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Since Dominion settlement, criticism swirls around leaders of Fox's parent company

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The uproar over the firing of Tucker Carlson has obscured bigger questions about Fox News, questions such as why didn't Fox apologize for broadcasting lies about election fraud in 2020, or who's at fault for having to pay three quarters of a billion dollars to settle a defamation suit? NPR's David Folkenflik reports on the criticism swirling around the leaders of Fox's parent company.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Fox founder Rupert Murdoch doesn't much like saying he's sorry. His son, Fox Corp Executive Chair Lachlan Murdoch, sure didn't apologize when he addressed investors this morning. Instead, he announced Fox is on firm footing financially, legally and journalistically. But how can that be when Fox had to pay so much money to settle those defamation claims?

FRANK SESNO: What I saw was shocking, striking, outrageous.

FOLKENFLIK: That's former CNN Washington Bureau Chief Frank Sesno.

SESNO: Fox can't call itself a news organization if it isn't going to observe the most fundamental practices and premises and principles of journalism.

FOLKENFLIK: Sesno says Fox could have redeemed itself, in a sense, by covering the questions about its handling of the election lies squarely - that is, by reporting that Fox executives and journalists privately acknowledged they were chasing supporters of then-President Donald Trump by airing false claims about the election tech company Dominion Voting Systems. Sesno says the conservative network instead failed to report developments in the case straight. Here's Fox's chief media host and correspondent Howard Kurtz back in February.

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HOWARD KURTZ: The company has decided that, as part of the organization being sued, I can't talk about it or write about it, at least for now.

FOLKENFLIK: On the eve of trial in mid-April, Kurtz declared he would cover it thoroughly and fairly. Two days later, it was settled. Fox viewers initially wouldn't hear the size of the settlement from Kurtz. He said he couldn't confirm it, though Dominion's attorneys had announced the figure on national television. On his own show, Kurtz glossed over the damaging details, instead echoing his network's attacks on the rest of the press.

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KURTZ: The overwhelming majority of media outlets was strongly against Fox and, therefore, were aiding Dominion.

FOLKENFLIK: Fox declined to make Kurtz available for comment and issued a statement praising its investments in its journalism. Sesno was poised to be an expert witness for Dominion against Fox.

SESNO: If they want to have news in their middle name, then they need to operate like a news organization - seek truth, update stories, correct mistakes, be accountable for what you're reporting.

FOLKENFLIK: Fox News faces a second defamation suit from another voting tech company for $2.7 billion, a former producer's lawsuit against Tucker Carlson that alleges he created a hostile workplace and sagging ratings in Carlson's absence. Fox has denied the producer's allegations and says ratings will return, but Fox News Chief Executive Suzanne Scott's future at the network appears to be hanging in the balance. Lachlan Murdoch last spoke publicly in March, and he went out of his way to praise Scott.

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LACHLAN MURDOCH: The position of the channel is very strong and doing very well. It's a credit to Suzanne Scott and all of her team there. They've done a tremendous job.

FOLKENFLIK: Two lawsuits filed this year by shareholders allege that board members, including the Murdochs, failed to meet their duty by not forcing Fox to apologize promptly over the election fraud claims about the two voting tech companies. Nell Minow advises major investors on how well corporations are run. She says shareholders are right to be upset. Minow notes that Rupert Murdoch owns a small fraction of the company's stock but controls 42% of the voting shares.

NELL MINOW: Any time that you've got the insiders with a disproportionate amount of control, you're asking for trouble. And any time you've got a succession plan based on who was born to whom rather than who's the best person, you've also got a problem.

FOLKENFLIK: Minow says that's how the Murdochs are able to operate largely as they please, with few apologies and little accountability.

David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.