The Murdochs, however, have been forced to make hard choices about even their most favored chief executives when scandal overwhelms. In 2010, Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of Fox Corporation, reluctantly pushed out Rebekah Brooks, who ran his British newspapers and was a close protégé, amid a police investigation into phone hacking by journalists who worked for her.
How Times reporters cover politics.We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.
Ms. Scott maintains a much more discreet profile than her predecessor, Roger Ailes, a whisperer to Republican presidents who cultivated a Svengali-like image in the media before numerous accusations of sexual harassment led to his downfall.
She grew up in Northern New Jersey, where she lives today with her husband and teenage daughter. Her first job for Fox was as an assistant to one of Mr. Ailes’s top deputies. Her first big promotion was to a senior producer position on Greta Van Susteren’s show. She would go on to oversee network talent, and then programming.
Colleagues say she pays careful attention to what’s on Fox, often watching from her office with the sound off and occasionally offering advice to producers and hosts on how sets could look better, outfits sharper and guests could be more compelling.
Under her direction, Fox News has maintained not only one of the biggest audiences in cable but in all of television, occasionally drawing more viewers than traditional broadcast networks like ABC. And Fox News collects far higher ad rates than its competitors — an average of almost $9,000 for a 30-second commercial in prime time, compared with about $6,200 for CNN and $5,300 for MSNBC, according to the Standard Media Index, an independent research firm. (The writer of this article is an MSNBC contributor.)
As chief executive, Ms. Scott has adopted a mostly deferential view of dealing with talent, current and former hosts said.
Mr. Ailes believed that no host should ever assume they were bigger than the network — or him. In 2010, for instance, after Mr. Hannity made plans to broadcast his show from a Tea Party rally in Cincinnati where organizers had billed him as the star attraction, Mr. Ailes ordered the host to scrap his plans and return to New York, threatening to “put a chimpanzee on the air” if he didn’t make it back in time, recalled one former Fox employee.
In the weeks after President Donald J. Trump lost the 2020 election, the Fox Business host Lou Dobbs claimed to have “tremendous evidence” that voter fraud was to blame. That evidence never emerged but a new culprit in a supposed scheme to rig the election did: Dominion Voting Systems, a maker of election technology whose algorithms, Mr. Dobbs said, “were designed to be inaccurate.”
Maria Bartiromo, another host on the network, falsely stated that “Nancy Pelosi has an interest in this company.” Jeanine Pirro, a Fox News personality, speculated that “technical glitches” in Dominion’s software “could have affected thousands of absentee mail-in ballots.”
Those unfounded accusations are now among the dozens cited in Dominion’s defamation lawsuit against the Fox Corporation, which alleges that Fox repeatedly aired false, far-fetched and exaggerated allegations about Dominion and its purported role in a plot to steal votes from Mr. Trump.
civil and criminal investigations across the country into his business dealings and political activities. Here is a look at some notable cases:
The Trump Investigations
Jan. 6 investigations. In a series of public hearings, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack laid out a powerful account of Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. This evidence could allow federal prosecutors, who are conducting a parallel criminal investigation, to indict Mr. Trump.
The Trump Investigations
Georgia election interference case. Mr. Trump himself is under scrutiny in Georgia, where the district attorney of Fulton County has been investigating whether he and others criminally interfered with the 2020 election in the state. This case could pose the most immediate legal peril for the former president and his associates.
The case has caused palpable unease at the Fox News Channel, said several people there, who would speak only anonymously. Anchors and executives have been preparing for depositions and have been forced to hand over months of private emails and text messages to Dominion, which is hoping to prove that network employees knew that wild accusations of ballot rigging in the 2020 election were false. The hosts Steve Doocy, Dana Perino and Shepard Smith are among the current and former Fox personalities who either have been deposed or will be this month.
