Lachlan Murdoch, whose family controls the Fox media empire, issued a full-throated show of support on Thursday for Suzanne Scott, the chief executive of Fox News Media, as the cable channel faces a $1.6 billion defamation suit that has generated a cascade of unflattering revelations about its inner workings.
“I just think Suzanne Scott has done a tremendous job,” Mr. Murdoch said at an investor conference in San Francisco, his first public remarks since Fox News has come under intense scrutiny over its handling of spurious claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
“The brand is incredibly strong. The core business is incredibly strong,” Mr. Murdoch said, pointing to Fox News’s significant ratings advantage over its rivals CNN and MSNBC. “It’s a credit to Suzanne Scott and all of her team there. They’ve done a tremendous job of building this business and running this business.”
Ms. Scott’s future at Fox News has been the focus of some recent speculation. The defamation suit, filed by Dominion Voting Systems, argues that Fox News leadership allowed stars like Jeanine Pirro and Lou Dobbs to air rank falsehoods about rigged voting machines that ruined Dominion’s business. Rupert Murdoch said in a deposition that any of his executives who knowingly allowed lies to be broadcast “should be reprimanded, maybe got rid of.”
The Murdoch family is loath to make major changes at its media properties in response to public rancor, although there have been occasional exceptions; the family closed its News of the World tabloid following a phone-hacking scandal. Lachlan Murdoch’s remarks on Thursday suggested that Ms. Scott’s position was safe, at least for now. She signed a multiyear contract extension in 2021, shortly after President Biden’s inauguration.
Fox News v. Dominion Voter Systems
Documents from a lawsuit filed by the voting machine maker Dominion against Fox News have shed light on the debate inside the network over false claims related to the 2020 election.
The documents revealed in the Dominion case showed Ms. Scott, among other executives and some of the network’s hosts, worrying that conservatives would abandon Fox News if its coverage became too critical of former President Donald J. Trump and his allies’ baseless claims of rampant voter fraud.
At one point, Ms. Scott privately criticized one of the network’s White House correspondents for describing many of Mr. Trump’s claims as “simply not true” during a live segment. “I can’t keep defending these reporters who don’t understand our viewers and how to handle stories,” Ms. Scott wrote in an internal email.
Asked at Thursday’s conference to comment on the Dominion suit, Mr. Murdoch, who is the chief executive of the Fox Corporation, again defended Fox News from its detractors.
“A news organization has an obligation — and it is an obligation — to report news fulsomely, wholesomely and without fear or favor, and that’s what Fox News has always done and that’s what Fox News will always do,” Mr. Murdoch said.
“I think a lot of the noise that you hear about this case is actually not about the law and is not about journalism and is really about the politics,” Mr. Murdoch continued. “And that’s unfortunately more reflective of our polarized society that we live in today.”
Mr. Murdoch’s interlocutor at the investor conference, which was sponsored by Morgan Stanley, did not press him further on the subject.
Mr. Murdoch’s own involvement in Fox News was also captured in the recently released documents.
He did not hesitate to contact Ms. Scott directly about aspects of the channel’s coverage, even complaining at one point about an on-air caption along the bottom of Fox News’s screen that, Mr. Murdoch believed, took a needlessly negative tone toward Mr. Trump. Mr. Murdoch also complained to Ms. Scott that a correspondent’s coverage of a pro-Trump rally was too critical, calling it “smug and obnoxious.”
In his remarks on Thursday, Mr. Murdoch mused about Fox News’s broader place in the American news media, arguing that its appeal stretched beyond its journalistic output and into a more cultural realm.
“If you talk to focus groups, with any of our viewers, they see Fox News as not just a news channel, but a channel that speaks to Middle America and respects the values of Middle America as a media business that is most relevant to them, as opposed to simply a news channel,” Mr. Murdoch said.