Murdoch’s mess: Fox News, lies and defamation – by Deborah Levine

originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press. 

I’m transfixed as the Fox News circus unfolds with the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit by voting machine maker Dominion against ringmaster, Rupert Murdoch, and his son, Lachlan Murdoch. We’re now told that the Murdochs and their carnival acts like Tucker Carlson all knew that claims of a stolen 2020 election were fraudulent. Yet they spread the lies that led to the violence of Jan. 6, with Carlson now perpetuating that date’s bunch-of-tourists theory. And we Americans are stuck with the divisive mess. Maybe if we’d paid more attention to the Murdochs’ history, we’d have halted the Fox circus before it fueled our culture wars.

Rupert Murdoch inherited a newspaper at age 22 and was already a media empire builder in Australia before expanding to the UK where in 1969 where he bought the best-selling newspaper in the world, News of the World. Denying accusations of “laws of the jungle” in the take-over, the questionable ethics of Murdoch and his son and heir-apparent, James, became increasingly visible.  News of the World specialized in sex, drug and crime exposés using insiders and disguised journalists to provide photographic evidence, along with phone hacking. But in 2011, the phone hacking extended to British soldiers killed in the Afghanistan War and the public outrage and loss of sponsors caused Rupert to shut it down, slowing his empire-building efforts.

As the scandal intensified. Rupert testified that he’d been unaware of the hacking. Unimpressed by claims of innocence, a cross-party parliamentary panel concluded that Rupert “is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company”. Several of his newspaper’s editors were thrown under the bus jailed, but Rupert had already spread his empire to America where he’s the 31st richest person. Rupert, echoing the UK throw-under-the-bus strategy, now complains that Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham went too far. 

In the UK, Rupert cried “Foul … Partisanship!” inflaming Parliament’s Liberal/Conservative divisiveness by railing against “some commentary that we, and indeed several members of the committee, consider unjustified and highly partisan”. He’s now doing another “Foul…Partisanship” through Lachlan, who took over the lead from his brother James. Lachlan recently complained that all the “noise” from the Dominion lawsuit is just a “reflection of our divisive politics”. In other words, partisanship, again. 

Removing himself from the Murdoch empire in 2020, James said, “My resignation is due to disagreements over certain editorial content published by the Company’s news outlets and certain other strategic decisions.” Distinguished reporter Chris Wallace also left. “I’m fine with opinion: conservative opinion, liberal opinion. But when people start to question the truth — Who won the 2020 election? Was Jan. 6 an insurrection? — I found that unsustainable.” 

Rupert now admits that he could have stopped Fox News from spreading stolen election lies and claims that Dominion Voting Systems rigged the system against Trump. But he didn’t, so you’d think that Dominion’s lawsuit is a no-brainer. Yet a guilty verdict in the trial scheduled for mid-April is hardly a given. 

Fox News now claims that it was simply reporting on the day’s big news of the day and lies were said without malice. Further, Dominion wants to restrict freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Rupert, who fights according to the “laws of the jungle”, could make this trial a battle-of-the-ages. Both sides want the trial judge to rule in their favor, eliminating a jury trial. Doubtful! And now there’s a possible second defamation suit by Smartmatic, a UK technology company. Gets messier every day… Buckle Up everyone! 


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