Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan were compared to mafia bosses trying to dodge punishment for the actions of their henchmen during a court hearing in a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit over the 2020 election.
(Bloomberg) — Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan were compared to mafia bosses trying to dodge punishment for the actions of their henchmen during a court hearing in a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit over the 2020 election.
The analogy was made by a lawyer for Smartmatic Corp., a voting machine company that claims its reputation was damaged when Fox News amplified a conspiracy theory that it rigged the 2020 election against Donald Trump. Fox Corp. agreed to pay $787.5 million in April to another voting-machine firm, Dominion Voting Systems Inc., to resolve similar claims minutes before the start of a trial.
At the hearing Wednesday in New York state court, Fox Corp. urged a judge to dismiss it from Smartmatic’s suit, arguing that Chief Executive Officer Lachlan Murdoch and his father didn’t personally review and sign off on the disputed broadcasts by Fox News or the statements made by its on-air talent.
“When I listen to the argument that Fox Corp. is making now, I can only think of the analogy of a mafia boss directing a lieutenant,” said Smartmatic lawyer J. Erik Connelly. “The mafia boss doesn’t say ‘I want you to whack him on this day and here’s how to do it.’ The henchman just carries out that hit.”
The judge ended the hearing without ruling. If Fox Corp.’s motion to dismiss is denied, the Murdochs may be key witnesses at trial, likely in 2025. Fox News’s motion to dismiss was denied last year.
Smartmatic sued in 2021, alleging that the Fox companies knowingly or recklessly spread false claims about the election in order to please the network’s Trump-supporting viewers. Evidence uncovered in the Dominion case revealed that many key figures at Fox knew the conspiracy theory was bogus even as they allowed guests like Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell to spread it on-air.
Read More: Murdoch Can’t Avoid Testifying at Dominion Trial, Judge Says
Fox Corp., which has struggled to move on from legal fights over the 2020 election, has strenuously denied wrongdoing, saying the company’s journalists were reporting fairly on claims by Trump and his allies that the election was fraudulent. Brian Nick, a spokesman for the media giant, responded to the remarks in court Wednesday by saying that the damages sought by Smartmatic “are implausible, disconnected from reality, and intended to chill vital First Amendment freedoms.”
Fox Corp. lawyer Erin Murphy argued at the hearing that there are no communications in which the Murdochs say anything specifically about Smartmatic. Instead, she said, emails show the corporate chiefs speaking generally about reporting on potential problems with the election, such as concerns about voter fraud and the counting of absentee ballots.
“There were all sorts of allegations about the 2020 election that had nothing to do with Smartmatic,” she said.
Connelly said Smartmatic had uncovered plenty of evidence that the Murdochs directed leadership at Fox News to “embrace the misinformation” about the election for calculated financial reasons. At the time, Fox Corp.’s shares were plunging and Fox News was shedding viewers after it called Arizona for Joe Biden, who won the election.
In the Dominion case, a Delaware judge denied a similar Fox Corp. motion for dismissal, ruling the voting machine company had shown that the Murdochs may have been on notice that the conspiracy theory was false and that Rupert Murdoch knew Trump had lost. Both Murdochs were set to testify before the case settled.
Read More: Fox News Pushed 2020 Election Conspiracy Hosts Called ‘Total BS’
(Updates with detail from the hearing.)
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.