Fox’s Top Lawyer, Viet Dinh, Will Depart

by Pelican Press
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Fox Corporation’s chief legal officer, Viet Dinh, will depart at the end of the year, in a major shake-up at the company after the landmark $787.5 million settlement it paid to Dominion Voting Systems in April.

Mr. Dinh, a former official in the George W. Bush White House who amassed considerable power inside Fox, will advise the company after his exit, Fox said in an announcement on Friday.

Mr. Dinh gave what some inside the company considered flawed advice during the Dominion suit, which exposed a pattern of deceptive coverage by Fox News after the 2020 presidential election. He insisted that Fox was on firm legal footing and could take the case, if need be, all the way to the Supreme Court, where he believed the company would prevail on First Amendment grounds.

Fox did not name his successor.

“We appreciate Viet’s many contributions and service to Fox as both a board member of 21st Century Fox and in his role over the last five years as a valued member of Fox’s leadership team,” Lachlan Murdoch, the chief executive, said in a written statement announcing the move.

Mr. Dinh’s departure raises questions about how Fox will handle the major lawsuits it still faces for airing false claims about widespread election fraud after the 2020 election. Another elections technology company, Smartmatic, has sued Fox for $2.7 billion. And Ray Epps, the man at the center of a widespread conspiracy theory about the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, filed a defamation suit against Fox last month.

The company also faces two shareholder lawsuits related to its coverage and the handling of the lawsuits.

The Dominion lawsuit has been destabilizing for Fox and the family that controls it, the Murdochs. The fallout is posing the most significant challenges the company has faced since allegations more than a decade ago that journalists employed by its British newspaper division were hacking into the voice mail accounts of celebrities.

Emails and text messages that were released as part of the discovery process in the Dominion case revealed that executives at Fox including Rupert Murdoch, the company’s founder, and its news network hosts were deeply skeptical of claims by former President Donald J. Trump that voter fraud was responsible for his election loss. Yet Fox News continued to provide a platform to numerous on-air personalities and guests who made such claims.

In April, the network canceled the program of its most-watched prime-time host, Tucker Carlson, whose private messages showed him to be much more critical of Mr. Trump than he was on his program.

One text, containing a racist sentiment, led the Fox board to authorize an internal investigation, which was one of several factors that contributed to Mr. Carlson’s ouster. Lachlan Murdoch has described the decision to fire Mr. Carlson as a “business decision,” reasoning that the host was no longer worth the headaches he created for the company, according to a person with knowledge of the internal discussions.

Mr. Dinh has been close to the Murdoch family for years and served on the company’s board of directors before being named chief legal officer in 2018. He is also the godfather of one of Lachlan Murdoch’s children.

Mr. Dinh wielded a considerable amount of influence at Fox. But his handling of the Dominion suit dismayed many inside the company, including Suzanne Scott, chief executive of Fox News Media, who is known for her discretion but made her displeasure known to colleagues, according to two people who have spoken to her.

How Mr. Dinh’s departure affects the remaining lawsuits against Fox is an open question. The law firm where he was a partner before joining Fox, Kirkland Ellis, has continued to handle much of the caseload from the Smartmatic suit.

Mr. Dinh was deposed as part of the Dominion suit and acknowledged that he was “skeptical” of Mr. Trump’s false claims.

He leaves with a high-dollar compensation package: $23 million, according to documents filed with the federal government.

Fox News is in a transition period, having shuffled its prime-time lineup for the first time since 2017. Replacing Mr. Carlson is Jesse Watters at 8 p.m. Sean Hannity remains the host at 9, and Greg Gutfeld moved to 10 from 11.

While at Fox, Mr. Dinh was occasionally described as one of the most powerful lawyers in America. Even though he did not run the daily programming at Fox News, he kept a watchful eye over its content, maintaining an influential role over what appeared on the air.

A refugee from Vietnam who arrived at the age of 10, he once told VietLife magazine that he had worked jobs including “cleaning toilets, busing tables, pumping gas, picking berries, fixing cars” to help his family make ends meet. He attended Harvard and Harvard Law School.

And at times he expressed pride in Fox’s contrarian view of the former president, which sometimes led Mr. Trump to criticize the network.

“There is no better historical record of Fox News’s excellent journalism than to see how the former president tweeted against Fox,” Mr. Dinh said.



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