Dominion is trying to build a case that aims straight at the top of the Fox media empire and the Murdochs. In court filings and depositions, Dominion lawyers have laid out how they plan to show that senior Fox executives hatched a plan after the election to lure back viewers who had switched to rival hard-right networks, which were initially more sympathetic than Fox was to Mr. Trump’s voter-fraud claims.
Libel law doesn’t protect lies. But it does leave room for the media to cover newsworthy figures who tell them. And Fox is arguing, in part, that’s what shields it from liability. Asked about Dominion’s strategy to place the Murdochs front and center in the case, a Fox Corporation spokesman said it would be a “fruitless fishing expedition.” A spokeswoman for Fox News said it was “ridiculous” to claim, as Dominion does in the suit, that the network was chasing viewers from the far-right fringe.
Fox is expected to dispute Dominion’s estimated self-valuation of $1 billion and argue that $1.6 billion is an excessively high amount for damages, as it has in a similar defamation case filed by another voting machine company, Smartmatic.
A spokesman for Dominion declined to comment. In its initial complaint, the company’s lawyers wrote that “The truth matters,” adding, “Lies have consequences.”
denied a motion from Fox that would have excluded the parent Fox Corporation from the case — a much larger target than Fox News itself. That business encompasses the most profitable parts of the Murdoch American media portfolio and is run directly by Rupert Murdoch, 91, who serves as chairman, and his elder son, Lachlan, the chief executive.
Soon after, Fox replaced its outside legal team on the case and hired one of the country’s most prominent trial lawyers — a sign that executives believe that the chances the case is headed to trial have increased.
Dominion’s lawyers have focused some of their questioning in depositions on the decision-making hierarchy at Fox News, according to one person with direct knowledge of the case, showing a particular interest in what happened on election night inside the network in the hours after it projected Mr. Trump would lose Arizona. That call short-circuited the president’s plan to prematurely declare victory, enraging him and his loyalists and precipitating a temporary ratings crash for Fox.
These questions have had a singular focus, this person said: to place Lachlan Murdoch in the room when the decisions about election coverage were being made. This person added that while testimony so far suggests the younger Murdoch did not try to pressure anyone at Fox News to reverse the call — as Mr. Trump and his campaign aides demanded the network do — he did ask detailed questions about the process that Fox’s election analysts had used after the call became so contentious.
The case was settled in 2017.
But Fox has also been searching for evidence that could, in effect, prove the Dominion conspiracy theories weren’t really conspiracy theories. Behind the scenes, Fox’s lawyers have pursued documents that would support numerous unfounded claims about Dominion, including its supposed connections to Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan dictator who died in 2013, and software features that were ostensibly designed to make vote manipulation easier.
According to court filings, the words and phrases that Fox has asked Dominion to search for in internal communications going back more than a decade include “Chavez” and “Hugo,” along with “tampered,” “backdoor,” “stolen” and “Trump.”
Eric Munchel of Tennessee, in which he is brandishing a shotgun, with Mr. Trump on a television in the background. The television is tuned to Fox Business.
But the hurdle Dominion must clear is whether it can persuade a jury to believe that people at Fox knew they were spreading lies.
“Disseminating ‘The Big Lie’ isn’t enough,” said RonNell Andersen Jones, a law professor and First Amendment scholar at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law. “It has to be a knowing lie.”
For his part, Mr. Goldberg said he has been thinking about William F. Buckley, the late founder of National Review, who saw as part of his mission “imposing seriousness on conservative arguments” and purging some extreme fringe groups, including the John Birch Society, from the right.
Understand the Claim of Executive Privilege in the Jan. 6. Inquiry
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A key issue yet untested. Donald Trump’s power as former president to keep information from his White House secret has become a central issue in the House’s investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Amid an attempt by Mr. Trump to keep personal records secret and the indictment of Stephen K. Bannon for contempt of Congress, here’s a breakdown of executive privilege:
What is executive privilege? It is a power claimed by presidents under the Constitution to prevent the other two branches of government from gaining access to certain internal executive branch information, especially confidential communications involving the president or among his top aides.
