WILMINGTON, Del. — Attorneys defending Fox in a defamation case related to false claims about the 2020 election withheld critical information about the role company founder Rupert Murdoch played at Fox News, a revelation that angered the judge when it came up at a Tuesday hearing.
It was not clear whether the development would affect a trial scheduled to begin Thursday with jury selection. Dominion Voting Systems is suing Fox for $1.6 billion, saying it damaged its reputation by repeatedly airing false claims that the company helped orchestrate a fraud that cost former President Donald Trump re-election.
The role of Fox executives is at the heart of the case. The company’s attorneys have sought to insulate members of the Murdoch family and to keep them from testifying live before a jury, arguing that their roles at the parent company, Fox Corp., put them at a distance from the Fox News shows that aired the bogus claims.
Fox Corp. had asserted since Dominion filed its lawsuit in 2021 that Rupert Murdoch had no official role at Fox News. In its filings, it had listed Fox News officers as Suzanne Scott, Jay Wallace and Joe Dorrego.
But on Easter Sunday, Fox disclosed to Dominion’s attorneys that Murdoch also is “executive chair” at Fox News. The disclosure came after Superior Court Judge Eric Davis wondered aloud during a status conference last week who Fox News’ officers were.
Davis was clearly disturbed by the disclosure, coming on the eve of the trial.
“My problem is that it has been represented to me more than once that he is not an officer,” the judge said.
Davis suggested that had he known of Murdoch’s dual role at Fox Corp. and Fox News, he might have reached different conclusions in a summary judgment ruling he issued last month. In that ruling, the judge said there was no dispute that the statements aired by Fox were false, but that a jury would have to decide whether Fox News acted with actual malice and whether Fox Corp. directly participated in airing the statements.
To Fox attorney Matthew Carter, Davis said: “You have a credibility problem.”
In response, Carter said he believed Murdoch’s title at Fox News was only “honorific.”
“I’m not mad at you,” the judge later told Carter. “I’m mad at the situation I’m in.”
In a statement issued after Tuesday’s pretrial hearing, Fox said, “Rupert Murdoch has been listed as executive chairman of Fox News in our SEC filings since 2019 and this filing was referenced by Dominion’s own attorney during his deposition.”
It’s unclear whether the judge will take any action in response to the late disclosure. But an attorney for Dominion said he wanted Fox to further explain Murdoch’s role with the network, indicating the issue could come up when the pretrial hearing continues Wednesday.