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‘Really crazy stuff’: Rupert Murdoch trashed Rudy Giuliani’s election theories, unsealed filing in Fox News suit reveals

Rupert Murdoch

In this Oct. 30, 2018 file photo, Rupert Murdoch introduces Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the Herman Kahn Award Gala in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

After watching Rudy Giuliani’s widely lampooned press conference with election conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch had a startling reaction highlighted prominently in the unredacted version of a newly unsealed filing in Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation suit.

“Really crazy stuff. And damaging,” the media mogul allegedly wrote in a text message on Nov. 19, 2020.

Fox News president Jay Wallace was quoted in the filing saying, “the North Koreans do a more nuanced show” than Lou Dobbs.

Those are only two of the blockbuster quotes in a blistering 192-page brief that Dominion filed in an effort to take its defamation case to trial. Dominion’s lawsuit alleges the network’s executives knew former President Donald Trump’s fraud claims about the 2020 election were lies — and they aired them anyway.

Such evidence may prove crucial to Dominion’s efforts to prove actual malice, the legal standard requiring a showing that someone knowingly lied or made statements with reckless disregard for the truth.

Dominion’s lawyers, attempting to fend off a motion for summary judgment, say they met that bar.

“Fox knew,” the latest motion begins. “From the top down, Fox knew ‘the dominion stuff’ was ‘total bs.'”

Fox released a statement defending the broadcasts.

“There will be a lot of noise and confusion generated by Dominion and their opportunistic private equity owners, but the core of this case remains about freedom of the press and freedom of speech, which are fundamental rights afforded by the Constitution and protected by New York Times v. Sullivan,” the statement read, alluding to the Supreme Court precedent behind the actual malice standard.

Dominion’s latest filing, however, argues that Fox executives’ routine comments about “crazy,” “absurd” and “shockingly reckless” election theories make their case for that high burden of proof in defamation cases.

“The colorful choices of words used by so many Fox employees all try to capture the same basic truth about these inherently improbable allegations: These claims were false, and obviously so,” Dominion’s lead attorney Brian E. Farnan wrote.

The Murdoch quote about the Giuliani press conference, for example, pre-dated Fox’s then-White House correspondent dressing down for fact-checking it, according to the filing.

“Fox’s executives were not pleased,” the filing states. “Fisher received a call from her boss, Bryan Boughton, immediately after in which he ’emphasized that higher-ups at Fox News were also unhappy with it,’ and that Fisher ‘needed to do a better job of… — this is a quote — ‘respecting our audience.’”

Dominion says those internal quotes came from Fisher’s texts, where she claimed she was “punished for doing my job.”

“Sidney Powell is lying.”

In March 2021, Dominion filed a $1.6 billion lawsuit against Fox News, claiming that the network turned a “flame” of post-election lies into a “forest fire.”

After Fox became the first network to call Arizona for President Joe Biden, Trump supporters began turning to networks farther on the right like One America News and Newsmax. Dominion claims that Fox News began a race to the bottom to placate the former president’s fan base.

“They saw Fox as insufficiently supportive of President Trump, including because Fox was the first network to declare that President Trump lost Arizona,” the lawsuit alleged. “So Fox set out to lure viewers back — including President Trump himself — by intentionally and falsely blaming Dominion for President Trump’s loss by rigging the election.”

Dominion quotes a Nov. 16, 2020, email from Murdoch to Fox CEO Suzanne Scott to support the proposition that the network “nervously eyed” Newsmax taking its viewers.

The email advised Scott to read a Wall Street Journal article about the right-wing network.

“These people should be watched, if skeptically,” Murdoch wrote, according to the brief. “Trump will concede eventually and we should concentrate on Georgia, helping any way we can. We don’t want to antagonize Trump further, but Giuliani taken with a large grain of salt. Everything at stake here.”

Some of the broadcasts at issue include attorney Sidney Powell’s appearances on Lou Dobbs Tonight and Maria Bartiromo’s “Sunday Morning Futures” show. Powell peddled stolen election claims that earned her blistering sanctions, in which a federal judge referred her to the disciplinary authorities of her bar association.

