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An Australian news site dared Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch to sue. Now he has

Lachlan Murdoch, co-chairman of 21st Century Fox, is pictured in Idaho in 2017. He's now sued an Australian news site for defamation.
Drew Angerer
/
Getty Images
Lachlan Murdoch, co-chairman of 21st Century Fox, is pictured in Idaho in 2017. He's now sued an Australian news site for defamation.

Fox Corp CEO Lachlan Murdoch is suing the owner of a small Australian political news site for defamation over a column that held him responsible for the rhetoric on Fox News ahead of the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol last year.

The lawsuit came just a day after the website, Crikey — in full page ads in The New York Times and Australia's Canberra Times — dared Murdoch to make good on his earlier threats to sue.

The offending opinion column on the site on June 29 argued that thanks to Fox News, Lachlan Murdoch and his father Rupert shared responsibility for the U.S. Capitol siege with former President Donald Trump.

In his lawsuit, Murdoch's lawyers said the CEO "has been gravely injured in his character, his personal reputation, and his professional reputation as a business person and company director" and has also suffered "substantial hurt, distress and embarrassment" from the article and its promotion.

In a post in response, Crikey's leadership said the site "stands by its story and we look forward to defending our independent public interest journalism in court against the considerable resources of Lachlan Murdoch."

Crikey's editor-in-chief Peter Fray tells NPR the site didn't mean he was literally responsible — but that the "buck has to stop somewhere."

"Lachlan Murdoch appears desperate to disassociate himself from the actions of Fox in inciting the January 6th insurrection," Fray told NPR previously. "And he's taking quite extraordinary steps to shut down public debate in this country."

Murdoch's attorneys filed in Australian federal court in Sydney on Tuesday. The case cites the article's circulation on Twitter and Crikey's claims of intimidation by Murdoch.

Crikey's leaders said they hoped the lawsuit would serve as a test case for Australia's defamation laws, which they argue are too restrictive.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Murdoch and Fox are fending off a pair of defamation cases from election technology and voting machine companies in the U.S. The cases, involving false claims of fraud in the November 2020 elections, are seeking more than $4 billion combined.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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.