Judge can force Rupert Murdoch to testify in Dominion libel case

Wilmington, Delaware

The judge in Dominion Voting Systems’ libel case against Fox News on Wednesday flagged his interest in the duty executives like Rupert Murdoch might have to keep known liars off the air, and suggested he could force Murdoch to testify.

Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis repeatedly pressed a Fox News lawyer about the role of senior executives in the editorial process. His questions were consistent with Dominion’s claim that Murdoch knowingly let Fox News hosts book guests who would lie about the 2020 election.

He asked Fox attorneys whether Murdoch and other executives “have the authority to stop” TV hosts from booking pro-Trump guests they deemed “problematic” because of their past election lies.

But Erin Murphy, who represents Fox News and its parent company, insisted the Murdochs were not involved in the shows where Dominion was potentially defamed. She argued that the voting machine company fell far short of proving the Murdochs played a direct role and therefore could not be held liable.

“It’s not enough to show that (these executives) have the ability to intervene,” Murphy said, telling the judge that “you have to take it home to the person who is directly involved” and determine whether “whoever makes the last call” acted with real wickedness.

The voting systems company wants Davis to force Murdoch and his son, Fox Corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch, to testify at the trial, which is expected to begin next month. Fox opposes the request.

“(Rupert Murdoch) has a special role at Fox Corporation that he might be forced to be here,” Davis said, though he stressed he hasn’t made a decision on witnesses yet. He also said he would consider letting some foreign witnesses testify live via video conference.

He added that “judges prefer live testimony if witnesses are available.”

After two days of preliminary hearings this week, the next step is for Davis to rule on a “summary judgment.” Both sides argued that they should be declared the winners of the case, without even holding a trial. Davis could make his decision at any time, and jury selection is scheduled to begin April 13.

Dominion has filed a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News and its parent company, Fox Corporation, claiming they destroyed its reputation by promoting the lie that it rigged the 2020 election to prevent Donald Trump to serve a second term. Fox entities deny wrongdoing, say they are “proud” of their 2020 election coverage and say the $1.6 billion figure is wildly inflated.

Fox News claimed it was “proud” of its 2020 coverage and said the Dominion lawsuit could weaken the First Amendment. Fox Corporation claims Dominion exaggerated its role in Fox News editorial coverage and asked to be removed from the lawsuit. Davis rejected their motion.

On Wednesday, Fox attorneys told the judge that Dominion had bumped the numbers to a jaw-dropping $1.6 billion. Murphy, Fox’s attorney, argued that Dominion was trying to have it both ways.

First, she said, Dominion had claimed ‘no one could have believed’ he had rigged the 2020 election, and so Fox was reckless when he gave airtime. to these allegations. But when it came time to calculate damages for the lawsuit, Dominion claimed they were “going to go broke because everybody believes it, and all (their) customers believe it,” she said. .

“There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance,” Murphy said.

She went on to say that Dominion’s calculations were inflated because they assumed they “would have succeeded every time in the future” when looking for new business. Fox argued in court filings that Dominion was trying to get media attention with the $1.6 billion figure, and noted that Dominion generated less than $11 million in annual revenue before 2020.

In a statement after the hearing, a Dominion spokesperson told CNN that its damages calculations were “based on industry-standard valuation measures and conservative methodologies.”

It is possible that the parties will reach an amicable settlement before the start of the trial.

Still, the courtroom showdown that unfolded on Tuesday and Wednesday served as a preview of what the trial might look like. A wide range of legal experts have described Dominion’s lawsuit as one of the most significant libel and First Amendment cases in recent memory.

The hearings took place weeks after hundreds of explosive emails and texts were made public in connection with the case. These internal Fox messages showed that many on-air personalities, producers, editors, executives and even business owners thought the allegations against Dominion were “crazy”, “crazy” and “BS” – but the network has still gave airtime to the theories. .

Dominion lawyers used those exhibits in preliminary hearings this week. They showed text messages sent by Fox News star Tucker Carlson in which he accused Trump’s attorney Sidney Powell of being a “liar”. They also showed emails that Murdoch sent to other executives.

Evidence in the case – mostly from emails and text messages – has already established that Fox News executives, producers and hosts believed Powell and Rudy Giuliani were lying when they claimed Dominion dumped millions of votes to rig the election against then-President Donald Trump. Other internal Fox emails revealed that Rupert Murdoch believed Trump lost the election fair and never believed in Dominion-related conspiracy theories.

On Tuesday, the judge asked Fox some tough questions and challenged some of their legal theories. He seemed to embrace some of Dominion’s arguments that specific Fox News figures were supporting right-wing conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and not acting as neutral reporters. But he also stressed that he had not yet made a decision on the “summary judgment”.


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