When right-wing extremist Sidney Powell, a former federal prosecutor, spun wild conspiracy theories about Dominion Voting Systems on Sean Hannity’s Fox program, claiming that there was “corruption all across the country, in countless districts,” in a plot to steal reelection from Donald Trump, and that Dominion ran an algorithm that switched votes for Trump to votes for Joe Biden, he didn’t challenge her on that assertion.
In an article in The New York Times, we learn that in a deposition in Dominion’s $1.6 billion defamation suit, Hannity was asked if he privately believed any part of this conspiracy theory. Even though he was among those who publicly and most loudly, proclaimed that the 2020 election had been stolen from Donald Trump, his categorical answer when under oath was: “I did not believe it for one second.”
Was Hannity alone at Fox News in his cynical doublespeak or did others who espoused such theories also not believe them? Hannity’s disclosure is among the strongest evidence yet to emerge publicly that some Fox employees knew that what they were broadcasting was false.
The high legal standard of proof in defamation cases makes it difficult for a company such as Dominion to prevail against a media organization like Fox News. Dominion has to persuade a jury that people at Fox were, in effect, saying one thing in private while telling their audience exactly the opposite. And that requires showing a jury convincing evidence that speaks to the state of mind of those who were making the decisions at the network.
In Delaware Superior Court on Wednesday, Dominion’s lawyers argued that they had obtained ample evidence to make that case.
One lawyer for Dominion said that “not a single Fox witness” so far had produced anything supporting the various false claims about the company that were uttered repeatedly on the network. And in some cases, other high-profile hosts and senior executives echoed Hannity’s doubts about what Trump and his allies like Powell were saying, according to the Dominion lawyer, Stephen Shackelford.
This included Meade Cooper, who oversees prime-time programming for Fox News, and prime-time star Tucker Carlson, Shackelford said. “Many of the highest-ranking Fox people have admitted under oath that they never believed the Dominion lies,” he said, naming Cooper and Carlson.
Shackelford described how Carlson, the most rabid of Trump supporters and promoter of wild theories, had “tried to squirm out of it at his deposition” when asked about what he really believed. Shackelford started to elaborate about what Carlson had said privately, telling the judge about the existence of text messages the host had sent in November and December of 2020. But the judge, Eric M. Davis, cut him off, leaving the specific contents of those texts unknown.
Another previously unknown detail emerged on Wednesday showing that an employee of Fox Corp., the parent company of Fox News, had tried to intervene with the White House to stop Powell. According to Nelson, that employee called the fraud claims “outlandish” and pressed Trump’s staff to get rid of Powell, who was advising the president on filing legal challenges to the results.
Nelson said that evidence cut straight to the heart of whether Fox Corp., which is controlled by Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, was also liable for defamation. Davis ruled in June that Dominion could sue the larger, highly profitable corporation, which includes the Fox network on basic television and a lucrative sports broadcasting division.
A second issue was whether certain evidence that Dominion has used against Fox in its court filings — including emails among Fox employees and a page from a deposition in which someone from Fox describes the journalistic processes of one of the network’s programs — should be made public.
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