What is Trump’s claim? Former President Trump has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the disclosure of White House files related to his actions and communications surrounding the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. He argues that these matters must remain a secret as a matter of executive privilege.
Is Trump’s privilege claim valid? The constitutional line between a president’s secrecy powers and Congress’s investigative authority is hazy. Though a judge rejected Mr. Trump’s bid to keep his papers secret, it is likely that the case will ultimately be resolved by the Supreme Court.
Is executive privilege an absolute power? No. Even a legitimate claim of executive privilege may not always prevail in court. During the Watergate scandal in 1974, the Supreme Court upheld an order requiring President Richard M. Nixon to turn over his Oval Office tapes.
May ex-presidents invoke executive privilege? Yes, but courts may view their claims with less deference than those of current presidents. In 1977, the Supreme Court said Nixon could make a claim of executive privilege even though he was out of office, though the court ultimately ruled against him in the case.
Is Steve Bannon covered by executive privilege? This is unclear. Mr. Bannon’s case could raise the novel legal question of whether or how far a claim of executive privilege may extend to communications between a president and an informal adviser outside of the government.
What is contempt of Congress? It is a sanction imposed on people who defy congressional subpoenas. Congress can refer contempt citations to the Justice Department and ask for criminal charges. Mr. Bannon has been indicted on contempt charges for refusing to comply with a subpoena that seeks documents and testimony.
“Whether it’s ‘Patriot Purge’ or anti-vax stuff, I don’t want it in my name, and I want to call it out and criticize it,” Mr. Goldberg said. “I don’t want to feel like I am betraying a trust that I had by being a Fox News contributor. And I also don’t want to be accused of not really pulling the punches. And then this was just an untenable tension for me.”
Now, their views have put them outside the current Republican mainstream, or at least outside what mainstream right-wing institutions and politicians are willing to say out loud. But while in recent years both appeared occasionally on the evening show “Special Report” and on “Fox News Sunday,” which the network classifies as news, it’s been years since they were welcome on Fox’s prime time, and Mr. Goldberg clashed bitterly with the prime-time host Sean Hannity in 2016. (Mr. Hayes and Mr. Goldberg emailed their readers Sunday to announce their departure.)
Despite the former contributors’ hopes, Fox’s programming has hewed to Mr. Trump’s line, as have its personnel moves. The network, for instance, fired the veteran political editor who accurately projected Mr. Biden’s victory in the key state of Arizona on election night, and has hired the former Trump White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
Mr. Hayes and Mr. Goldberg are the first members of Fox’s payroll to resign over “Patriot Purge,” but others have signaled their unhappiness. Geraldo Rivera, a Fox News correspondent since 2001, captured the difficulty of internal dissent at the network when he voiced cautious criticism of Mr. Carlson and “Patriot Purge” to my colleague Michael Grynbaum. “I worry that — and I’m probably going to get in trouble for this — but I’m wondering how much is done to provoke, rather than illuminate,” he said.
On air, two programs with smaller audiences than Mr. Carlson’s scrambled after his special to rebut the false theories presented in “Patriot Purge.” “Special Report” called in a former C.I.A. officer on Oct. 29 to debunk “false flag” theories. And on “Fox News Sunday,” Chris Wallace turned the same question over to one of Mr. Trump’s few foes in the Republican congressional delegation, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming.
Mr. Carlson called Mr. Hayes’s and Mr. Goldberg’s resignations “great news” in a telephone interview on Sunday. “Our viewers will be grateful.”
The Post’s editorial board wrote that Facebook and other social media companies “claim to be ‘neutral’ and that they aren’t making editorial decisions in a cynical bid to stave off regulation or legal accountability that threatens their profits. But they do act as publishers — just very bad ones.”
