He made no direct reference to Carlson, an increasingly hard-right commentator who was until recently the network’s top-rated prime-time host. His firing last month, which remains officially unexplained, has led to a dip in Fox’s ratings.
Murdoch, chief executive of Fox Corp., made his comments during the question-and-answer portion of a conference call with economic analysts to discuss the company’s quarterly earnings report. In the second quarter of the year, Fox Corp. lost $50 million, which the company attributed “primarily” to the $787.5 million settlement forged to end the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems over a slew of on-air false claims alleging fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
Fox is now facing multiple lawsuits from shareholders who argue that the company’s board of directors dismissed their duties by failing to stop the network from broadcasting comments that would open the company up to legal action. Murdoch did not address those legal actions during his comments on Tuesday.
While Murdoch said he was limited in what he could divulge, he told analysts that Fox “made the business decision to resolve the dispute to avoid the acrimony of this trial and a multiyear appeal process.”
He attributed the decision in part to the way in which Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis “severely limited” Fox’s avenues for defense, such as ruling ahead of trial that the allegations its guests and commentators made were undeniably defamatory and could not be defended purely on the basis of being newsworthy.
Murdoch did not apologize for any of the statements that led to the lawsuit. “As we’ve stated many times, we always acted as a news organization reporting on the newsworthy events of the day,” he said.
Fox is still facing a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit from voting technology company Smartmatic, expected to go to trial in 2025. The network has said it plans to use the same defense shot down in the Dominion case — that it was reporting on newsworthy claims made by newsworthy figures — which Murdoch reiterated Tuesday.
Smartmatic, Murdoch said, is “a fundamentally different case than Dominion in that all of our full complement of First Amendment defenses remain” — though such defenses could be limited as the New York case approaches trial, as they were in Delaware.
Since parting ways with Carlson, the network has experienced a severe decline in viewing during the 8 pm hour. Murdoch conveyed no concern, though. “We are pleased with the strength of the advertising demand, throughout our schedule, but particularly prime time,” he said.