For Fox, "January 6 was the cost of doing business"
Matt Gertz on Rupert Murdoch's bombshell deposition.
The latest filing in Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News reveals how Rupert Murdoch looked the other way while Fox platformed lies about the 2020 election — lies that hardly anyone in the company actually bought. But even that wasn’t nearly enough for Donald Trump.
As details from the documents circulated earlier this week, Trump took aim at Murdoch for acknowledging in his deposition that hosts like Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, and Sean Hannity endorsed notions of a stolen election that Murdoch himself understood were false. Trump unloaded on the 89-year-old Fox Corporation chair for “throwing his anchors under the table” and also demeaned him as leader of a “group of MAGA Hating Globalist RINOS” who should “get out of the News Business as soon as possible, because they are aiding & abetting the DESTRUCTION OF AMERICA with FAKE NEWS.”
There’s thick irony to Trump’s attacks. That’s because contrary to being a Trump hater, one of the juiciest tidbits from Murdoch’s deposition shows that he colluded with the Trump campaign by sharing “confidential information” about Biden’s campaign ads with Jared Kushner. I learned about that nugget and others, including one about Fox’s internal research department debunking lies about Dominion that nonetheless found their way into Fox shows, thanks to an illuminating Twitter thread from Media Matters Senior Fellow Matt Gertz.
The big lie and Dominion’s huge lawsuit over it has driven a wedge between Fox and Trump for now, but there’s little reason to believe the network will do anything other than circle the wagons if he ends up again being the Republican nominee for president.
After all, the early months of Trump’s 2016 run were lowlighted by a misogynistic feud with then-Fox host Megyn Kelly that exploded during an August 2015 Fox News debate. Trump boycotted another Fox News debate a few months later, but that all became a distant memory as soon as he become the Republican nominee. And after Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, Fox of course become an unofficial comms shop for his administration, regularly interviewing officials (including Trump himself) who drove ratings by making news on the network. In exchange, Trump got fawning coverage — and, ultimately, inside information about Biden campaign ads.
To get some expert perspective about Dominion’s latest filing, I talked to Gertz — who’s definitely not to be confused with Matt Gaetz — about everything from the current Trump-Fox beef to what the Murdoch revelations can teach Democrats.
“I was heartened by Biden’s refusal to do a Super Bowl interview with Fox News,” Gertz said. “I think that’s the right call and it has been absolutely vindicated by these filings, which show how deceitful Fox News is and that it’s a fundamentally political actor.”
A transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.
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We both watch a lot of Fox, so it’s not like we needed these Dominion filings to understand that it’s a right-wing propaganda operation. But were you as surprised as me to learn that Rupert Murdoch colluded with Trump by sharing confidential information about Biden ads with Jared Kushner?
Yeah, that was the one revelation that really stunned me. We've been writing at Media Matters for years and years that Fox News is an extension of the Republican Party and willing to lie to their viewers for financial gain. So that’s not terribly surprising. But the revelation about the ads is really something.
What seems to have happened here is that the Biden campaign wanted to run ads on Fox News, or perhaps on Fox owned and operated broadcast stations, and when you do that, you need to turn over the ad to the network. The details are unclear, but it appears Rupert gave Jared some sort of preview of them. This obviously crossed a huge ethical red line, especially since these ads wouldn't go directly to Rupert Murdoch.
Rupert is the head of the parent company. So he would've needed to go out and get them from whoever is actually in charge of the ads, then send them to Trump's son-in-law and White House advisor. That’s a huge line to cross. It tells Democrats that if they in the future want to run ads on Fox News or Fox's broadcast stations, they may be subject to the same treatment — their opponents may end up getting a preview of those ads before they run, and get a substantial political advantage.
Rupert Murdoch comes across as a rather unsympathetic character in all of this. According to his deposition, he didn’t personally buy the big lie, and he took half steps to try to prevent it from spreading on Fox programming, but his efforts in this respect were unsuccessful.
And at the same time, as we already talked about, Murdoch was colluding with the Trump campaign to defeat Biden. Is it fair to say he’s trying to rewrite history?
I think he's motivated by money and by power, that at the end of the day, he didn't really care whether or not Fox was putting out lies. Once the writing was on the wall about viewers fleeing the network because they were upset over it calling Arizona for Biden, they really dug in on promoting election lies they all knew weren't true.
And at the same time scattered throughout these filings you have another story. That's Murdoch basically telling Suzanne Scott, Fox News CEO, that the network needed to be working harder to elect Republicans to the Senate — basically confessing, very explicitly, that for all intents and purposes Fox News is a Republican propaganda outlet geared toward helping the party win elections.
You’ve probably seen that Trump responded to the new Dominion filing by trashing Murdoch on Truth Social. He’s also been publicly sour about Fox heavily promoting Ron DeSantis. How do you assess the Trump-Fox relationship at this point?
We've seen this back and forth going on since 2015. You'd have these cases where Trump would see coverage that he didn't like and fly off the handle, but both sides would inevitably come back to each other. Again, though, I think Rupert Murdoch likes money and likes power, and there’s too much at stake for him to not get on board with Trump if he’s going to be the nominee.
DeSantis is the new flavor, and there's obviously a lot of interest in him at Fox. Based on the internal communications revealed in these filings, I think it’s possible that there are folks there that at least at one point had big problems with Trump. But Trump and Fox have too much to offer to one another for that rift to remain if Trump starts rising again. He’ll be able to put pressure on Fox News and leave them at risk of seeing their viewers flee back to competitors.
This might seem counterintuitive in light of all the bad press Fox is getting right now, but is it fair to say that Murdoch allowing the big lie to be spread on his network actually worked out for him in the end?
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