Of course, it takes one to know one. The Post, always a mix of strong local news, great gossip and spun-up conservative politics, is making a bid for the title of worst newspaper in America right now. It has run a string of scary stories about Covid vaccines, the highlight of which was a headline linking vaccines to herpes, part of a broader attempt to extend its digital reach. Great stuff, if you’re mining for traffic in anti-vax Telegram groups. The piece on the Black Lives Matter activist that Facebook blocked was pretty weak, too. It insinuated, without evidence, that her wealth was ill-gotten, and mostly just sneered at how “the self-described Marxist last month purchased a $1.4 million home.”
But then, you’ve probably hate-read a story about a person you disliked buying an expensive house. When Lachlan Murdoch, the co-chairman of The Post’s parent company, bought the most expensive house in Los Angeles, for instance, it received wide and occasionally sneering coverage. Maybe Mr. Murdoch didn’t know he could get the stories deleted by Facebook.
Facebook doesn’t keep a central register of news articles it expunges on these grounds, though the service did block a Daily Mail article about the Black Lives Matter activist’s real estate as well. And it does not keep track of how many news articles it has blocked, though it regularly deletes offending posts by individuals, including photos of the home of the Fox News star Tucker Carlson, a Facebook employee said.
What Facebook’s clash with The Post really revealed — and what surprised me — is that the platform does not defer, at all, to news organizations on questions of news judgment. A decision by The Post, or The New York Times, that someone’s personal wealth is newsworthy carries no weight in the company’s opaque enforcement mechanisms. Nor, Facebook’s lawyer said, does a more nebulous and reasonable human judgment that the country has felt on edge for the last year and that a Black activist’s concern for her own safety was justified. (The activist didn’t respond to my inquiry but, in an Instagram post, called the reporting on her personal finances “doxxing” and a “tactic of terror.”)
The point of Facebook’s bureaucracy is to replace human judgment with a kind of strict corporate law. “The policy in this case prioritizes safety and privacy, and this enforcement shows how difficult these trade-offs can be,” the company’s vice president for communications, Tucker Bounds, said. “To help us understand if our policies are in the right place, we are referring the policy to the Oversight Board.”
The board is a promising kind of supercourt that has yet to set much meaningful policy. So this rule could eventually change. (Get your stories deleted while you can!)
Rupert Murdoch took a top editor from his brash and conservative London tabloid, The Sun, and put him in charge of his brash and conservative New York tabloid, The New York Post.
Keith Poole, a 44-year-old Englishman who remade The Sun’s website in recent years, started as The Post’s newsroom leader on March 22. Since then, most people on staff have yet to hear from him, two Post employees said.
He had lunch with Emily Smith, the longtime editor of The Post’s gossip franchise, Page Six, but has yet to host an all-hands video call to say hello to the staff, which has been working remotely, or send an email greeting, the two people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal matters. For some staff members, the only evidence of the new boss’s presence has been the addition of his name to the newsroom’s main channel on Slack, the messaging app.
A spokeswoman for The Post said in an email that Mr. Poole was getting to know the team in his own way: “Keith has been meeting a number of Post staff in person, on video calls and on the phone (since most are working from home), and he has had lunch with other staff, not just Emily.”
Col Allan, an Australian tabloid specialist who retired in March after more than 40 years at Murdoch papers.
Mr. Poole has more experience in attracting online readers than his predecessor. Before joining The Sun as its digital editor in 2016, he helped make The Daily Mail’s U.S. website a must-read for followers of celebrity gossip.
“At The Sun, it’s all they focus on,” said Chris Spargo, a reporter who worked at both of Mr. Poole’s prior employers. Mr. Poole also sees The Daily Mail as The Post’s main rival, several people with knowledge of the Post newsroom said.
Today in Business
A former colleague said Mr. Poole does not fit the stereotype of the gruff, boisterous tabloid editor.
“Keith is charming and has that British wit about him,” said David Martosko, a former U.S. political editor at The Daily Mail who is now a senior content executive at Zenger News. “More people in our business should adopt his collaborative editing style.”
