Fox News faced major setbacks in its legal defense strategy leading up to Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit trial, as revealed in Brian Stelter’s new book, “Network of Lies: The Epic Saga of Fox News, Donald Trump, and the Battle for American Democracy.” Stelter, a longtime media reporter, meticulously weaves together legal documents, testimony, and his own reporting to chronicle how Fox’s defense crumbled and its founder, Rupert Murdoch, realized the gravity of the situation.
Despite a devastating ruling in March that found no evidence of Fox News’ “good-faith, disinterested reporting,” the network’s lawyers remained unfazed. Stelter describes their belief that they could turn up in court with a weak defense and somehow find a way out. However, as the trial approached, Fox’s legal team and executives began to realize that a series of setbacks had caught up with them.
Stelter highlights Rupert Murdoch’s deposition as the critical moment in the case. Dominion’s lawyers managed to catch Murdoch in a lie, contradicting Fox’s carefully built defense. The deposition revealed Murdoch’s awareness of Fox News’ post-election coverage in 2020, undermining the network’s argument. This realization, along with the prospect of Murdoch testifying, led to a settlement of $787 million on the day the trial was set to begin.
The decision to settle came from the highest levels of the organization, with both Rupert and his son Lachlan Murdoch, then CEO of Fox Corporation, agreeing to go above the previously stated settlement limit. Stelter emphasizes that Lachlan’s role in the settlement was driven by what he believed was best for the company from a fiduciary standpoint.
Stelter delves into the deposition itself, highlighting its significance as a rare glimpse into Rupert Murdoch’s views and beliefs. Dominion’s lawyers presented Murdoch with a report commissioned by Fox’s PR department, which revealed that Fox hosts had come close to endorsing the claim that the election had been stolen. Under oath, Murdoch admitted that Fox’s commentators did promote this false claim. Stelter describes Murdoch’s defenses falling apart as he realized Fox had endorsed the Trump lie.
The significance of the deposition became clear to both Murdoch and Dominion’s lawyers after questioning concluded. The only person seemingly unaware of the impact was Fox’s chief legal officer, Viet Dinh, who told Murdoch that Dominion’s lawyers hadn’t laid a finger on him. Murdoch disagreed, recognizing the damning evidence against him.
Stelter also speculates that Murdoch’s personal life may have played a role in distracting him from the lawsuit’s gravity. In the days leading up to the trial, Murdoch’s engagement to Ann Lesley Smith was called off, possibly leaving him heartbroken during this critical period.
Fox’s legal department, led by Dinh, was initially confident that the case would go all the way to the Supreme Court and rule in their favor. However, their poor handling of Murdoch’s role and their clashes with the judge indicated that their strategy was failing. Despite Dinh’s continued belief in an eventual win on appeal, both Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch seemed resigned to losing in court.
Ultimately, Dinh’s misjudgment and mishandling of the case cost him his job. Stelter suggests that Fox may have overestimated the strength of their case and failed to see it from the perspective of Dominion’s lawyers. The reasons behind Dinh’s specific strategy remain unknown.
The revelations in Stelter’s book shed light on the legal battles faced by Fox News and the significant impact of Rupert Murdoch’s deposition. The settlement reached just moments before the trial was set to begin marked a turning point in the network’s defense against Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation claims.
Original Story at fortune.com – 2023-11-15 11:30:00