NEW YORK — Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch said under oath that he believes the 2020 presidential election was free, fair and not stolen, according to court filings released Tuesday in a voting machine company’s defamation lawsuit over Fox News’ coverage of former President Donald Trump’s false election fraud claims.
In sworn questioning in January by lawyers for Dominion Voting Systems, Murdoch was asked, “Do you believe that the 2020 presidential election was free and fair?”
“Yes,” he replied, according to a transcript.
“The election was not stolen,” he said later.
The transcript and other material released Tuesday expand on earlier disclosures that paint a portrait of behind-the-scenes doubt - or outright dismissals - of Trump‘s voting fraud claims, even as the network gave them airtime. In excerpts of Murdoch’s questioning released earlier, he acknowledged that he didn’t stop various Fox News commentators from promoting baseless claims from Trump allies that the election was stolen, even though he could have.
He also acknowledged that some of the network’s hosts - Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro and Sean Hannity - at times endorsed the false claims.
Dominion is suing Fox News for $1.6 billion, saying the network crippled the company’s business by broadcasting false claims from Trump’s lawyers that Dominion had changed votes in the 2020 election.
Fox says Dominion is inventing its claims of lost business and has cherry-picked and misrepresented remarks by Fox hosts and leaders to paint a picture of a company that threw truth aside to keep its audience.
“Dominion has been caught red-handed using more distortions and misinformation in their PR campaign to smear Fox News and trample on free speech and freedom of the press,” the company said in a statement Tuesday, complaining that “to twist and even misattribute quotes to the highest levels of our company is truly beyond the pale.”
Federal and state election officials, exhaustive reviews in battleground states and Trump’s attorney general found no widespread fraud that could have changed the outcome of the 2020 election. Nor did they uncover any credible evidence that the vote was tainted. Trump’s allegations of fraud also have been roundly rejected by dozens of courts, including by judges he had appointed.
Under questioning, Murdoch said he doubted any massive fraud had occurred and said then-Attorney General William Barr’s statement on Dec. 1, 2020, that there was no significant voter fraud “just closed it for me.”
Murdoch even worried about Trump, telling a friend in an email that the commander-in-chief was “apparently not sleeping and bouncing off walls!”
“The real danger is what he might do as president,” Murdoch added in the message, as he recalled under questioning.
Still, Murdoch defended his network’s coverage of Trump’s claims of fraud, even as he privately bemoaned them.
“This was big news,” Murdoch said. “The president of the United States was making wild claims, but that is news.”
He acknowledged he has kept certain guests from appearing on Fox News and even intervened with on-air talent. He barred Trump adviser Steve Bannon, he admitted, because “I just see him as a fringe character.” Murdoch pointedly said he did not watch Dobbs’ show on Fox Business News and resisted entreaties from Trump to move Dobbs to the more widely viewed main news channel.
Some of the network’s biggest stars also privately expressed disbelief in the claims made by Trump allies, but aired the claims anyway. “Sydney Powell is lying,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson said in a text to a producer, referencing one of the attorneys pushing the claims for Trump. Host Laura Ingraham texted Carlson that Powell is “a complete nut.”
Murdoch called her a “crazy, would-be lawyer” in another email to a friend, he told Dominion’s attorneys.
The latest material in the Dominion case came as another voting-technology company that is suing Fox News trained new focus on Murdoch and Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch, saying they played a leading role in airing false claims that the company’s technology helped “steal” the 2020 presidential election from Trump.
The company, Smartmatic, said in a filing Monday that the Murdochs, as the ultimate authorities at the network’s corporate parent, “were front and center in the decision to cover and facilitate the disinformation campaign published by Fox News after the 2020 U.S. election.”
Fox News and Fox Corp. didn’t immediately comment on Smartmatic‘s claims, which came after a New York appeals court dismissed Fox Corp. from the lawsuit but let it proceed against the news network, as well as Bartiromo, Pirro and Dobbs. Smartmatic‘s new filing reasserts claims against Fox Corp., supporting them with the new allegations against its top leaders, the Murdochs.
As in the Dominion case, Fox News has responded to Smartmatic‘s lawsuit by saying it was simply reporting on newsworthy claims made by the president and his attorneys. The network notes that its hosts at times asked the lawyers about evidence to support their claims, which was never provided.
After Smartmatic demanded a retraction, Fox News ran an interview with an election technology expert who shot down the fraud allegations.
Like Dominion, Smartmatic contends that Fox News got behind the bogus voting-fraud narrative to win back pro-Trump viewers who turned to rival conservative news outlets after Fox, correctly, declared on election night that Biden had won Arizona.
• Associated Press writers Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta; Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix; Gary Fields in Washington, D.C.; and Nicholas Riccardi in Denver contributed to this report.
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