Fox host Sean Hannity criticized by Rupert Murdoch in court filing
Members of Rise and Resist participate in their weekly “Truth Tuesday” protest at News Corp headquarters on February 21, 2023 in New York City.
Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images News | Getty Images
More revelations from Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch’s testimony, as well as evidence gathered from Fox executives and TV hosts in the months following the 2020 election, came to light on Tuesday as part of Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit.
Hundreds of pages of gathered evidence from both sides – including full excerpts of testimony from depositions, text messages and emails – were published on Tuesday, providing glimpses into the back-and-forth at the right-wing TV network in the months following the 2020 election.
“Maybe Sean [Hannity] and Laura [Ingraham] went too far. All very well for Sean to tell you he was in despair about Trump but what did he tell his viewers?” Murdoch said in an email to Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott on Jan. 21, 2021, in an apparent reference to Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. The exchange came 15 days after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection.
A Delaware judge ordered the documents unsealed. While portions of the depositions and evidence have been released in recent weeks, Tuesday’s filings are the most extensive revelations regarding private communications at Fox Corp. and Fox News.
Dominion has argued in its suit that Fox and its ring-wing cable TV channels and talent falsely claimed that its voting machines rigged the results of the 2020 election.
Fox News on Tuesday said the documents it filed showed “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. We already know they will say and do anything to try to win this case, but to twist and even misattribute quotes to the highest levels of our company is truly beyond the pale.”
The company points to Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch’s testimony about being “kept awake at night” regarding ratings and competition following the 2020 election. Dominion has said and pointed to text messages between talent regarding fears about audience following Fox’s election night call of Arizona for Joe Biden. Lachlan Murdoch said in general ratings were something that have kept him up at night.
“You know, you get a few gray hairs from being awake at – sports ratings or news ratings or entertainment ratings are probably the worst so,” Lachlan Murdoch said, according to court papers.
A spokesperson for Dominion said Thursday: “The emails, texts, and deposition testimony speak for themselves. We welcome all scrutiny of our evidence because it all leads to the same place — Fox knowingly spread lies causing enormous damage to an American company.”
Trump has repeatedly spread false claims that the 2020 election between him and now-President Joe Biden was rigged. He attempted to pressure a top official in Georgia to “find” votes for him have become the subject of a criminal probe in the state, which Trump lost to Joe Biden.
Fox News has consistently denied that it knowingly made false claims about the election. It has alleged Dominion is “cherry picking” quotes from depositions and documents gathered through discovery.
Fox Corp. has also said in court papers that the past year of discovery has shown the media company played “no role in the creation and publication of the challenged statements – all of which aired on either Fox Business Network or Fox News Channel.”
Also Tuesday, attorneys for Dominion and Fox met before a Delaware judge to discuss next steps leading into the scheduled trial that is to begin in mid-April. Before then, Dominion and Fox will meet again in Delaware court on March 21 regarding their motions for summary judgement.
The exhibits filed to a Delaware court on Tuesday comes after weeks of court filings that have unveiled parts of the gathered evidence and depositions of Murdoch, other top Fox Corp. brass, as well as top talent.
In the filings, some of which were released last week, Murdoch acknowledged that some of Fox’s top TV anchors parroted false claims in the months following the 2020 presidential election, and that some even endorsed the claims.
“Some of our commentators were endorsing it,” Murdoch said in his response during the deposition. “They endorsed.”
Court papers also show Murdoch and his son, Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch, were close to Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott during the time regarding coverage on the network. Depositions and evidence such as text messages show personalities like Tucker Carlson, Hannity and Ingraham expressed disbelief in the claims being made on air.
The case is being closely watched by First Amendment watchdogs. Libel lawsuits are typically focused on one falsehood, but in this case Dominion cites a long list of examples of Fox’s cable channels and its hosts making false claims even after they were proven to be untrue. Media companies are often broadly protected by the First Amendment.
The lawsuit has also provided a window into what happens behind the scenes at Fox News, as well as other events tied to the 2020 election fraud claims that were covered on Fox’s networks.
For instance, court filings show that Fox Corp. executives had vetoed Trump’s attempt to appear on the network’s air on the evening of Jan. 6, 2021, after a violent mob of Trump supporters attacked the Capitol in a bid to prevent Congress from confirming Biden’s victory.
That evening, top Fox host Tucker Carlson texted his producer, calling Trump “a demonic force.”
Court papers also show that Murdoch also said it was “wrong” for Carlson to host MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, an ally of Trump who promoted conspiracy theories tied to the election, weeks after Jan. 6.
Carlson, along with top anchors including Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, had expressed disbelief in what Sidney Powell, a pro-Trump attorney who had aggressively promoted claims of election fraud, had said at the time, too.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, blasted Fox News host Tucker Carlson for airing Jan. 6 footage on Monday in a way that portrayed it as a peaceful visit to the U.S. Capitol. Schumer also criticized House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., for giving Carlson and Fox News exclusive access to 44,000 hours of Capitol security footage.
Meanwhile, Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., last week sent a letter to Murdoch and Fox News leadership, calling on them “to stop spreading false election narratives and admit on the air that they were wrong to engage in such negligent behavior.” The letter was released in the days after further revelations in the case.