His responsibilities include not only the now-profitable New York tabloid that Mr. Murdoch pulled out of bankruptcy in the 1990s but also the larger The New York Post Group. That includes the Post Digital Network, which is made up of the paper’s website, a separate website for Page Six, the entertainment site Decider.com and the ad company Post Studios, as well as other media properties.
the biggest online brand in the U.K. Last year he was named its deputy editor in chief.
In a 2018 interview, Mr. Poole said he focused on five key areas: news, celebrity, soccer, money and women’s lifestyle. While at The Sun, he met frequently with Robert Thomson, the chief executive of Mr. Murdoch’s newspaper company, News Corp, who was often in the London office before the pandemic, three people with knowledge of the relationship said.
Under Mr. Allan, The Post specialized in celebrity news and city coverage while also championing former President Trump and attacking his rivals. Under Mr. Poole, the paper has kept its focus on celebs and liberal villains, as the April 16 front page suggested. The left side showed Jennifer Lopez in a revealing costume under the headline, “Inside J-Rod’s Breakup.” On the right, a headline blasted Democrats: “PACK RATS. Backlash as Dems try to take over Supreme Court.”
The Content Review has not been formally shared with the newsroom and its recommendations have not been put into effect, but it is influencing how people work: An impasse over the report has led to a divided newsroom, according to interviews with 25 current and former staff members. The company, they say, has avoided making the proposed changes because a brewing power struggle between Mr. Murray and the newpublisher, Almar Latour, has contributed to a stalemate that threatens the future of The Journal.
Mr. Murray and Mr. Latour, 50, represent two extremes of the model Murdoch employee. Mr. Murray is the tactful editor; Mr. Latour is the brash entrepreneur. The two rose within the organization at roughly the same time. When the moment came to replace Gerry Baker as the top editor in 2018, both were seen ascontenders.
The two men have never gotten along, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Or as an executive who knows both well put it, “They hate each other.” The digital strategy report has only heightened the strain in their relationship — and, with it, the direction of the crown jewel in the Murdoch news empire.
Their longstanding professional rivalry comes down to both personality and approach. Mr. Murray is more deliberative, while Mr. Latour is quick to act. But the core of their friction is still a mystery, according to people familiar with them.
Dow Jones, in a statement, disputed that characterization, saying there was no friction between the editor and publisher. It also cited “record profits and record subscriptions,” which it attributed to “the wisdom of its current strategy.” Both Mr. Murray and Mr. Latour declined to be interviewed for this article.
About a month after the report was submitted, Ms. Story’s strategy team was concerned that its work might never see the light of day, three people with knowledge of the matter said, and a draft was leaked to one of The Journal’s own media reporters, Jeffrey Trachtenberg. He filed a detailed article on it late last summer.
But the first glimpse that outside readers, and most of the staff, got of the document wasn’t in The Journal. In October, a pared-down version of The Content Review was leaked to BuzzFeed News, which included a link to the document as a sideways scan. (Staffers, eager to read the report, had to turn their heads 90 degrees.)
LOS ANGELES — In early 2019, as the Murdoch family completed the $71 billion sale of 21st Century Fox to Disney, executives at the movie studio learned that someone was reading all their emails.
And not just anyone: Viet Dinh, the Fox Corporation’s chief legal officer and close friend of Fox’s chief executive, Lachlan Murdoch, had brought on a team of lawyers to investigate “the potential improper use of Fox data” by top 21st Century Fox executives he suspected of leaking to Disney while the terms were still being hammered out, a Fox spokeswoman said. The studio’s president, Peter Rice, and the company’s general counsel, Gerson Zweifach, protested that they were merely conducting normal transition planning — and that Mr. Dinh was being so paranoid he might blow up the transaction.
