Lachlan Murdoch will take the reins at Fox and News Corp this week from his media tycoon father Rupert Murdoch - but he does so during one of the most difficult period’s in the divisive broadcaster’s history as it faces a series of legal battles.
The 51-year-old, the eldest son of newly-retired Murdoch, steps onto centre stage as Fox tries to recover from a bruising year where it fired its most popular host, Tucker Carlson, and paid out a $787.5million, settlement to voting technology firm Dominion.
Hosts at the Fox, known for its incendiary right-wing viewpoints, pushed Donald Trump’s false claim that the 2020 US presidential was stolen and handed to Joe Biden due to rigged voting machines operated by Dominion.
The problem is that Mr Trump was wrong. There was zero evidence there was anything untoward with the voting process, prompting Fox to settle and payout the largest sum for libel in American history.
The pre-trial court filings were a source of humiliation and reputational damage for Fox as it transpired Mr Tucker and fellow hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, often mocked Mr Trump and his advisers, but continued to spread their lies to its audience anyway.
The broadcaster abruptly fired Mr Carlson, an edict reportedly passed down from Murdoch senior himself, which led to a decline in ratings at the channel.
Mr Murdoch’s eldest son will have to continue to mop up the mess from Fox’s 2020 election coverage and other controversial editorial decisions in a series legal cases summarised by The Independent below:
Jason Donner vs Fox News
Mr Donner, a former producer for Fox, claims he was fired for pushing back against Fox’s false claims about the US Capitol riot.
He claims he was part of a “purge” of employees who refused to only report information that would “appease” Mr Trump and his supporters.
Donner was inside the Capitol when the mob of Mr Trump supporters breached the building. When he heard Fox reporting that rioters were “peaceful” and “severely disappointed,” he called the control room, using expletives as he said, “you’re gonna get us all killed,” the suit states.
Donner also debunked Mr Carlson’s “Patriot Purge,” a program on Fox that argued riot was used as a pretext for persecution of conservative Americans.
The lawsuit was first filed in Washington’s Superior Court on 27 September and has subsequently moved to federal court.
Ray Epps vs Fox News
Mr Epps, a former marine, claimed in a lawsuit this year that the news channel made him a scapegoat for the January 6 riot that saw supporters of Mr Trump storm the Capitol building.
The Trump supporter was at the riot and was accused by Fox hosts of being a government agent, with a number of the segments taking place on Mr Tucker’s show.
In court filings Mr Epps claims the “conspiracy” peddled by the channel has had severe consequences, including people visiting his farm with weapons.
Fox is defending its hosts comments under its first amendment rights and its motion to dismiss the case is currently pending.
Smartmatic vs Fox News
Much like Dominion, Smartmatic had voting software that was used in the 2020 US presidential election. And much like Dominion, it was the target of claims from Fox hosts it had rigged its machines.
The company, which only provided voting machines for California, is seeking $2.7bn. According to court filings in the New York Supreme Court Fox News hosts claimed the firm’s voting machines were “created in Venezuela at the direction of Hugo Chávez”.
They further claimed that the company had ties to the Bill and Hilary Clinton and George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist who is often the subject of conspiracy theories.
Fox claims its coverage was “extremely newsworthy”. The case does not yet have a court date.
Nina Jankowicz vs Fox News
Ms Jankowicz, a former executive director of a Department of Homeland Security, and counter-disinformation expert has sued the broadcaster for promoting lies about her.
In court filings it is alleged she was mentioned 300 times in eight months and that Mr Carlson warned the audience on his show she would “get men with guns to tell you to shut up.” Ms Jankowicz is seeking unspecified damages.
Shareholders and pension funds vs Fox News
New York pension funds and the state of Oregon are taking the company to court alleging that they harmed investors by allowing anchors at Fox News to expose them to defamation lawsuits by spreading lies about the 2020 election.
New York City comptroller Brad Lander, who manages the funds, claims the board at the company did not have a “proper strategy” to mitigate the Dominion payout that has harmed Fox’s reputation, as reported by The Financial Times.
He added that the board “disregarded the need for journalistic standards” as it amplified the divisive rhetoric peddled by Mr Trump at the time of the 2020 election. The complaint does not specify damages.
Additional reporting by agencies
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