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Is This The End of Fox News?

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C.
Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C.

Fox News is in growing trouble in a $1.6 billion defamation suit brought by voting technology firm Dominion Voting Systems.

The conservative news network is showing more potential legal liability by the day.

Emails and texts have surfaced that seem to reveal Fox News hosts themselves disagreed with accusations that Dominion purposefully changed votes to favor Joe Biden during the 2020 presidential election.

Now the case threatens to climb to the top of the pyramid at Fox – Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan.

Fox News: What Is the Latest?

The defamation suit is expected to go to trial in April. Dominion believes that its case is strong, judging from court filings that purport to show communications from the Murdochs and other executives at Fox.

Rupert Murdoch has admitted that he knew the shallowness of the voting fraud case and Dominion’s connection to any wrongdoing. “Navigating” the delicate balance between truth and “crazy” was how he described the position of Fox News, according to one communique.

Meanwhile, a Fox News board member reportedly worried that after the January 6 insurrection, the network faced an “existential moment,” and Anne Dias wanted Fox to take a stand on the riots.

“Just tell her we have been talking internally and intensely,” Rupert Murdoch told his son. “We are pivoting as fast as possible. We have to lead our viewers, which is not as easy as it might seem,” according to one email.

Reuters reported Feb. 27 that “Rupert Murdoch acknowledged under oath that some Fox hosts ‘endorsed’ the notion that the 2020 U.S. presidential election was stolen,” according to a court filing.

Delicate Balance Between Rumor and Facts

Fox News viewers yearned for more coverage of the voting fraud theory, and many Republicans believed that Dominion was part of a nefarious plot to ensure that Trump would lose the election.

But some anchors and hosts had their doubts that voting fraud had taken place.

Nevertheless, their channel continued to air guests who perpetuated the belief that Dominion acted improperly. Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity were reportedly skeptical of any Dominion actions, but they also knew that if the voting fraud story was not covered by Fox, viewers would decamp for other right-wing competitors such as Newsmax TV and One America News Network.

Dominion is also suing these media outlets.

Some texts and emails seem to bear this out. In one missive Tucker Carlson called the charges “ludicrous” and “off the rails.” Sean Hannity messaged about “lunatics.” A senior network vice-president said one of the Dominion fraud stories was “MIND BLOWINGLY NUTS.”

If Dominion can prove that Fox was airing stories they knew to be untrue, a jury could find in favor of the voting technology company. They could also declare that the charade went all the way to the top of the network’s leadership.

High Bar for Defamation Cases

It is usually difficult for media companies to be sued successfully by plaintiffs for defamation. The respondents’ defense is usually that their coverage was based on truth, or in any case was absent of malicious intent. However, Scott Horton, a Columbia Law School lecturer and Harper’s Magazine contributing editor, was astounded by the high level of evidence in this case.

“These suits usually fail because you can’t prove the company you’re suing knew they were spreading falsehoods.” Horton told The Guardian. “That you would have evidence they knew it was a lie is almost unheard of … in this case the sheer volume of all the email and text messages is staggering.”

Jury Pool Could Be Biased

If the defamation case is not settled out of court, jury selection will be interesting.

It may be difficult for a potential juror to not have predisposed opinions about Fox News. Many will have a bias one way or the other.

But the way ahead still looks perilous for Fox. When the main hosts and corporate leadership admit they were sacrificing the truth for ratings, it doesn’t look good.

Fox can say their on-air personnel are protected by the First Amendment and that they did not intend any malice against Dominion, but these texts and emails put the network in a questionable light. 

Fox has said these electronic communications were “cherry picked” and lack context, but the messages from Rupert Murdoch and his son seem to show that leadership was overall concerned about ratings rather than delivering the truth.

That gives Fox News more legal liability in the case.

Author Expertise and Experience: Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.