Skip to main content

Judge skeptical Rupert Murdoch can’t testify live at billion-dollar Dominion brawl: Fox mogul isn’t ‘infirm’

Rupert Murdoch

In this Oct. 30, 2018 file photo, Rupert Murdoch introduces Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the Herman Kahn Award Gala, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

A Delaware judge discerned no reason why Rupert Murdoch could not take the stand at a trial next month in Dominion Voting System’s billion-dollar defamation lawsuit, remarking that the 92-year-old media mogul isn’t “infirm.”

Fox attorney Matthew Carter said that Murdoch’s vitality isn’t the issue.

“We’re not arguing that Mr. Murdoch is infirm or unable to travel,” Carter said, adding that the real issue is that the Fox Corporation chairman already sat for two days of deposition.

After several hours of grilling, it shouldn’t be necessary to subject the nonagenarian to more grilling, Carter argued.

Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis, who sent the case to discovery in late 2021, did not immediately rule on whether Murdoch will take the stand. The judge indicated that the parties could avert the need for Murdoch’s appearance by agreeing to designate certain portions of the deposition for the jury.

A Fox spokesperson called Dominion’s witness list “needless expansive,” calling it “another attempt to generate headlines and distract from the many shortcomings of its case.”

“Ultimately, this case is about the First Amendment protections of the media’s absolute right to cover the news,” the spokesperson said.

For its part, Fox’s list — comprised of 20 fact witness, 15 expert witnesses, and 69 witnesses through deposition designation — includes such live witnesses as hosts Bret Baier, Maria Bartiromo, Tucker Carlson, Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity, and Jeanine Pirro; CEO Suzanne Scott; and President Jay Wallace. Dominion wants to call a similar number of witnesses, and many of the same names, but the voting machine company wants more of them to testify live.

Fox wants Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch to testify deposition designation, but Dominion wants them live as fact witnesses. The matter hasn’t been decided yet.

In mid-January, Murdoch parried questions for two days in Dominion’s lawsuit, which claims that Fox knowingly aired misinformation about their voting machines to appease then-President Donald Trump. Dominion says that Fox executives, all the way up to Murdoch, privately acknowledged that the conspiracy theories didn’t hold water, but the network allegedly pushed them anyway to keep Trump supporters from flocking to right-wing competitors Newsmax and One America News.

In the unredacted portions of his deposition, Murdoch testified that some of Fox’s prime-time stars effectively “endorsed” the 2020 election conspiracy theories that he described as “really crazy stuff.” Murdoch first denied, then conceded, that he handed Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner confidential information about then-candidate Joe Biden’s advertisements and campaign strategy.

Toward the end of his questioning, Murdoch expressed regret that Fox personalities didn’t push back harder on Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.

“I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it in hindsight,” Murdoch said.

Nearly two hours into the hearing, Judge Davis paused the public portions of the hearing to discuss the aftershocks of a pair of lawsuits filed by fired a Fox producer. Abby Grossberg, who worked on Maria Bartiromo and Tucker Carlson’s shows, sued Fox in Manhattan Federal Court and in Delaware, alleging that the network discriminated against her as a Jewish woman. The lawsuits provided her view of what happened behind the scenes, as Fox’s lawyers prepared her for her Dominion deposition. Grossberg alleges that Fox attorneys “coerced” her to provide “false and misleading” testimony.

Then, the network disseminated a transcript of those allegedly coached statements that Grossberg says damaged her credibility and absolved the network’s powerful men. She claims that the network gave Bartiromo, her old boss, similar treatment, throwing the “Sunday Morning Futures” host “under the proverbial bus.”

Fox alleges that Grossberg broke confidentiality in describing deposition preparations in public filings. The network put her on administrative leave, rushed to court to seal her account, and after the filings went public, terminated her. After more than a half hour of sealed arguments related to Grossberg, Judge Davis went back onto the public record and delivered a ruling. He will not redact the “errata” sheet Grossberg submitted to correct portions of her deposition she claims to be inaccurate.

Despite a mountain of paperwork in the litigation, broad swaths of the record remain sealed, including a Fox filing opposing Dominion’s motion to “Prohibit Fox from Discussing the First Amendment.” Fox argues that Dominion’s lawsuit is a threat to journalism.

Jury selection will begin in the case on April 13, but before that takes place, Judge Davis must rule on the parties’ motions for summary judgment, which could theoretically avert the need for a trial.

Fox wanted him to redact certain information in that ruling, but Davis said that the public will read every word of that opinion.

“I’m not redacting the opinion, guys,” Davis said.

The judge added that this includes information about Fox’s “Brainroom,” which the network wanted to keep secret.

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow Law&Crime:

Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."