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Dominion defamation suit argues Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch had misgivings about Fox News' coverage after 2020 election

New evidence in Dominion v. Fox News lawsuit
Dominion releases new evidence in defamation lawsuit against Fox News 04:08

Court exhibits in the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox News show that some of Fox News' top executives harbored misgivings about what was being said on its shows after the 2020 election, and even after President Biden had been inaugurated.

A day after Inauguration Day, on Jan. 21, 2021, Fox News chairman Rupert Murdoch exclaimed, "Still getting mud thrown at us. Is it 'unarguable that high-profile Fox voices fed the story that the election was stolen and that January 6th an important chance to have the result overturned?"

"Maybe Sean (Hannity) and Laura (Ingraham) went too far," Murdoch then wrote. "All very well for Sean to tell you he was in despair about Trump but what did he tell his viewers?"

In another email exchange, on Nov. 17, 2020, Sidney Powell — a former lawyer for former President Donald Trump — told Fox News host Tucker Carlson, "Believe I emailed you affidavit earlier today. More evidence pouring in." But Carlson expressed doubt. 

"You keep telling our viewers that millions of votes were changed by the software. I hope you will prove that very soon," he told Powell.  "You've convinced them that Trump will win. If you don't have conclusive evidence of fraud at that scale, it's a cruel and reckless thing to keep saying." 

On Nov. 22, then-Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani issued a statement saying that Powell was not a lawyer for either the Trump campaign or for Trump. Yet, she continued to appear on Fox News and Fox Business Network for days, until Dec. 10, the Washington Post noted. Another voting software company, Smartmatic, sent a letter to Fox News and other far-right networks demanding retractions of what they said were defamatory statements about Smartmatic voting equipment. Dominion's lawsuit against Fox followed within days.

Dominion has also sued Powell in a separate lawsuit for $1.3 billion. 

Dominion, which sells electronic voting equipment that was used in several states in the 2020 election, is suing Fox News and its parent company Fox Corporation, arguing in its summary judgment filing that "Executives at all levels of Fox…knowingly opened Fox's airwaves to false conspiracy theories about Dominion."

In its filing, Dominion quoted extensively from the exhibits released by the court Tuesday. In one email released Tuesday, Murdoch wrote to Fox News president Suzanne Scott five days after the election, on Nov. 8, 2020: "Getting creamed by CNN! Guess our viewers don't want to watch it." 

By Nov. 7, Mr. Biden had been projected by media organizations to win the election.

The thrust of Dominion's argument is that Fox News' top executives and some of its hosts knew that the outlandish conspiracy claims espoused by Trump allies and lawyers on its shows were false, but they put them on the air anyway to try to avoid alienating their conservative audience.

There were some top Fox officials who expressed dismay about the focus on election fraud in the weeks after the election, as legal challenges brought by Trump's allies failed to change the outcome in any state. On Dec. 20, 2020, Bill Sammon, then the managing editor and a vice president of Fox News, texted with the election desk's Chris Stirewalt: "More than 20 minutes into our flagship evening news broadcast ("Special Report with Bret Baier") and we're still focused solely on supposed election fraud — a month after the election. It's remarkable how weak ratings make good journalists do bad things."

"Thanks to today's filings, Dominion has been caught red handed again using more distortions and misinformation in their PR campaign to smear FOX News and trample on free speech and freedom of the press," Fox said in a statement provided to CBS News Tuesday night. "We already know they will say and do anything to try to win this case, but to twist and even misattribute quotes to the highest levels of our company is truly beyond the pale."    

Fox argued in its own counterclaim that Dominion's lawsuit should be dropped because the company had only filed the suit "to punish [Fox News Network] for reporting on one of the biggest stories of the day — allegations by the sitting President of the United States and his surrogates that the 2020 election was affected by fraud," the Fox filing reads. "The very fact of those allegations was newsworthy."

Scott MacFarlane, C Mandler, Julia Kimani Burnham and Caitlin Yilek contributed to this report.

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