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Fox News Parent Has to Face Defamation Suit Over Vote-Rigging Claims

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(Bloomberg) -- Fox News’s parent company can be sued by a voting-machine maker because Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch may have acted with “actual malice” in directing the network to broadcast conspiracy theories alleging the 2020 presidential election was rigged against Donald Trump.

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Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis on Tuesday denied Fox Corp.’s motion to dismiss the suit, saying Dominion Voting Systems had shown that the Murdochs may have been on notice that the conspiracy theory that rigged voting machines tilted the vote was false but let Fox News broadcast it anyway. Dominion cited in its suit a report that Rupert Murdoch spoke with Trump a few days after the election “and informed him that he had lost,” the judge noted.

“These allegations support a reasonable inference that Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch either knew Dominion had not manipulated the election or at least recklessly disregarded the truth when they allegedly caused Fox News to propagate its claims about Dominion,” said Davis, who previously allowed Dominion’s claim against the conservative news network to proceed.

Fox’s press representatives didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment. The company has previously argued that its reporting is protected by the First Amendment.

Murdoch’s Call

That protection makes it difficult to sue the press for defamation. Under the standard set by the Supreme Court, public figures, including companies, must show media outlets acted with “actual malice,” meaning they knew the information they were publishing was false or that they acted with reckless disregard for the truth.

Davis noted in his ruling that, according to Dominion’s suit, various news outlets reported that Rupert Murdoch spoke with Trump and other senior Republicans shortly after the election and urged them to drop their election-fraud narrative and concede defeat. The voting-technology firm was also able to point to a claim that Murdoch urged a Republican leader to ask other politicians in the party not to endorse Trump’s false theory about Dominion, the judge said.

The ruling is the latest by a judge allowing defamation suits to proceed against conservative news outlets and Trump allies who allegedly repeated the false theory extensively on-air -- a theory that ultimately helped trigger the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

Condemned Claims

In Tuesday’s ruling, Davis further noted that “other newspapers under Rupert Murdoch’s control -- including the Wall Street Journal and New York Post -- condemned President Trump’s claims and urged him to concede defeat.”

As for the Murdochs, Davis ruled claims of actual malice had been met with respect to four specific allegations, including that the Murdochs “caused Fox News to broadcast false claims about Dominion even though they did not personally believe former President Trump’s election fraud narrative.”

All those allegations support Dominion’s claim, for now, that Fox Corp. was on notice that claims being made on-air by some of its personalities and guests, including then-Trump lawyer Rudolph Giuliani and former Trump campaign attorney Sidney Powell, were bogus.

Even so, the judge dismissed Dominion’s claim against the company’s Fox Broadcasting subsidiary, ruling Dominion hadn’t supported its claim of “actual malice” by the subsidiary. Parts of the lawsuit blaming Fox Broadcasting for reposting false statements online offer “no factual support,” the judge said.

The case is Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox Corp., No. N21C-11-082 EMD CCLD, Delaware Superior Court (Wilmington).

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