A judge said Fox News had a “credibility problem” as it prepared for a $1.6bn defamation trial after the company disclosed for the first time in nearly two years of litigation that Rupert Murdoch was an officer of the company.
On Monday, Fox News and its parent company Fox Corp head to trial over Fox’s coverage of false election-rigging claims. Murdoch, chairman of Fox Corp., is expected to testify.
Dominion Voting Systems alleges Fox damaged its business by knowingly and repeatedly airing false claims that Dominion machines were used to flip the 2020 US presidential election against Donald Trump, a Republican, and in favor of Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who won.
Fox News had disclaimed that Murdoch was a company officer, which shaped how Dominion litigated the case, according to Nelson. As a Fox News officer, Murdoch would probably have been subject to more investigative discovery by Dominion.
“It is very troubling but this is where we are,” the Dominion attorney Justin Nelson said, adding the Dominion only learned of Murdoch’s role on Sunday and got its first document with Murdoch’s title of Fox News executive chairman on Tuesday morning.
A Fox lawyer told the hearing in Wilmington, Delaware, that Murdoch disclosed the title in a February deposition and he called the title “honorific”.
A spokeswoman for Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Superior court judge Eric Davis called the delayed disclosure “bizarre” and chided Fox attorneys for having made representations that Murdoch wasn’t an officer of Fox News, only to reverse on the eve of trial. “I’m not very happy right now,” Davis said. “You have a credibility problem.”
Dominion said that deposits by Murdoch and others, as well as troves of internal Fox communications, proved top network personnel knew the election-rigging claims were false but aired them anyway to appease Fox’s conservative viewers.
Determining who knows what when and how much power they have over Fox coverage is likely to be a critical task for judges, who will start being selected on Thursday ahead of opening statements on Monday.
Dominion’s Nelson said at Tuesday’s hearing that the company was still trying to determine what action if any it would ask the judge for the delayed disclosure.