As a mountain of evidence behind the decision-making at Fox News becomes public in Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation case against the network, speculation has heated up over who might take the fall.
Fox Corp. Executive Chairman and CEO Lachlan Murdoch tried to quell the chatter Thursday by praising Fox News Chief Executive Suzanne Scott — a target of much of the theorizing — and dismissing the Dominion case as a politically motivated attack on the company.
“I think a lot of the noise that you hear about this case is actually not about the law and it’s not about journalism,” Murdoch said at the 2023 Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco. “And it’s really about the politics, and that’s unfortunately more reflective of this sort of polarized society that we live in today.”
Dominion $1.6-billion lawsuit that alleges Fox News deliberately lied about former President Trump’s 2020 election fraud claims in order to boost its ratings. Dominion took the brunt of the falsehoods, with allegations that its machines manipulated votes to favor President Biden and that the company was founded in Venezuela to aid Hugo Chávez.
Fox News has said Trump’s claims, even if false, were newsworthy and that its coverage of them was protected by the 1st Amendment.
Legal experts have said Dominion is presenting some of the strongest evidence they have ever seen in a defamation case. Dominion must demonstrate that Fox News acted with malice by recklessly disregarding the truth in reporting on Trump’s claims against the Denver-based voting machine maker.
The case is scheduled to go to trial in a Delaware court in mid-April.
Although Lachlan Murdoch was not directly asked about the status of Scott, he praised her twice at the Morgan Stanley event when talking about the overall performance of Fox News, which is a dominant No. 1 in the ratings among cable news outlets.
“It’s a credit to Suzanne Scott and all of her team there,” Murdoch said. “They’ve done a tremendous job at running the business and building this business. … This is a hard business to run. And I think, you know, Suzanne Scott has done a tremendous job.”
Murdoch‘s comments about the case were the first he’s made publicly following a tsunami of bad publicity that has engulfed Fox News since the release of deposition testimony and other evidence submitted to the court.
Testimony by Lachlan Murdoch and his father, News Corp. Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch, raised eyebrows as both men downplayed their direct involvement in decision-making at Fox News and stressed that Scott is in charge of the network.
The revelations immediately generated speculation from media analysts and journalists that they were distancing themselves from Scott.
But Scott has also presented herself as not having hands-on involvement in every decision made at the network.
“I don’t decide what’s on Fox News,” Scott said in her deposition testimony. “I entrust that to the editorial leadership teams and the individuals who make those decisions on what’s in their shows. … I take a 50,000-foot view of all of the businesses and I don’t get granularly involved in the handling of shows on the network.”
Scott also did not contradict the Murdochs’ argument. She said that while she strongly considers any input she receives from them, they do not force her hand on any decisions related to the network.
Fox News has a history of circling the wagons when the company is under fire.
In 2016, personalities at the network — including Maria Bartiromo and Martha MacCallum — rallied to publicly support founding Fox News Chief Roger Ailes when sexual harassment allegations first surfaced against him. Ailes was fired once the evidence in an internal investigation became insurmountable.
There was also speculation that Scott’s status was in doubt in early 2021, as ratings were declining in the months after Trump’s election loss. But the Murdochs rewarded her with a new contract and Fox News regained its dominant competitive position in the cable news market in part by adding more conservative commentary to its programming day.
Scott has worked at Fox News for 26 years, starting as an executive assistant when the network launched in 1996. She rose to the top job at Fox News in 2018 and is credited with improving the culture at the company in the aftermath of the Ailes harassment scandal.