07 Mar MURDOCH ADMITS FOX NEWS HOSTS ENDORSED TRUMP’S “STOLEN ELECTION” CLAIM
Donald Trump’s claim that the 2020 US Presidential election was “stolen” and the subsequent storming of the US Capitol has had many legal repercussions – from impeachment proceedings against Trump himself to criminal prosecutions of his supporters. It has also resulted in libel proceedings against Fox News for its reporting of Trump’s claims.
Voting machine company Dominion Voting Systems has accused Fox News of maligning its reputation by “endorsing” Donald Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Dominion has brought a $1.6billion (£1.3billion) defamation claim, arguing that the false and malicious rumours of voter fraud harmed its business. It alleges that the rumours peddled by Fox News’s on-air hosts included that Dominion’s voting machines could run a secret algorithm that switched votes from one candidate to another, and that the company was founded in Venezuela to help that country’s long-time leader, Hugo Chávez, fix elections.
To prove defamation, Dominion needs to successfully argue that Fox presented false information and did so with “actual malice” knowing it was untrue. Fox News denies defaming Dominion. It argues that the comments are protected under the constitutional right to free speech, and that it was reporting rather than supporting Trump’s allegations.
However, Fox News’s position seems precarious following a recent legal filing by Rupert Murdoch – the billionaire owner of Fox News, The Sun and the Wall Street Journal. Murdoch admitted that four of Fox News’s stars “endorsed” the false claims on-air, and he “would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it, in hindsight”. Murdoch tried to distinguish between the hosts endorsing the false claims and Fox itself, but admitted that he made the decision not to keep election deniers off-air.
Murdoch’s revelations have been described as “stunning”, “damning” and “a bomb drop”. The word “endorsed” could be critical for Dominion in proving its case that Fox News knowingly spread false information.
Even if Fox News succeeds in defeating Dominion’s lawsuit, the admission that hosts endorsed false narratives could cause long-term reputational damage to the channel. There is, however, a question of how much Fox News’s viewers will actually learn about the case. Other US news organisations are covering the story, but Fox News has yet to report on it and remains the most popular cable news channel (having held the top spot for the past two years).
The main impact may be on Trump himself, as he attempts to shore up support for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. He has not appeared on Fox News since September 2022 – whereas his rival nominees are frequent guests.
A jury trial is scheduled to begin in April. zoom-in will report on any development.