On Jan. 6, 2021, the day a violent mob breached the U.S. Capitol in support of then-President Donald Trump, executives at Fox Corp vetoed Trump’s attempt to appear on the network’s air, according to court documents filed Thursday.
The documents allege that the former president dialed into on-air personality Lou Dobbs’ show the afternoon of Jan. 6, but that executives shut down Trump’s efforts to appear on air.
“Fox refused to allow President Trump on air that evening because ‘it would be irresponsible to put him on the air’ and ‘could impact a lot of people in a negative way,'” the filings said.
Scores of Trump’s supporters attacked the Capitol in a bid to prevent Congress from confirming Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. Trump, a Republican, has repeatedly made false claims that the election was rigged against him. The events of Jan. 6 and Trump’s involvement in various attempts to block Biden’s win are the subject of multiple criminal investigations. Trump has dismissed the probes as part of a “witch hunt.”
The documents were publicly released for the first time this week as part of Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion lawsuit against Fox Corp and its cable TV networks. Dominion brought the defamation lawsuit against Fox and its right-wing cable networks, Fox News and Fox Business, arguing the networks and its anchors made false claims that the company’s voting machines rigged the results of the 2020 election. The suit is pending at the Delaware Superior Court.
Dominion, Fox Corp and Fox News filed their motions for summary judgment this week, which unveiled evidence from months of discovery and depositions that had been private until this point. Fox News anchors, as well as top Fox Corp brass including Rupert Murdoch and Lachlan Murdoch, were questioned in recent months.
The evidence also showed that Fox News’ top anchors, including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, expressed disbelief in the claims of fraud being made against Dominion that it rigged the election. The anchors in particular doubted fraud claims by pro-Trump attorney Sidney Powell and Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Ingraham said in a message to Carlson: “Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy,” according to the documents.
Fox and its networks have rigorously denied the claims. In court papers Thursday, Fox Corp said it had “no role in the creation and publication of the challenged statements – all of which aired on either Fox Business Network or Fox News Channel.”
Meanwhile, Fox News reiterated in court papers that it “fulfilled its commitment to inform fully and comment fairly” on the claims that Dominion rigged the election against Trump.
“There will be a lot of noise and confusion generated by Dominion and their opportunistic private equity owners, but the core of this case remains about freedom of the press and freedom of speech, which are fundamental rights afforded by the Constitution and protected by New York Times v. Sullivan,” Fox said in a statement issued Thursday.
Dominion said in court papers that Fox and its hosts felt pressure from the audience backlash on the 2020 election night when it called the state of Arizona for Biden. That pressure was evident in text messages between Fox’s top personalities in the weeks following the election, which continued through Jan. 6.
The night before Jan. 6, Rupert Murdoch told Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott, “It’s been suggested our prime time three should independently or together say something like ‘the election is over and Joe Biden won,'” according to court papers. Saying so “would go a long way to stop the Trump myth that the election was stolen,” he added.
On the evening of Jan. 6, Carlson texted his producer, calling Trump “a demonic force. A destroyer. But he’s not going to destroy us,” court papers show.
The lawsuit has been closely followed by First Amendment watchdogs and experts given libel lawsuits are often centered around one falsehood but in this case, Dominion cites a long list of examples of Fox TV hosts making false claims even after they were proven to be untrue. Media companies are often broadly protected by the First Amendment.
The trial is slated to begin in mid-April.