Judge Tells Fox News Lawyers They Have a “Credibility Problem” In Dominion Suit Days Before Trial Starts

The Delaware Superior Court judge overseeing Dominion’s $1.6 billion defamation suit against Fox didn’t hide his frustration during a pretrial hearing Tuesday, when he learned that Fox had delayed the full disclosure of Fox Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch’s role at Fox News. It was only in the last 48 hours, Dominion lawyer Justin Nelson told the judge, that Fox disclosed Murdoch was not only an officer for Fox’s parent company but for Fox News itself, a technicality that prevented Nelson from getting “a whole bunch of Rupert Murdoch documents that we otherwise would have been entitled to.” In response, Judge Eric M. Davis told a Fox News attorney that his team had “a credibility problem,” per the Washington Post. “My problem is that it’s been represented more than once to me that he’s not an officer of Fox News,” Davis continued. “I need to feel comfortable that when you represent something to me, it’s the truth. I’m not very happy right now. I don’t know why this is such a difficult thing.” 

An attorney for Fox told the judge that Murdoch’s Fox News officership was merely “honorific.” And in a statement following the hearing, a spokesperson for Fox said Murdoch—who may be forced to take the stand in the upcoming trial—“has been listed as executive chairman of FOX News in our SEC filings since 2019 and this filing was referenced by Dominion’s own attorney during his deposition.” But the revelation apparently stuck with the judge, who, according to the Post, returned to the topic at the end of Tuesday’s hearing. “I’m not mad at you,” he told Fox’s attorney. “I’m mad at the situation I’m in. So, I have to figure out how I deal with that.”

It wasn’t the only time Tuesday that Davis appeared to clash with Fox lawyers. One particularly bitter exchange came after Fox offered a glimpse into how top talent—like Tucker CarlsonSean Hannity and Maria Bartiromo—may try to defend their allegedly defamatory broadcasts while on the stand. “The hosts are going to make the argument that they didn’t make the statements,” Fox attorney Dan Webb said, per ABC. “If you argue that,” Davis clapped back, “I will turn to the jury and say [you are] incorrect.” The judge also warned against Fox pinning the blame on people like Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, pro-Trump lawyers that repeatedly appeared on Fox during the post-election period in question and sought to tie Dominion to various conspiracy theories. “It’s a publication issue, not a who-said-it issue,” Davis said, per the New York Times. Davis also ruled Tuesday that Fox cannot bring up broadcasts in which Fox reporters told the truth about the allegations of widespread voting fraud by accurately fact-checking the election lies, per CNN. Those other broadcasts “are not relevant” to the case, Davis said, because “you can’t absolve yourself of defamation by putting someone else on at a different time.”

The upcoming trial culminates Dominion’s years-long lawsuit against Fox over its 2020 election coverage, when the network amplified election lies pushed by Donald Trump and his allies. The election technology company has claimed that Fox knowingly spread false information about Dominion for the sake of juicing ratings and profits. Fox, for its part, has argued that its coverage is protected by free speech and press freedom rights—and that it was neutrally reporting on newsworthy claims by a sitting president. But on Tuesday, the Times reports that Davis limited “a key line of defense for the network” by ruling that Fox News cannot argue that it broadcast false information about Dominion on the basis of newsworthiness. “Just because someone is newsworthy doesn’t mean you can defame someone,” Davis said. Among the other guidelines that Davis laid out: no testimony about the Jan. 6 insurrection. Whether Fox News “influenced” the insurrection, Davis said, is not the question “for this court at this time.” 

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