Lachlan Murdoch moves forward with lawsuit against publisher

The Fox Broadcasting logo appears on a building in Phoenix, Arizona in an undated image posted to Flickr and licensed through Creative Commons
(Photo by Tony Webster via Flickr Creative Commons, Graphic by The Desk)

Fox Corporation head Lachland Murdoch is moving forward with a defamation lawsuit against an Australian news publisher after the company basically dared him to do so.

The lawsuit, filed in Australian federal court, comes after Private Media-owned Crikey took out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times urging him to sue them over a column that painted Murdoch and his father, Rupert Murdoch, as co-conspirators in a riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The column, which The Desk wrote about last week, called former U.S. President Donald Trump a “confirmed unhinged traitor” and colored the Murdochs as “unindicted co-conspirator[s]” after supporters of Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol during an election confirmation vote on January 6 of last year.

Much of the column attempts to draw a comparison between Trump and former U.S. President Richard Nixon, who resigned in the wake of the break-in at the Watergate Hotel. Columnist Bernard Keane said Nixon didn’t have the benefit of the “world’s most-powerful media company” and hyperlinked to a Washington Post article about Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson.

“[Fox News] continues — even in the face of mountains of evidence of Trump’s treachery and crimes — to peddle the lie of the stolen election and play down the insurrection Trump created,” Keane wrote.

The column prompted Murdoch to fire off a written threat of a lawsuit if Crikey didn’t walk back the column. Crikey initially pulled the column from its website, only to later re-publish it after media reports surfaced about the issue.

This week, Crikey took out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times urging Lachlan to sue them. (Fox Corporation shares common ownership with News Corporation; both are headquartered in New York City, where the New York Times publishes its newspapers.)

“We at Crikey strongly support freedom of opinion and public interest journalism,” the advertisement said, adding that the company wanted an opportunity to defend allegations of defamation in court.

“You have made it clear in your lawyer’s letters you intend to take court action to resolve this alleged defamation,” Crikey said, addressing Murdoch head-on. “We await your writ so that we can test this important issue of freedom of public interest journalism in a courtroom.”

In addition to the advertisement, Crikey launched a portal on its website called the “Lachlan Murdoch Letters,” where it published several letters sent by either Murdoch or his attorneys to the news organization over the last several weeks. Most of the letters were fully available to read, with only personal information redacted from them.

Australia has broader defamation laws that are tougher against publishers compared to similar statutes in the United States. In Australia, a plaintiff most only prove that there exists a credible attack on their reputation in order to prevail in a defamation lawsuit, with the law showing the privacy and reputational interests of individuals generally outweigh the public’s right to know. By contrast, courts in the United States have sided with the public’s right to know over the privacy interests of individuals, particularly those who are in the public spotlight.

Fox Corporation itself is facing numerous defamation lawsuits over claims that Fox News commentators deliberately misled the public about the accuracy of electronic voting machines used in last year’s election. Those claims have been repeated by Trump and others to suggest some of the machines used in key locations logged votes that tipped in Biden’s favor.