Rupert Murdoch has admitted hosts on his U.S. news network Fox News endorsed false claims that the result of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election was illegitimate.
Murdoch made the admission under oath in a defamation trial. Dominion, a voting machine company, is suing Fox for $US1.6 billion in damages over claims the network knowingly broadcast the false claims. Fox is contesting the lawsuit and has defended its journalistic standards.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump did not accept his defeat in the 2020 Presidential Election. Trump allies Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani spread false claims that the election had been rigged without evidence.
Some of these claims focused on Dominion, a company which makes voting machines. It was falsely claimed Dominion machines changed votes to favour Joe Biden and that the company had paid officials to participate in fraud.
These claims were broadcast on Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns media operations in Australia under the company News Corp.
On election night, Fox News was the first major network to declare a Biden victory in the state of Arizona, which became a focus of those claiming electoral fraud. It also declared an overall Biden victory at a similar time to other networks.
However, in the aftermath of the election, it repeatedly broadcast Powell, Giuliani and others promoting false claims of fraud. Some of its own hosts also cast doubt on the result, including an on-air assertion by Sean Hannity that “it will be impossible to ever know the true, fair, accurate election results – that’s a fact”.
Dominion filed its lawsuit in 2021. It claimed Fox executives and hosts knew the electoral fraud claims were unfounded but chose to broadcast them anyway because it was afraid of losing ratings by angering Trump supporters.
Dominion claims Fox’s decision amplified the false claims, damaging its reputation and leading to death threats against its employees. “Fox took a small flame and turned it into a forest fire,” the lawsuit alleges. Fox responded saying it is “proud” of its coverage, “which stands in the highest tradition of American journalism”.
In recent weeks, Dominion has produced extensive evidence including text messages it claims prove key Fox figures knew they were spreading falsehoods.
Fox hosts including Hannity and Tucker Carlson privately acknowledged Powell and Giuliani were “lying”, “crazy” and “F’ing lunatics”. Carlson said he found the electoral fraud lies “unbelievably offensive… our viewers are good people and they believe it”. He called Trump a “demonic force”. Several Fox executives, lawyers and fact-checkers also affirmed in private exchanges there was no evidence
for the claims Fox continued to put to air.
On several occasions, Dominion’s evidence shows Rupert Murdoch expressing concerns to Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott about the network’s treatment of the fraud claims.
He described the coverage as “terrible stuff” and also floated the idea of a definitive on-air statement that “the election is over and Joe Biden won”. He also encouraged the New York Post to publish an editorial criticising Trump and denouncing the fraud claims.
Fox CEO Scott has testified both Rupert and his son Lachlan Murdoch were in frequent contact with her in the aftermath of the election to discuss Fox’s coverage.
However, despite their concerns, no directive was given to stop broadcasting the false claims or to stop hosts from endorsing them. In court, Rupert Murdoch defended the broadcasting of the claims as “reporting the news”, but acknowledged some of the network’s hosts had also endorsed the claims, saying he “could have” intervened to stop this but did not.