Murdoch claims Sean Hannity was ‘privately disgusted’ with Trump, according to court filings
Fox News personality Sean Hannity, who hosts the network’s most-watched programme, was “privately disgusted” with Donald Trump’s actions after his loss in the 2020 presidential election, while the network continued to amplify his baseless narrative that the election was stolen from him, according to a filing in a defamation lawsuit against the network.
Dominion Voting Systems is suing the right-wing media company for $1.6bn for what it has characterised as damaging, false claims about the company that were amplified by the network while hosts, executives and producers privately rejected them.
Conservative media mogul and Fox Corporation chair Rupert Murdoch conceded in a sworn deposition that he “would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing” bogus election claims but admitted that his network stars were “endorsing” them.
Former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, who sits on the board of Fox Corporation, wrote to Mr Murdoch in the days after the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, 2021 with a warning that “some high percentage of Americans” believed the election was rigged against Mr Trump “because they got a diet of information telling them the election was stolen from what they believe were credible sources,” according to a recent filing.
“Thanks Paul,” Mr Murdoch wrote back, according to court documents. “Wake-up call for Hannity, who has been privately disgusted by Trump for weeks, but was scared to lose viewers.”
Mr Ryan told Mr Murdoch that Fox News and its hosts should try to “put down the echoes of falsehood from our side.”
“I truly hope our contributors, along with Tucker, Laura, and Sean get that and execute,” added Mr Ryan, referencing the network’s top stars Mr Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham.
Mr Murdoch replied by saying that he believed “everyone” at the network was “disgusted” with the false claims of fraud, which fuelled the attack at the Capitol as well as Mr Trump’s 2024 campaign.
Mr Ryan told Mr Murdoch and his son Lachlan Murdoch, the executive chair and chief executive officer of Fox Corporation, that Fox News “should not be spreading conspiracy theories” and instead should pivot away from the former president “and stop spouting election lies,” according to court filings.
On 5 November 2020, Mr Hannity wrongly told viewers that it would be “impossible to ever know the true, fair, accurate election results”. A deposition from Fox’s chief legal officer Viet Dinh claims that he warned Fox Corporation leadership at the time that Mr Hannity “is getting awfully close to the line with his commentary and guests tonight.”
Mr Hannity’s messages surrounding the 2020 election and January 6 were also central to a House select committee’s investigation into the events leading up to and surrounding the attack, with members of Congress obtaining a series of text messages from Mr Hannity to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadow expressing concerns and frustration with Mr Trump’s actions as his supporters stormed the halls of Congress.
In the days leading up to January 6, Mr Meadows sent a series of panicked messages, including an attempt to advise Mr Trump to abandon his false election narrative and failed legal campaign and instead move to Florida and announce a nationwide effort to “reform voter integrity” while watching Joe Biden “mess up daily.”
“This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy,” Mr Hannity wrote, according to messages obtained by the committee.
Mr Hannity has defended his statements, telling his viewers and listeners that he “said to Mark Meadows the exact same thing I was saying live on the radio at that time and on TV that night” on January 6 and “well beyond” that date.
“I say the same thing in private that I say to all of you,” he added.
“Dominion’s lawsuit has always been more about what will generate headlines than what can withstand legal and factual scrutiny, as illustrated by them now being forced to slash their fanciful damages demand by more than half a billion dollars after their own expert debunked its implausible claims,” the network shared in a statement with The Independent. “Their summary judgment motion took an extreme, unsupported view of defamation law that would prevent journalists from basic reporting and their efforts to publicly smear Fox for covering and commenting on allegations by a sitting President of the United States should be recognized for what it is: a blatant violation of the First Amendment.”
A jury trial in the case is scheduled for April.