The episode didn’t scuttle the deal. But the previously unreported conflict between the studio executives and Mr. Dinh, a sociable and relentless Republican lawyer who was the chief architect in 2001 of the antiterrorism legislation known as the Patriot Act, offers a rare glimpse into the opaque power structure of Rupert Murdoch’s world. The nonagenarian mogul exercises immense power, through News Corp and the Fox Corporation, in driving a global wave of right-wing populism. But basic elements of how his media companies run remain shrouded in mystery.
In the case of the Fox Corporation, the questions of who is in charge and what the future holds are particularly hazy. The company, minus its studio, is now a midsize TV company adrift in a landscape of giants like Disney and AT&T that control everything from cellular phone networks to streaming platforms, film and television. Fox’s profits are dominated by Fox News. Lachlan Murdoch’s more liberal brother, James, who no longer holds an operational role in the family businesses, has made clear he’d like to see a change.
complained to The Financial Times about “outlets that propagate lies to their audience.”
Last month, Lachlan Murdoch moved his family to Sydney, Australia, an unlikely base for a company whose main assets are American. The move has intensified the perception — heightened when he stood by as Fox News hosts misinformed their audience about Covid-19 last year — that Mr. Murdoch does not have a tight grip on the reins. The company takes pains to rebut that perception: The Fox spokeswoman told me that Mr. Murdoch is so committed that he has adopted a nocturnal lifestyle, working midnight to 10 a.m. Sydney time. (She also said it would be “false and malicious” to suggest that Mr. Dinh is exercising operational control over Fox’s business units.) It’s such a disorienting situation that one senior Fox employee went so far as to call me last week to ask if I knew anything about succession plans. I promised I’d tell him if I figured it out.
But Mr. Dinh, 53, was ready to step in, and indeed has been seen internally as the company’s power center since before Mr. Murdoch headed across the globe. Mr. Dinh’s ascent caps an unlikely turn in his career that began when he met Lachlan Murdoch at an Aspen Institute event in 2003. The Murdoch heir later asked him to both fill a seat on the company’s board and to be godfather to his son. (“He couldn’t find any other Catholics,” Mr. Dinh joked to The New York Observer in 2006.)
Two former Fox employees and one current and one former Fox News employee familiar with his role painted him as the omnipresent and decisive right hand of a chief executive who is not particularly hands-on. (They spoke only on the condition they not be named because Fox keeps a tight grip on its public relations.) While Mr. Dinh is not running day-to-day programming, he manages the political operation of a company that is the central pillar of Republican politics, and he’s a key voice on corporate strategy who has played a role in Fox’s drive to acquire and partner its way into the global online gambling industry.
In a recent interview with the legal writer David Lat — headlined “Is Viet Dinh the Most Powerful Lawyer in America?” — Mr. Dinh called suggestions in this column and in The Financial Times that he’s more than a humble in-house counsel “flat-out false.”
once told VietLife magazine that he worked jobs including “cleaning toilets, busing tables, pumping gas, picking berries, fixing cars”to help his family make ends meet. He attended Harvard and Harvard Law School. As a student, he wrote a powerful Times Op-Ed about Vietnamese refugees — including his sister and nephew — stranded in Hong Kong. The piece helped win them refugee status, and eventually allowed them to immigrate to the United States.
Mr. Dinh arrived with the conservative politics of many refugees from Communism, and followed a pipeline from a Supreme Court clerkship with Sandra Day O’Connor to a role in the congressional investigations of Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
He was assistant attorney general for legal policy on 9/11, and he was “the fifth likeliest person” to wind up quarterbacking what would become the Patriot Act, said his old friend and colleague Paul Clement, who currently represents Fox in defamation lawsuits brought by two election technology companies. Mr. Dinh “led the effort to pull it all together, package it, present it to the Hill and get it passed,” said a former Bush White House homeland security adviser, Ken Wainstein. The package of legislation transformed the American security state, vastly expanding domestic surveillance and law enforcement powers. It allowed the F.B.I. to conduct secret and intrusive investigations of people and groups swept in by an expanded definition of terrorism.
