Rupert Murdoch to Be Deposed in $1.6 Billion Defamation Case Against Fox

From a Washington Post story by Jeremy Barr and Rachel Weiner headlined “Rupert Murdoch to be deposed in $1.6 billion defamation case against Fox”:

Rupert Murdoch, the 91-year-old chairman of Fox News parent company Fox Corp, will be forced to answer questions under oath next week about his network’s coverage of the 2020 presidential election.

Murdoch will be deposed on the mornings of Dec. 13 and Dec. 14 as part of election technology company Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News, according to a filing in Delaware’s Superior Court. The lawsuit alleges that the network purposely aired false claims about Dominion’s role in the 2020 presidential election to boost ratings and fight off competition from more-conservative-leaning television networks.

According to the filing, Murdoch’s deposition will be conducted remotely, via videoconference.

Rupert Murdoch is the highest-profile person to be deposed by lawyers for Dominion, which has spent the past few months hauling in network executives, producers and hosts to answer questions about whether they knew that claims made about Dominion technology on Fox’s airwaves were false. Many of the most egregious comments were made by unpaid guests, including Donald Trump-affiliated attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, though some were echoed by Fox hosts including Jeanine Pirro, Maria Bartiromo and Lou Dobbs, who no longer works for the company.

On Monday, Rupert Murdoch’s eldest son, Lachlan Murdoch, sat for an in-person deposition at a law firm office in Los Angeles. Murdoch is the executive chair and CEO of Fox Corp, and is considered to be the likely successor to his media titan father. James Murdoch, who was once chief executive of the then-Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox but has since cut ties with the family’s media entities, was deposed on Oct. 25.

Dominion lawyers have also deposed prominent Fox hosts including Sean Hannity, Pirro and Tucker Carlson, as well as former on-air personalities, including Shepard Smith. In doing so, lawyers for the election technology company have attempted to probe the internal culture and reporting practices of the highest-rated cable news network. The company has also obtained reams of internal communications sent by Fox employees and executives.

Suzanne Scott, the chief executive of Fox News, was deposed on Nov. 1, while Fox News president Jay Wallace was deposed two weeks later.

Hannity’s Aug. 31 deposition lasted more than seven hours, according to court records. He was asked specifically about a Nov. 30, 2020 episode in which Powell claimed that Dominion “ran an algorithm that shaved off votes from Trump and awarded them to Biden” and “used the machines to inject and add massive quantities of votes for Mr. Biden.” Dominion had previously warned Fox reporters and producers that audits and reviews had found no evidence of fraud or miscounting of votes in the election. Hannity aired Powell’s attack on Dominion “despite knowing it was false, and knowing it was coming,” the company said in one court filing, while Pirro “hosted Powell and endorsed her statements.”

Fox News has argued that Dominion’s lawsuit is an affront to the principles of press freedom and that the amount of money being demanded is “outrageous.” The company’s lawyers have said that Fox merely covered newsworthy claims of election fraud made by a highly public figure.

“There are very few events in the last 50 years in this country that I think are more newsworthy than our president alleging that our entire Democratic system was put on its head by a voting machine company stealing votes,” veteran trial lawyer Dan Webb, who is representing Fox, told The Washington Post in August.

“Instead of acting responsibly and showing remorse, Fox instead has doubled down,” a spokeswoman for Dominion said in a statement Monday. “We’re focused on holding Fox accountable and are confident the truth will ultimately prevail.”

Fox has sought to shield both Hannity and Pirro from sharing “confidential sources and information,” arguing that it is “a journalist’s right to maintain his confidences.” But Hannity has said in the past that he does not consider himself to be a journalist, and Dominion has argued that even if they do count as journalists, there is no such right when the information is directly relevant to whether Fox acted with “actual malice.”

Neither side in the case has suggested that a settlement in the case could be imminent. If an agreement is not reached, a five-week trial in Delaware Superior Court is set to begin on April 17. Fox News is asking for the case to be combined with an “identical” suit against Fox Corporation, saying Dominion “should not have two chances to drag Fox through massive, public trials.”

Jeremy Barr covers breaking news about the media industry for The Washington Post.

Rachel Weiner covers federal courts in Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Va.

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