Rupert Murdoch predicted there would be “riots like never before” on the streets of America if the 2020 election results were overturned in favour of Donald Trump, even as his Fox News TV channel continued to air false claims about voter fraud, court filings in a landmark defamation case revealed.
In a November 19 2020 email exchange about two weeks after the election with entrepreneur Saad Mohseni, Murdoch said that “state legislators changing [results] sounds ridiculous” before predicting public unrest if that course of action was followed. He added that the “real danger is what [Trump] might do as president. Apparently not sleeping and bouncing off walls!”
The correspondence is part of a large number of communications, testimony and other evidence unsealed on Tuesday in a defamation lawsuit against Murdoch’s Fox News and its parent, Fox Corp, brought by Dominion, a voting machine maker, that alleges it was falsely accused of rigging the 2020 vote on Fox programmes. Dominion is seeking $1.6bn in damages in the case, which is set to go to trial in Delaware in April.
The exchange between Murdoch and Mohseni took place on the same day as Fox aired a press conference during which Trump campaign lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell claimed that Dominion had deliberately skewed its devices to award votes to Joe Biden in several states and had previously helped Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez rig elections.
Along with a trove of evidence released last week, the emails underlined how executives at Fox were torn between continuing to air claims from the Trump campaign that Murdoch himself repeatedly called “crazy”, or risk losing viewers to more rightwing outlets such as Newsmax.
Documents filed to the court on Tuesday also included sworn testimony from Murdoch in which he repeatedly asserted that he had “seen no evidence that [Dominion] rigged anything” and that he believed the election “was not stolen”.
Murdoch agreed that Trump was a “sore loser”, but said he had not directed executives at Fox News on when to call the election for Biden. In a social media post on Monday, Trump took aim at Murdoch’s claim that there was no election fraud, repeating allegations that there were millions of “stuffed ballots”
Fox has repeatedly defended its coverage. In a statement on Tuesday, Fox News said Dominion was engaged in a “PR campaign to smear Fox News and trample on free speech and freedom of the press” and accused the company’s lawyers of filing selective quotes out of context.
The latest filings revealed how intertwined Fox was with the Trump administration, as executives and hosts spoke directly with the White House to offer advice. “Has Sean spoken to POTUS yet?,” Murdoch emailed the network’s chief executive, Suzanne Scott, on November 6, referring to Fox host Sean Hannity. “Seems Rudy G giving Trump lots of bad advice”.
Ahead of the election, Murdoch contacted Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, with advice on the then president’s advertising campaign. “Jared, know you are spending less on TV than Biden. However, my people tell me his advs are a lot better creatively than yours,” Murdoch wrote in an email dated September 24 2020. “Just passing by it on”.
Kushner responded the next day: “I will now be reviewing this every week until the end,” filings showed.
The documents also revealed an exchange that Dominion’s lawyers pointed to as evidence that Fox host Maria Bartiromo passed on a “clearly whacky conspiracy theory” to Eric Trump, the former president’s son.
“I just spoke to Eric & told him you gave very imp[ortant] info,” Bartiromo wrote on November 7, responding to an email in which Powell had included allegations that Dominion was responsible for “voting irregularities”.
The allegations were sent by someone claiming to have been a technology analyst who confessed to regularly having “the strangest dreams”, according to the filings.
In her deposition in September, Bartiromo testified that she had not known “this person” and knew “nothing about what she [was] talking about”. She also said she a “duty” to the American people to report on claims of election fraud made by a sitting president and his team.
Other star anchors Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity also testified that they believed such claims to be newsworthy, although they said they grew frustrated after promised evidence failed to materialise.