Crippling Cowardice and Corruption at Fox News
Dominion Voting Systems exposed the network's obscene conduct in the wake of the 2020 election.
I sometimes joke with people that I used to watch so much Fox News that my son’s first words were “Factor” and “Colmes.” Only, it isn’t so much a joke as it is an exaggeration. Both were in fact part of my son’s early vocabulary, since the network often played as background-television in my family’s living room in the early evenings.
Later, when we upgraded our cable system to include a DVR, four weeknight Fox shows occupied its record schedule. And each night, sometimes after my wife would go to bed, I’d get around to watching (or at least listening to) most of that programming, usually as I worked on other things.
I’m sharing these details not just to emphasize that I watched a lot of Fox News, but also to openly acknowledge that the network was ingrained in the very fabric of my household. It was part of my daily routine and family culture. I believed Fox had earned that place by giving a platform to conservative perspectives that the rest of the media often dismissed, mocked, or unfairly demonized.
In other words, for those still addicted to the network, I have some empathy.
Such a high-level of news consumption has probably never been healthy for anyone, especially when the product is presented with a political or ideological tilt designed to appeal to a certain type of viewer’s preexisting concerns and beliefs. But as I’ve argued many times in recent years, the Fox News of today bears only a passing resemblance to the Fox News of the pre-Trump era. While there are still some solid reporters working for the network, their role has been significantly downgraded and overshadowed in deference to an exponentially more angry, conspiratorial, tribal, and yes — dishonest — commentary wing.
It’s why I ended my patronage of Fox a few years back, but for millions of right-leaning Americans, the network remains a trusted source of not simply information and enlightenment, but also companionship. Fox personalities are viewed as members of their team; even their family. They are, after all, the men and women of the American people — the ones looking out for the forgotten victims of the Left.
Only, they’re not. They’re not looking out for their viewers, but rather looking at what they can get out of their viewers. What guides Fox’s management and top stars is ratings, the ad revenue those ratings draw, and the salary increases and job security that revenue makes possible.
As Bernie Goldberg has stated many times, Fox (like other cable-news networks) operates off of a business model, not a journalism model. And these days, the business side of Fox reliably prevails over any journalistic responsibilities the network feels it has to its viewers. This should have been painfully obvious in the way Fox succumbed, in one way or another, to practically every right-wing pressure of the Trump era. But at no time has it been clearer than it became last week, when Dominion Voting Systems filed a document in court as part of the company’s much publicized $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox.
The document provided an extraordinary amount information Dominion’s legal team gathered during the discovery process — information highlighting immense corruption at Fox following the 2020 presidential election. It included many emails and texts from top network personnel acknowledging in private that they were well aware that then-President Trump’s “stolen election” claims were completely bogus, and that those on their air who were amplifying those claims were guilty of terrible negligence. Yet, because the folks at Fox were terrified of losing viewers (who were already angry with the network for correctly calling Arizona for Joe Biden on election night), they not only willingly promoted Trump’s Big Lie, but even sought to punish employees who didn’t play along with the ruse.
Many specific findings stuck out for me when reading the brief. Let’s begin with the man at the top…
Amidst Trump’s election chaos, Rupert Murdoch, citing fears over losing viewers to Newsmax, instructed Fox News president Suzanne Scott to help stoke doubt in the legitimacy of Georgia’s vote tabulation.
“Trump will concede eventually and we should concentrate on Georgia, helping any way we can,” wrote Murdoch. “We don’t want to antagonize Trump further… Everything at stake here.”
Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity tried to get Fox News reporter Jacqui Heinrich fired for accurately fact-checking a Donald Trump tweet — a tweet, citing Hannity and Lou Dobbs, that claimed Dominion’s voting system was deleting and losing votes.
“Please get her fired. Seriously….What the fuck?” Carlson texted to Hannity and Laura Ingraham in a group chat. “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.”
Carlson added that he “went crazy on” a Fox executive over Heinrich, and Hannity revealed that he went straight to Scott to complain about the reporter.
On-air criticism of the infamous Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell press-conference, in which the two tossed out one deranged election conspiracy theory after another, was not tolerated at the network.
Then-White House correspondent Kristen Fisher was reprimanded by Fox management for fact-checking the two’s false claims, and told she “needed to do a better job of respecting [Fox’s] audience.”
Likewise, Dana Perino’s on-air criticism of the presser sent Suzanne Scott into a screaming tizzy.
Host Neil Cavuto’s choice to cut away from a White House press conference, on grounds that Kayleigh McEnany was making baseless charges of election fraud, spurred warnings from Fox corporate that Cavuto posed a “brand threat.”
A Tucker Carlson producer complained to another producer about the challenges of keeping the “stolen election” narrative alive, saying, “We’re threading a needle that has to be thread because of the dumb fucks at Fox on Election Day. We can’t make people think we’ve turned against Trump. Yet also call out the bullshit. You and I see through it. But we have to reassure some in the audience.”
The “dumb fucks at Fox,” of course, was a reference to the network’s election-analysis team who had the absolute gall to correctly call the presidential race for Biden before other networks did. Members of that team, including Chris Stirewalt, were later fired as sacrificial lambs for the sin of properly doing their job.
Such conduct, substantiated by Fox employees’ own words, was absolutely disgraceful. And this was just from a small, very targeted sampling of documented behavior over a few months time. One can only imagine what else was going on behind closed doors during that same period, and what routinely happens in the network’s offices and studios, off-camera, every day.
What kind of news organization frets that their “brand” will suffer immeasurable damage if their journalists tell their viewers the truth? What kind of news organization instructs their talent to help a U.S. president, out of fear of upsetting him, sell a claim they know to be a lie? What kind of news organization reprimands their reporters and analysts for accurately fact-checking the people and stories they cover? And what kind of news organization can be totally exposed for doing all of these outrageous things, on an issue and story as important as American democracy, and probably not lose a single viewer because of it?
The answer: the kind of news organization whose audience loyally tunes in not for honest, factual analysis, but rather self-affirmation, and political and cultural companionship.
Shortly after news broke on the Dominion filing (which I still don’t think has been reported or otherwise discussed on Fox’s air), I read the below comment on this story on another website. The commenter’s tale is strikingly similar to others I’ve heard over and over again, and have personally experienced with people in my own life.
I have a very dear retired friend who keeps FOX News on all the time that she is awake. She is well-meaning but definitely deluded by this channel. Many on the right watch them because they said the right things in the past. They speak the language. They seemed to represent conservatives when "main-stream" news was showing its bias against them. Unfortunately this often tips over into conspiracy theory land and they fall prey to people like Tucker Carlson. They say,"But he's a Christian."
They don't think they have anywhere else to turn. Any port in a storm. ... This is only going to make the many viewers like her cling even harder to FOX because they're going to play the victim card and turn it in to a giant conspiracy.
Makes me angry and sad and tired.
It makes me angry, sad, and tired as well… because at one time, Fox truly was a valuable source of conservative perspectives on important stories.
Were all of those perspectives earnest? Probably not, but I’ve known and had enough candid conversations with Fox personalities over the years to tell you that back before Trump, most of what you heard in front of the camera was what the same people were saying when the cameras were off. That’s no longer the case. The trust and goodwill built during Fox’s former era has been taken deep advantage of ever since.
The old product wasn’t perfect, but it stands in stark contrast with what we see from the network now: a glaring example of the very corruption its hosts and guests still reliably assign to the mainstream media.
It’s an embarrassment, and it’s inexcusable. And if your only defense of the network is weak, predictable whataboutism, please spare me.