revealed hours after authorities in Georgia released a small portion of a grand jury report regarding a separate criminal probe into Trump's alleged election meddling in that state.

Dominion brought the defamation lawsuit against Fox and its right-wing cable networks, Fox News and Fox Business, arguing the networks and its anchors made false claims that its voting machines rigged the results of the 2020 election. 

"Really crazy stuff. And damaging," Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch said in an email on Nov. 19, weeks after the election, regarding claims Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani was making on Fox News. 

Top Fox News anchors like Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham expressed disbelief in what Sidney Powell, a pro-Trump attorney who had aggressively promoted claims of election fraud, had said at the time, too. 

"Sydney Powell is lying," Tucker Carlson said in a text message to his producer, misspelling Powell's first name. Meanwhile Laura Ingraham said in a message to Carlson: "Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy."

"It's unbelievably offensive to me. Our viewers are good people and they believe it," Carlson responded, according to court papers. These messages came in the weeks after the election. 

Dominion said in court papers that Fox admitted Hannity and Lou Dobbs' shows did not "challenge the narrative" that Dominion was responsible for rigging the election or producing inaccurate results. 

A person walks past Fox News Headquarters at the News Corporation building on May 03, 2022 in New York City.
Alexi Rosenfeld | Getty Images
A person walks past Fox News Headquarters at the News Corporation building on May 03, 2022 in New York City.

On Thursday, both Fox Corp. and Fox News also filed their own motions for summary judgment. Fox Corp., which saw its push to have the case dismissed denied by the court, said in court papers that following a year of discovery, the record in the case shows it had "no role in the creation and publication of the challenged statements – all of which aired on either Fox Business Network or Fox News Channel." 

In recent months Murdoch, as well as his son Lachlan Murdoch, the CEO of Fox Corp., faced depositions as part of the lawsuit. 

Fox News said once again in court papers that it "fulfilled its commitment to inform fully and comment fairly," on the claims that Dominion rigged the election against Trump. 

"There will be a lot of noise and confusion generated by Dominion and their opportunistic private equity owners, but the core of this case remains about freedom of the press and freedom of speech, which are fundamental rights afforded by the Constitution and protected by New York Times v. Sullivan," Fox said in a statement issued Thursday. 

Fox targeted Dominion's private-equity owner in an unredacted counterclaim to Dominion's request for $1.6 billion in damages, according to court papers filed Thursday, saying the firm "paid a small fraction of that amount" to acquire Dominion.

In court papers, Fox said the $1.6 billion figure "has no connection Dominion's financial value as a company or any supposed injury it suffered as a result" of its reporting, and found no evidence in the discovery process that Dominion lost any contracts as a result.

"Dominion's ten-figure damage claim demonstrates the danger that unfounded litigation poses to a free press. Threatening FNN with a $1.6 billion judgment will no doubt cause other media outlets to think twice before reporting allegations that are inconvenient to Dominion — and other companies," Fox said in court papers.

A Dominion spokesperson didn't comment and its private equity owner, Staple Street Capital, didn't respond to a request for comment. 

Rudolph Giuliani and Sidney Powell, attorneys for President Donald Trump, conduct a news conference at the Republican National Committee on lawsuits regarding the outcome of the 2020 presidential election on Thursday, November 19, 2020.
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
Rudolph Giuliani and Sidney Powell, attorneys for President Donald Trump, conduct a news conference at the Republican National Committee on lawsuits regarding the outcome of the 2020 presidential election on Thursday, November 19, 2020.

"Here, however, overwhelming direct evidence establishes Fox's knowledge of falsity, not just 'doubts,'" Dominion said in court papers Thursday, pointing to multiple defamatory statements. 

The court papers filed by Dominion, Fox News and its parent company all contained redactions, however.

On Friday, Dominion filed a challenge to the redactions, calling for the Delaware judge to make all of the documents public. Dominion said it did not make any of the redactions, and they all came at the request of Fox.

"Dominion's position is that nothing in these three briefs warrants confidential treatment," according to the filing. A Fox spokesperson didn't immediately comment on the challenge.

Dominion noted the audience backlash Fox News faced on the 2020 election night when it called Arizona for Biden, later seeing competing right-wing networks like Newsmax take advantage of the opening with the audience. 

Dominion's findings point to hosts including Carlson, Ingraham and Hannity understanding "the threat to them personally." Dominion points to messages Carlson sent to his producer on Nov. 5, "We worked really hard to build what we have. Those f----ers are destroying our credibility. It enrages me." 

The pressure Fox's top personalities felt from their audience base is strewn throughout messages in the weeks following the election and Fox's early call. It even continued through Jan. 6, when a violent mob of Trump supporters breached the U.S. Capitol.

That evening, Carlson texted his producer calling Trump "a demonic force. A destroyer. But he's not going to destroy us," court papers show.

Meanwhile, on the night before the Jan. 6 riot on the Capitol, Rupert Murdoch told Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott, "It's been suggested our prime time three should independently or together say something like 'the election is over and Joe Biden won,'" according to court papers. Saying so "would go a long way to stop the Trump myth that the election stolen," he added.

The case is being watched closely by First Amendment watchdogs and experts. Libel lawsuits are typically centered around one falsehood. In this case Dominion cites a lengthy list of examples of Fox TV hosts making false claims even after they were proven to be untrue. Media companies are often broadly protected by the First Amendment. 

These cases are typically settled out of court or dismissed quickly. But the Delaware judge overseeing the case has so far dismissed such requests. The trial is slated to begin in mid-April. 

Last week, during a status conference, Dominion's attorney called out concerns that some evidence, such as board meeting minutes and the results of searches of personal drives, had yet to be produced by Fox and its TV networks. 

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