Mr. Dinh was often mentioned at the time as a brilliant young lawyer who could easily wind up the first Asian-American on the Supreme Court. He was also notably image-conscious, and “worked the media like crazy,” recalled Jill Abramson, a former Times Washington bureau chief and later executive editor. He’s also a master Washington networker whose relationships cross party lines. His best college friend is a Democratic former U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara. Through the pandemic, Mr. Dinh left chipper comments on other lawyers’ job announcements on LinkedIn.
hiring a top Republican opposition researcher, Raj Shah, to monitor online criticism of the company and develop strategies for countering it.
Now, Mr. Dinh finds himself in the strange position of many of Rupert Murdoch’s top lieutenants: He is paid like a chief executive, and fills much of the larger strategic role that comes with that job. He also has the sort of leverage you need in a family business, a personal relationship with Lachlan Murdoch that allowed him to take on Mr. Rice, who is himself the son of a close Rupert Murdoch ally. But Mr. Dinh is still working for a business dominated by the need to follow Mr. Trump and Fox’s audience wherever they lead, lest they be overtaken by networks further to the right, like Newsmax. And the family ultimately retains control.
And Mr. Dinh’s own agenda can be hard to divine. In the interview with Mr. Lat, he largely repeated Fox News talking points about the quality and fairness of the network’s coverage. He did also express pride at Fox’s fleeting willingness to cross the president last fall, even though the network subsequently fired the political analysts who most angered Mr. Trump.
“There is no better historical record of Fox News’s excellent journalism than to see how the former president tweeted against Fox,” Mr. Dinh said.
Fox News and its powerful owner, Rupert Murdoch, are facing a second major defamation suit over the network’s coverage of the 2020 presidential election, a new front in the growing legal battle over media disinformation and its consequences.
In the latest aftershock of Donald J. Trump’s attempt to undermine President Biden’s victory, Dominion Voting Systems, an election technology company that was at the center of a baseless pro-Trump conspiracy about rigged voting machines, sued Fox News on Friday for advancing lies that devastated its reputation and business.
Dominion, which has requested a jury trial, is seeking at least $1.6 billion in damages. The lawsuit comes less than two months after Smartmatic, another election tech company, filed a $2.7 billion lawsuit against Mr. Murdoch’s Fox Corporation and named the Fox anchors Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro as defendants.
In a 139-page complaint filed in Delaware Superior Court, Dominion portrayed Fox as an active player in spreading falsehoods that the company had altered vote counts and manipulated its machines to benefit Mr. Biden in the election.
Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell for defamation. The company also sued Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow and a Trump ally who was also a frequent guest on Fox and other conservative media outlets. Each of those suits seeks damages of more than $1 billion.
“The truth matters,” Dominion’s lawyers wrote in Friday’s complaint against Fox. “Lies have consequences. Fox sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion in the process. If this case does not rise to the level of defamation by a broadcaster, then nothing does.”
In a statement on Friday, Fox said that its 2020 election coverage “stands in the highest tradition of American journalism” and pledged to “vigorously defend against this baseless lawsuit in court.”
Dominion’s filing on Friday represented what its lawyers called a new phase in its battle against its detractors, and Thomas A. Clare, part of the company’s legal team, said it was unlikely to be the last lawsuit filed. His firm, Clare Locke, has in recent weeks joined with the firm Susman Godfrey, which is known for taking cases to trial.
filed a motion to dismiss the Smartmatic lawsuit, arguing that the false claims of electoral fraud made on its channels were part of covering a fast-breaking story of significant public interest. “An attempt by a sitting president to challenge the result of an election is objectively newsworthy,” Fox wrote in the motion.
The narrative that Mr. Trump and his allies spun about Dominion was among the more baroque creations of a monthslong effort to cast doubt on the 2020 election results and convince Americans that Mr. Biden’s victory was not legitimate.
