Fox’s Murdoch Gave Kushner Sneak Peak at Biden Campaign Ad
(Bloomberg) -- Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch agreed in a deposition that he gave Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner a preview in 2020 of a Joe Biden campaign ad, the latest sign of unusually close ties between the network and the former president.
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Murdoch, questioned under oath in a voting-machine company’s $1.6 billion defamation suit against Fox News and its parent, initially denied providing the preview until he was shown an email in which he told Kushner he “will send it,” according to excerpts of his deposition made public late Tuesday.
“Do you think it is appropriate for someone in your position to give a heads up to the opposing campaign about what the ad of the opposing campaign will show before it is public?” Justin Nelson, a lawyer for Dominion Voting Systems Inc., said at the deposition.
“I was trying to help Mr. Kushner,” Murdoch said during the deposition, which took place in January in Los Angeles. “He’s a friend of mine.”
The exchange was included by Dominion in hundreds of pages of evidence as the company seeks a court ruling granting it total victory on its defamation claims without a trial. Dominion, which was falsely accused on-air of rigging the election against Trump, argues its reputation was seriously damaged by the conspiracy theory and that Fox knew it was bogus but aired it anyway.
Dominion argues communications between Murdoch and Kushner are part of a mountain of evidence that Fox at the time had a cozy relationship with Trump. The former president’s allies, including Rudy Giuliani, appeared on Fox for weeks to spread the conspiracy theory without presenting any evidence.
Fox disputed that Murdoch gave Kushner nonpublic information.
“Mr. Murdoch forwarded an already-publicly available Biden campaign ad which was available on YouTube and had even run on public airwaves,” Fox said in a statement Tuesday. “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.”
Dominion said it stands by its filing.
Advise on Debate
Murdoch also agreed during his deposition that he discussed with Kushner his assessment of Trump’s performance in his first debate with Biden, which was moderated by Fox’s Chris Wallace, according to the filing.
“Sir, as the next debate approached, you told Mr. Kushner that it was really important that Trump must not look like a bully, right?” Nelson asked Murdoch.
“I’m sure,” Murdoch responded. “Look, I just want to say this: That was advice from a friend to a friend. It wasn’t advice from Fox Corporation or in my capacity at Fox.”
Murdoch disagreed that his communication amounted to giving advice to Trump.
“No,” Murdoch said. “I only remember myself being horrified at Mr. Trump’s behavior in the first debate.”
Murdoch also agreed when Dominion’s lawyer said the executive tipped off Kushner that “more stuff on Biden was coming, hopefully before the debate,” a potential reference to an upcoming New York Post story about Hunter Biden.
Separately on Tuesday, Fox News filed exhibits that shed more light on its arguments in the case, including the network’s claim that Dominion hasn’t really been hurt financially by Fox’s reports on the conspiracy theory. Fox also made public excerpts of evidence that it says shows Murdoch’s statements were taken out of context by Dominion in an earlier court filing by suggesting he’d said words that were actually spoken by a lawyer.
“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 said in a statement.
Fox also filed what it described as evidence that commentator Maria Bartiromo — who hosted a TV appearance by former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, one of the architects of the conspiracy theory — pushed back on statements made by her guest and repeatedly advised viewers that the claims would need to be proved in court. Bartiromo unsuccessfully tried to have Dominion’s chief executive officer on her show to give the company’s side of the story, according to Fox.
The network also filed part of the deposition of TV host Bret Baier, who testified that he never believed the election was rigged and that he tried to tell both sides of the story.
“Didn’t see the evidence of it,” Baier said. “Had experts telling me that that was not the case. We put all the statements that Dominion had on the air. I even asked to have Dominion people on the show, to no avail, but I tried.”
Fox, which has sought to distance Fox Corp. from Fox News’s reports during the litigation, also filed a portion of Murdoch’s deposition in which the executive said he never talked to any of the hosts about the Dominion allegations, including Lou Dobbs, whose show was canceled in 2021.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met Mr. Dobbs,” Murdoch said.
The evidence filed Tuesday expands on filings by Dominion last month that said Murdoch had testified that the network’s popular commentators went beyond mere reporting and “endorsed” Trump’s claim that the election was rigged, even though Murdoch said he was immediately skeptical of it. The earlier filings also showed that a slew of Fox personalities and executives knew the conspiracy theory was bogus even as the network was broadcasting the claims over and over in the weeks after the election. Fox host Dana Perino described the theory at the time in texts and emails as “total bs,” “insane” and “nonsense.” Sean Hannity sent a text message saying Powell was a “F’ing lunatic.”
In its Tuesday filing, Dominion provided more detail of text messages that were sent between Fox opinion hosts who were critical of the news side of the network and its decision in 2020 to call Arizona for Biden, which hurt ratings.
“I think the three of us have enormous power,” Laura Ingraham said in a text to Hannity and Tucker Carlson. “We have more power than we know or exercise.”
Read More: Fox News Pushed 2020 Election Conspiracy Hosts Called ‘Total BS’
Dominion’s suit is scheduled for trial in April, but each side has asked the judge to grant it a final victory without putting the case to a jury, based only on the strength of its evidence.
Fox argues the allegedly defamatory broadcasts are protected by the First Amendment because Dominion can’t prove the reports were broadcast with “actual malice” — with knowledge they were false or with reckless disregard for the truth.
The case is Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox Corp., N21C-11-082 EMD CCLD, Delaware Superior Court (Wilmington).
Read More: Murdoch’s Grip Wavers, Casting Shadow as Trump Runs Again
(Updates with detail from Fox’s depositions.)
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