Not all of Fox’s celebrity hosts were enamored of Powell.

“Sidney Powell is lying,” Tucker Carlson is quoted telling his producer Alex Pfeiffer in the brief.

Carlson called Dobbs “reckless,” according to the brief.

Lou Dobbs interviews Sidney Powell on Fox Business

Lou Dobbs interviews Sidney Powell on Fox Business on Dec. 10, 2020 (via Khalil v. Fox, et. al. lawsuit)

Fox nevertheless invited MyPillow CEO, Trump booster and conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell onto Carlson’s program on Jan. 26, and Dominion said that Carlson gave him “no pushback” on his fraud claims.

A more diplomatic Sean Hannity is quoted saying of Powell’s election fraud narrative: “I did not believe it for one second.”

“Jeanine is just as nuts.”

Other hosts, Dominion said, took the bait — and were ripped by Fox executives for it.

Jerry Andrews, the executive producer of “Justice with Judge Jeanine,” was quoted saying in a quote with tantalizingly little context: “Jeanine is just as nuts.”

It is unclear to whom Pirro is being compared.

Dominion quoted Fox executive Gary Schreier saying of Bartiromo: “The problem is she
has gop conspiracy theorists in her ear and they use her for their message

The coverage apparently stressed out Laura Ingraham’s producer Tommy Firth.

“This dominion s— is going to give me a f—— aneurysm — as many times as I’ve told Laura it’s bs, she sees shit posters and trump tweeting about it,” Firth allegedly said, with the profanity unredacted in original form.

Fox calls the slew of quotes a diversion.

“Dominion has mischaracterized the record, cherry-picked quotes stripped of key context, and spilled considerable ink on facts that are irrelevant under black-letter principles of defamation law,” the network’s spokesperson said, calling Dominion’s reading of the law “extreme and unsupported.”

Dominion said that, for Fox, election falsehoods proved to be a rating boon — and had other corollary benefits for certain guests. The husband of its host Jeanine Pirro, who pushed stolen-election theories on her show, received an 11-hour pardon from Trump. Dominion later deposed Pirro about what they called her role spreading “verifiably false yet devastating lies” about the 2020 election.

Pirro was recently reinstated as a defendant in a related suit filed by Smartmatic, another voting machine company whose machines were only used that year in Los Angeles County.

Judge Jeanine Pirro

Former prosecutor, judge, and pundit Jeanine Pirro arrives for a meeting with then-President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower on Jan. 13, 2017 in New York. (Photo by BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images)

Powell told the Jan. 6th Committee that Trump considered making her a special counsel for the 2020 election. Ratings for Dobbs shot up almost 27%, and Bartiromo’s went up 23%.

Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis sent the case to discovery later that year, finding it plausible that Fox “intended to avoid the truth.”

That evidence hunt has been ongoing for more than a year, capping off recently in a two-day deposition of Rupert Murdoch, the CEO of News Corp., the network’s corporate parent.

Earlier Thursday, Fox News filed its amended counterclaim attacking various elements of Dominion’s case — including the requested 10-figure damages award. The network says that Staple Street Capital Partners paid a fraction of that amount to buy a controlling stake in the voting machine company.

“And even under the most optimistic projections, Staple Street has never estimated Dominion’s value as a business to be anywhere near $1.6 billion,” Fox’s counterclaim says.

Fox News claims that far from being financially shattered from 2020 election misinformation: “Documents produced in discovery show that Dominion is in a solid financial position, maintaining substantial cash, carrying no debt, and producing a steady return on investment to Staple Street.”

The counterclaim alleges violations of New York anti-SLAPP law, short for strategic lawsuits against public participation, referring to litigation designed to chill political speech.

The files made public on Thursday followed a joint effort by NPR and the New York Times to unseal information that would have been subject to a protective order agreed upon by the parties. Follow-up releases are anticipated, including Fox’s response slated for Feb. 27.

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include more information and context from the filing.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."