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Rupert Murdoch and Fox leadership must testify in Dominion trial if subpoenaed, judge rules

A high-profile defamation trial against the network is scheduled to begin in Delaware later this month

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 05 April 2023 22:12 BST
Donald Trump repeats resentments in first speech since arrest

Right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch and Fox News leadership must testify in an upcoming defamation trial against the network if Dominion Voting Systems subpoenas them, according to a ruling from the Delaware judge overseeing the case.

Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis said he will not stand in the way of potential subpoenas for Murdoch and his son and Fox Corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch, board of directors Paul Ryan and other executives, who must appear at the courthouse if summoned.

“They are relevant to the case,” Judge Davis said during a hearing on 5 April, according to CNN. “If Dominion wants to bring them live, they need to issue a trial subpoena, and I would not quash it. Both parties have made these witnesses very relevant.”

A ruling in Delaware Superior Court on 31 March granted Dominion a partial victory in its motion for summary judgment in the blockbuster $1.6bn lawsuit against the network, which the judge determined broadcast false statements about the voting machine company and conspiracy theories surrounding Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election.

Both sides sought a pretrial ruling to declare them the winner and avoid a high-profile trial. Jury selection is scheduled to begin on 13 April.

In a partial ruling in Dominion’s favour last week, the court determined that statements made on Fox News were presented as statements of fact, not statements of opinion, for which Fox News is responsible. But the court left open whether a jury would find its parent company Fox Corporation responsible.

The court also determined that Dominion is entitled to summary judgment for its defamation claims, but it will be up to the jury to determine whether “actual malice” is involved. “Actual malice” is the legal standard established by the US Supreme Court in defamation cases involving public figures alleged to have knowingly presented false claims with reckless disregard for the truth.

Fox has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and argued that statements made on air were protected by the First Amendment. They’ve also said that because they were supported by the former president in his spurious efforts to overturn election results, those claims were newsworthy.

“Dominion clearly wants to continue generating misleading stories from their friends in the media to distract from their weak case,” according to a statement from a Fox spokesperson given to Mediaite. “Demanding witnesses who had nothing to do with the challenged broadcasts is just the latest example of their political crusade in search of a financial windfall.”

At Monday’s hearing, Judge Davis rejected Fox’s position that the Murdochs, Mr Ryan and Fox Corporation chief legal and policy officer Viet Dinh “were not in control over what was published at Fox News,” determining that Dominion presented sufficient evidence in their involvement.

“Corporations don’t raise their hand on the stand,” Judge Davis said, according to Mediaite. “Their officers and directors raise their hand on the stand. It’s the only way to get a corporation to testify. And not only are these people officers and directors, but they’re relevant to the case.”

The Murdochs already provided sworn depositions in the case, with court documents exposing a series of revelations about the inner workings of the network and communications among its top executives, producers and on-air personalities.

Rupert Murdoch conceded that several of the network’s top stars – including Sean Hannity, Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro – “endorsed at times this false notion of a stolen election”, claims that the former president and his allies continue to amplify as he seeks re-election to office in 2024.

He also did not deny discussing the Trump campaign with Jared Kushner.

“I was trying to help Mr Kushner ... He’s a friend of mine,” he said.

The behind-the-scenes revelations – which have been stitched together in Dominion’s sprawling case alleging a media empire that relies on lying to its audience – have painted a much-larger picture of the Fox organisation, its decision making, and its concerns over declining viewership with competition from other right-wing networks that indulged the former president’s conspiracy theories.

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