Fox boss threatens lawsuit against Australian blog over January 6 claims

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)

The executive in charge of Fox Corporation has threatened to sue an independent news website in Australia over claims that he and his father were linked to a riot at the U.S. Capitol early last year.

The threat was made against the website Crikey by Lachlan Murdoch, the chief executive of Fox Corporation, after the news outlet published a column in June that drew comparisons between the U.S. Capitol insurrection and the Watergate scandal.

The column, titled “Trump is a confirmed unhinged traitor and Murdoch is his unindicted co-conspirator,” said evidence provided at a Congressional hearing proved former U.S. President Donald Trump knew, or should have known, that a crowd he riled up earlier in the day would march to the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to delay a confirmation vote related to the prior year’s election.

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 in his column.

Keane later colored the Murdoch family “and their slew of poisonous Fox News commentators” to be “unindicted co-conspirators of this continuing crisis,” the same way Nixon was considered by some to be an unindicted co-conspirator of the Watergate burglary.

Lachlan Murdoch, who took full control of Fox Corporation three years ago, has expressed skepticism over some claims made by Trump and, until recently, Fox News had largely moved away from covering him, stoking the furor of Trump and his supporters and ceding ground to conservative news startups like Newsmax and One America News who have breathlessly covered Trump’s post-presidency rallies with regularity. Fox News was also criticized by Trump late last year when the news network’s “Decision Desk” projected challenger Joe Biden to be the next president after he secured a key win in the state of Arizona (the head of the Decision Desk, Chris Stirewalt, was fired by the network several months later).

The younger Murdoch took great exception to the Crikey report, firing off a barrage of legal threats to its editors and demanding an apology for the column’s “defamatory” remarks, according to one source who was familiar with the issue. The legal threats were first reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, which consulted “multiple media sources” for its report.

Historically, Crikey has offered apologies to Murdoch whenever a column is published that stokes his ire. Over the last two years, the news outlet has expressed its regret twice after posting columns that he disagreed with, including one that compared the Fox Corporation executive to a mobster, the Morning Herald reported. Another issue resulted in a legal settlement that cost Crikey $14,000 in fees.

This time, though, Crikey’s newsroom leaders are less inclined to offer an apology to Murdoch: Despite pulling the column, the website later re-posted it after the media began reporting on Murdoch’s reaction.

“Crikey and its publisher, Private Media, are sick of being intimidated by Lachlan Murdoch,” Peter Fray, the website’s editor-in-chief, said in a statement.

While Rupert Murdoch was less inclined to file lawsuits over unfavorable media attention, the younger Lachlan Murdoch has issued legal threats to numerous publishers based in Australia, where defamation laws are tougher against news outlets than they are in the United States.

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.