“MIND BLOWINGLY NUTS.”
“Really crazy stuff.”
“Totally off the rails.”
These are just a sampling of the words that Fox News’ own executives, hosts, and reporters used in private to describe the lies and conspiracies the network was airing following the 2020 presidential election.
These descriptions, which were initially sent as private text messages, emails and other communications between Fox staff, were released to the public thanks to legal filings by Dominion Voting Systems, the voting machine maker that is suing Fox News for defamation to the tune of $1.6 billion.
In several instances, Fox News hosts outright acknowledged some of the pro-Trump voices appearing on their network, including attorneys Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, were lying.
On Nov. 16, Tucker Carlson texted his producer, Alex Pfeiffer: “Sidney Powell is lying. F***ing b***h.” Two days later, Carlson texted fellow host Laura Ingraham: “Sidney Powell is lying by the way. I caught her. It’s insane.” Ingraham responded: “Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy.”
Citing evidence like this, Dominion claims that Fox’s top talent, executives, and even its chairman, Rupert Murdoch, knew former President Donald Trump’s claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election were false, but broadcast, amplified, and supported them anyway in order to maintain the network’s ratings and prevent their audience from fleeing to other conservative TV networks, like Newsmax and One America News.
In other words, the court documents reveal that Fox chose ratings and profits over the truth—even if it meant endangering American democracy.
By all accounts, Dominion’s case appears to be a strong one. In fact, the most recent legal filings released this week show that Murdoch admitted that Fox’s top hosts Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo all “endorsed” election fraud lies.
“They endorsed,” Murdoch said under oath last month. “I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it in hindsight,” he added, while also saying that he was always skeptical of Trump’s claims of fraud.
Murdoch rejected the claim that Fox News as a whole had endorsed Trump’s stolen election narrative. The company has also argued that it never endorsed the conspiracy theories and election-fraud lies from Powell and Giuliani, and that its hosts did not know those claims were untrue.
But the court documents undercut Murdoch and the company’s claims, showing that Fox News’ executives and hosts considered the claims about Dominion—such as the notion that the company’s machines changed or deleted votes to sway the election to Joe Biden—to be absurd and utterly conspiratorial.
Fox’s own research department, known as the “Brainroom,” even fact-checked and debunked the various claims against Dominion, but Fox continued to air them.
The filings reveal that Murdoch—the octogenarian media mogul behind Fox, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post—admitted in private that Fox was “uniquely positioned to state the message that the election was not stolen.”
“Fox knew. From the top down, Fox knew the ‘dominion stuff’ was ‘total bs,’” one of Dominion’s legal filings reads. “Yet despite knowing the truth—or at minimum, recklessly disregarding that truth—Fox spread and endorsed these outlandish voter fraud claims about Dominion even as it internally recognized the lies as crazy, absurd and shockingly reckless.”
In another shocking disclosure, the filings revealed that Murdoch provided Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with confidential information about television ads that the Biden campaign would be running on Fox.
Fox’s actions—which conservative writer David French called “one of the worst media scandals of my lifetime”—helped spread dangerous lies about the election, culminating in the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.
Here are more of the key revelations from the court filings:
- Donald Trump and his team were furious that Fox News was the first outlet to call Arizona for Joe Biden on Election Night. Trump attacked Fox as disloyal and accused the network of lying.
- Immediately after the election, Murdoch and other top executives were trying to push back on false election fraud claims, but as Trump’s supporters began fleeing the network for conservative alternatives, the network changed its tune.
- On Nov. 5, Fox’s Chief Political Correspondent Bret Baier stated privately that “There is NO evidence of fraud. None.”
- On Nov. 5, host Tucker Carlson texted his producer Alex Pfeiffer: “What [Trump]’s good at is destroying things. He’s the undisputed world champion of that. He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong.”
- On Nov. 8, 2020, Rupert Murdoch met with his son (and Fox Corporation CEO) Lachlan Murdoch and Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott to discuss the “mounting viewer backlash to Fox,” and how to win back viewers. The trio agreed that it would air the “wild claims” of election fraud in order to appease its viewers.
- On Nov. 10, Fox producer Justin Wells texted Pfeiffer: “We can’t make people think we’ve turned against Trump. Yet also call out the bull**t. You and I see through it. But we have to reassure some in the audience.”
- After Fox reporter Jacqui Heinrich tweeted a fact-check of one of Trump’s election lies on Nov. 12, Tucker Carlson texted fellow host Sean Hannity, writing: “Please get her fired. Seriously….What the f**k? I’m actually shocked…It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.” Heinrich deleted her tweet the next day and remains employed at Fox.
- By Nov. 13, internal brand polling showed “strong conservative and viewer backlash to Fox” as viewers’ positive opinions on Fox “dropped precipitously after Election Day to the lowest levels we’ve ever seen.
- Fox News reporters, such as Leland Vittert and Kristen Fisher, who were viewed as not being sufficiently pro-Trump in their coverage, were chastised by executives.
- On. Nov. 19, after he watched Powell and Giuliani spread voter fraud lies at a press conference Murdoch texted Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott: “Terrible stuff damaging everybody, I fear. Probably hurting us too.”
- Murdoch refused to fire host Lou Dobbs before the election, despite viewing him as an “extremist,” because he knew Trump loved Dobbs and worried his termination would anger viewers. In contrast, Murdoch suggested firing longtime Fox VP Bill Sammon on Nov. 20, after the Arizona call because it would be “a big message with Trump people.” Sammon was informed of his firing that same day.
- On Jan. 5, 2021, Murdoch and Scott discussed whether top hosts, such as Hannity, Carlson, and Ingraham, should tell the truth and say some version of “The election is over and Joe Biden won.” Scott responded that “privately they are all there,” (referencing the hosts), but “we need to be careful about using the shows and pissing off the viewers.”
- Late on the night of Jan. 6, 2021, after the Capitol insurrection, Carlson texted Pfeiffer that Trump is “a demonic force, a destroyer. But he’s not going to destroy us.”
Carlson was right. Trump hasn’t destroyed Fox. It’s unclear if anything could, given the network’s stature with Republican voters and conservatives. But if Dominion’s lawsuit succeeds, the company will pay a (steep) price for, as Dominion put it, “broadcasting these known lies” and giving over “Fox’s airwaves to false conspiracy theories.”
by Keya Vakil