Dominion, founded in 2002, is one of the largest manufacturers of voting machine equipment in the United States; its equipment was used by election authorities in more than two dozen states last year, including several states carried by Mr. Trump.
Allies of Mr. Trump falsely portrayed Dominion as biased toward Mr. Biden and argued, without evidence, that it was tied to Hugo Chávez, the long-dead Venezuelan dictator. John Poulos, Dominion’s founder, and other employees received harassing and threatening messages from people convinced that the company had undermined the election results, according to the complaint.
Fox News and Fox Business programs were among the mass-media venues where Mr. Trump’s supporters denounced Dominion. The lawsuit also cites examples of Fox hosts, including Ms. Bartiromo and Ms. Dobbs, uncritically repeating or vouching for false claims made by Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell.
“Fox took a small flame and turned it into a forest fire,” Dominion wrote in the lawsuit. “As the dominant media company among those viewers dissatisfied with the election results, Fox gave these fictions a prominence they otherwise would never have achieved.”
faced a reckoning of sorts from the threat of defamation litigation, a relatively novel tactic in a battle against disinformation that had previously been limited to ad boycotts and liberal public pressure campaigns.
In February, two days after Smartmatic filed its suit, Fox Business canceled “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” its highest-rated program. Newsmax, a pro-Trump cable channel also facing potential legal action, cut off Mr. Lindell when he repeated falsehoods about rigged voting machines.
Taken together, Dominion and Smartmatic are demanding at least $4.3 billion in damages from Fox. Controlled by Mr. Murdoch, 90, and his elder son, Lachlan, the Fox Corporation reported that it had made $3 billion in pretax profit from September 2019 to September 2020, on revenue of $12.3 billion.
the network’s early projection that Mr. Biden would carry Arizona.
Dominion also makes the case that Fox and its hosts benefited from uncritically repeating these baseless claims. The suit cites a postelection rise in ratings for anchors like Ms. Bartiromo and Ms. Dobbs, and notes that the ex-husband of Ms. Pirro, who spoke on-air of a stolen election, later secured a pardon from Mr. Trump.
“Fox has had a problem because a lot of its pundits have said the very things that have led Dominion to bring this lawsuit,” the First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams said in an interview.
In its response to the Smartmatic suit, Fox argued that its reporting on the election should be viewed in its totality — pointing out that at least one host, Tucker Carlson, voiced skepticism about Ms. Powell’s statements — and that claims by the president’s lawyers in an election dispute were inherently newsworthy. “This lawsuit strikes at the heart of the news media’s First Amendment mission to inform on matters of public concern,” Fox wrote in that motion.
Mr. Zick, the First Amendment lawyer, said that Dominion had included an implicit response to that argument: “This isn’t neutral reportage. It’s disinformation for profit.”
Rupert Murdoch is a buyer again. News Corp, his newspaper empire, acquired Investor’s Business Daily, a financial tip sheet popular with Wall Street traders and investors, for $275 million.
The deal signals a return to acquisitions after Mr. Murdoch spent the last few years slimming down and selling off parts of his businesses.
Little-known among everyday readers, Investor’s Business Daily has been a stalwart source of news for hard-core investors for decades. The stockbroker William J. O’Neil started the publication in 1984, and it was originally meant to compete with The Wall Street Journal (now a part of Mr. Murdoch’s empire). But it has remained an insider’s guide with limited appeal beyond the trading floor.
Investor’s Business Daily has turned into a largely digital publication. It has a website and several mobile apps in addition to its weekly print edition. It has a mix of free content along with data tools that cost hundreds of dollars a year as part of a subscription. The company has “nearly 100,000” online subscribers and is a growing and profitable business, according to News Corp.
New York Post recently hit a rare milestone, becoming a profitable paper for the first time in recent memory.
News Corp has still had to make steep cuts across its newspaper empire, especially in Australia, Mr. Murdoch’s original home base. Staff at his Australian papers have been gutted and most of the operations have been turned into digital-only publications.