Two months ago, Australian media site Crikey called “Murdoch” an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol. Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch’s lawyers have been battling Crikey ever since.
On Monday, Crikey published an open letter and took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, challenging Murdoch to sue the company. Tuesday, Murdoch did just that.
The legal battle highlights the obstacles Murdoch faces in his attempt to distance himself from former President Donald Trump. Sources have previously told CNN Business that Murdoch disagrees with much of the way the former president behaves. It also puts one of the world’s most powerful media executives in the extraordinary position of suing another media company.
On June 29, Crikey published an editorial with the headline: “Trump is a confirmed unhinged traitor. And Murdoch is his unindicted co-conspirator.” The piece was published shortly after former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s blockbuster testimony before the Jan. 6 Select Committee — one of the most riveting public rebukes of the former president’s behavior on the day of the attack.
The Crikey editorial mentions the Murdoch name twice, including once in the headline and once in the final sentence, although it never mentions Lachlan Murdoch, specifically. The editorial calls out Fox commentators for continuing “to peddle the lie of the stolen election and play down the insurrection Trump created.”
The final line of the editorial concludes, “The Murdochs and their slew of poisonous Fox News commentators are the unindicted co-conspirators of this continuing crisis.”
In an open letter, Peter Fray, editor in chief of Crikey, said the “Murdoch” in the editorial’s headline “clearly refers” to Lachlan Murdoch’s father Rupert Murdoch, Fox Corp.’s chairman.
Crikey says it has been corresponding with Murdoch’s lawyers, and the news site published those letters Monday. The news site said Murdoch is suing the website for defamation and that Murdoch’s lawyers claim the editorial contains “scandalous allegations of criminal conduct and conspiracy” and the piece has “highly defamatory and false imputations about him.”
Murdoch filed a lawsuit against Crikey publisher Private Media on Tuesday. In a statement of claim seen by CNN Business, Murdoch said that he sent a concerns notice to Private Media in June.
About 20 minutes later, the article was removed from the website, according to the statement. The media site itself says it originally deleted the opinion piece after Murdoch’s initial complaint, but “after failing to reach agreement has since reinstated the piece live.”
The two sides then proceeded to speak through their respective lawyers for several weeks, during which Murdoch requested twice “that the dispute be settled with the provision of an apology,” it read.
Five days after the second request, Private Media “indicated that they ‘stood by’ the article,” according to the statement. Murdoch then filed his suit.
The statement of claim argues that the article was defamatory of Murdoch by implying that he “illegally conspired with Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 presidential election result,” and with “a large number of Fox News commentators” for the same purpose.
A representative for Murdoch declined to provide further comment.
Crikey said in a statement it was prepared to defend itself.
“We want to defend those allegations in court. You have made it clear in your lawyer’s letters you intend to take court action to resolve this alleged defamation,” Fray and Eric Beecher, chairman of Private Media, said. “We are determined to fight for the integrity and importance of diverse independent media in Australian democracy.”
Crikey also said it “stands by its story and we look forward to defending our independent public interest journalism in court against the considerable resources of Lachlan Murdoch.”
The online-only publication claims to have 20,000 subscribers that pay $199 Australian ($141 US) yearly for access.
“This is a significant defamation case for Australians because the person bringing it is the son of Rupert Murdoch and CEO of Fox,” said Belinda Barnet, a senior lecturer of media at Swinburne University in Australia.
“Australians will follow the whole thing like a sports game,” she added.
— Michelle Toh contributed to this report.