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Fox Misled Viewers About the "Stolen" Election
To Satisfy the Un-Indicted Co-Conspirator Who Really Calls the Shots at Fox News
I don’t know who’s worse — Fox News top executives, opinion show producers, the on-air talking heads who have corrupted what passes for journalism at Fox, for money … or the channel’s most loyal viewers who I’ve come to believe tune in to get their opinions validated, and don’t really care much about what’s true and what isn’t.
I’m bringing this up now because of a devastating court document that’s been released in the defamation case Dominion Voting Systems has brought against Fox News.
Dominion claims that while Fox stars, their producers, and senior executives were privately saying they didn’t believe phony stories about the “stolen election” in 2020 — on the air they were telling a very different story, promoting Mr. Trump’s lies and those of his allies, fearing if they didn’t they’d lose their audience to even more conservative cable-news channels like Newsmax and OAN.
From the New York Times: “Dominion is asking for $1.6 billion as compensation for the damage it says it suffered as Fox guests and hosts claimed, for instance, that Dominion’s voting machines had been designed to rig elections for the Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chavez and were equipped with an algorithm that could erase votes from one candidate and give them to another.”
Here’s some of what Fox hosts were saying privately about one of Donald Trump’s lawyers, Sidney Powell, even as they put her on the air to tell stories about how Dominion helped rig the election:
“Sidney Powell is lying” — Tucker Carlson to his producer Alex Pfeiffer.
Laura Ingraham told Sean Hannity and Carlson that Powell was “a bit nuts” — that "Sidney is a complete nut No one will work with her, and Ditto with Rudy.”
According to the Dominion court filing, prime time vice president “[Ron] Mitchell … called Powell and Rudy Giuliani clowns, and repeatedly mocked their Dominion allegations.”
Yet Mitchell, according to Dominion, “did nothing to stop Hannity from bringing Powell onto his show to spout lies about Dominion, or to stop Carlson from bringing his top advertiser Mike Lindell onto his show to do the same. Hannity brought Powell on mere days after Mitchell had an analysis done that showed Fox viewers were switching the channel specifically to watch Sidney Powell as a guest.”
The deception got its start on election night after Fox News became the first news organization to announce that Joe Biden won Arizona, in effect projecting that he would be the next president.
Never mind that the Fox projection got it right. The most loyal Fox viewers didn’t care about that. They were angry. Many defected to the more right-wing cable channels. That’s when panic set in at Fox.
“Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience?” Carlson texted his producer, referring to the decision to call Arizona for Biden. He added, “An alternative like Newsmax could be devastating to us.”
Hannity, in an exchange with Carlson and Laura Ingraham, fretted about the “incalculable” damage the Arizona projection did to the Fox News brand, and worried about a competitor emerging: “Serious $$ with serious distribution could be a real problem.”
It didn’t matter to any of them that Biden really did win Arizona. Such things matter to journalists — not to partisan hacks like Carlson, Ingraham, Hannity, Maria Bartiromo or Lou Dobbs. They all peddled phony stories about the election. Getting the Arizona call right didn’t matter to Fox News executives either. They fired Chris Stirewalt, the journalist who led the voter analysis team that made the call.
As for Dobbs, who also was pushed out at Fox, he has said that he considers his show to be a place for his viewers to get accurate information. “Yet on January 4, 2021,” Dominion says, “Dobbs admitted on air and later confirmed in his deposition that he had never seen verifiable support for the fraud claims about Dominion that his show pushed in November and December 2020.”
And when Fox White House reporter Jacqui Heinrich fact-checked a tweet from Donald Trump, and said there was no evidence of voter fraud from Dominion, Tucker Carlson was furious.
“Please get her fired,” Carlson told Hannity. “Seriously …What the fuck? 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.”
A senior vice president for corporate affairs, Irena Briganti, piled on, saying, “She [Heinrich] has serious nerve doing this and if this gets picked up, viewers are going to be further disgusted.”
Let’s be clear: She means “disgusted” because Heinrich was doing her job as a journalist. Viewer reaction was more important to the senior VP than was a reporter putting out honest journalism.
Jacqui Heinrich was not fired, but she did comply with an order from Fox and deleted her tweet by the next morning. And later, she posted a second fact-check on the matter.
Dominion says that “Fox knew. From the top down, Fox knew the Dominion stuff was total bs. 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.’ The colorful choices of words used by so many Fox employees all try to capture the same basic truth about these inherently improbable allegations: These claims were false, and obviously so. … Yet Fox continued to broadcast them. Repeatedly. Over nearly three months.”
Fox says it was only doing its job — covering the news: “In its coverage, Fox News fulfilled its commitment to inform fully and comment fairly. Some hosts viewed the president’s claims skeptically; others viewed them hopefully; all recognized them as profoundly newsworthy.”
As the New York Times points out: “The law shields journalists from liability if they report on false statements, but not if they promote them.”
To win its case, Dominion has to prove that either Fox guests, its on-air hosts, their producers, or its executives knew that what was going out on Fox News shows — what was being said about Dominion — was false, and allowed it to go out anyway, or that Fox people were recklessly negligent in failing to check the accuracy of its coverage.
“Fox knew the falsity of the statements it aired about Dominion,” the company’s legal brief says. “Fox knew it because very early on the public record made abundantly clear that Dominion did not steal the election. Bipartisan election officials, security experts, and Democratic and Republican appointees alike repeatedly debunked provably false claims and confirmed there was no evidence of widespread electoral fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election.”
Whatever the legal results of the case, it’s clear to anyone who cares about honest news reporting that Fox is guilty of journalistic malpractice. Fox has many serious hard news journalists — and what’s coming out now, is unfair to them. But it appears as though too many people at Fox didn’t care about them, or the truth — not nearly as much as they cared about the money Fox would lose if it told the truth about Donald Trump’s phony story about a “stolen” election.
As I’ve said before, they don’t call it the news business for nothing.
But it’s not only Fox that should be held accountable. The most loyal Fox viewers get off way too easy. Those passionate viewers don’t want “fair and balanced” news. They don’t want “inconvenient” facts that might show that their hero, Donald Trump, lost the election fair and square. And Fox seems to have been determined to give them what they want. The truth be damned. The viewer is the un-indicted co-conspirator in this sleazy affair. Fox and its hard core audience deserve each other.
The judge has scheduled jury selection to begin in mid-April.