Hundreds of pages of testimony, private text messages and emails from top Fox News journalists and executives were made public Thursday, adding to the trove of documents that show a network in crisis after it alienated core viewers by reporting accurately on the results of the 2020 presidential election.
A judge unsealed the documents, along with portions of some of employee depositions, as part of the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit Fox News is facing from Dominion Voting Systems.
The messages are blunt and, at times, profane, as hosts and top executives panicked about how to boost their ratings as then-President Donald Trump refused to acknowledge his defeat. The depositions, meanwhile, offer the broadest picture yet of how executives including Fox Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch allowed baseless conspiracy theories to flourish on air.
In a statement, Fox News accused Dominion of dishonestly portraying key figures’ internal communications.
“Thanks to today’s filings, Dominion has been caught red handed using more distortions and misinformation in their PR campaign to smear FOX News and trample on free speech and freedom of the press,” the statement said. “We already know they will say and do anything to try to win this case, but to twist and even misattribute quotes to the highest levels of our company is truly beyond the pale.”
Smaller snippets of the exchanges were referenced in two Dominion briefs made public in a Delaware court last month, when Dominion sought a summary judgement ruling from the judge and opposed Fox News’ own motion asking the judge to dismiss the case.
Dominion’s briefs previously revealed how top figures at Fox News privately blasted election fraud claims as “crazy” and “insane,” even as the network aired them on television, and that top boss Murdoch considered some of Trump’s voter fraud claims to be “bulls— and damaging,” yet acknowledged in a deposition he did nothing to rein in hosts who were promoting the bogus claims in the days after the 2020 election.
Dominion sued Fox News in March 2021, alleging the network caused the voting machine company “severe damage” by giving oxygen to conspiracy theories it knew were false, including bogus claims that Dominion equipment was used to rig the 2020 election for Joe Biden, that it was tied to the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and that it bribed U.S. government officials.
Fox News has previously said it was “proud of our 2020 election coverage, which stands in the highest tradition of American journalism,” and argued that the Dominion lawsuit is designed only to garner headlines. Dominion argues that the First Amendment doesn’t allow media outlets to broadcast conspiracy theories that they know are false.
“As the dominant media company among those viewers dissatisfied with the election results, Fox gave these fictions a prominence they otherwise would never have achieved. With Fox’s global platform, an audience of hundreds of millions, and the inevitable and extensive republication and dissemination of the falsehoods through social media, these lies deeply damaged Dominion’s once-thriving business,” the company’s 441-page lawsuit says. “Fox took a small flame and turned it into a forest fire.”
Here are some of the key highlights:
Murdoch worried Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham ‘went too far’ on the stolen election myth
In one email to Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott the day after Joe Biden’s inauguration, Murdoch lamented the anger at the network was getting from Republican senators, including Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, for stories suggesting the election had been stolen.
“Still getting mud thrown at us!” Murdoch complained. “Maybe Sean and Laura went too far,” he continued, referring to prime time hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham.
In the same email, Murdoch asked Scott if it was “unarguable that high profile Fox voices fed the story that the election was stolen and that January 6th an important chance to have the result overturned”?
Scott punted the request to a group of executives, noting “please send specifics.”
Six hours later, Irena Briganti, the Fox News executive in charge of communications, responded with more than 15 pages of transcripts of examples.
Prime time hosts were furious at the news division for its accurate election call
In a group text chain from mid-November, Hannity, Ingraham and Tucker Carlson complained about their news colleagues and the network’s decision to call Arizona in favor of Biden. Fox News was the first network to do so, and the call was accurate.
“Why would anyone defend that call,” Hannity asked.
“My anger at the news channel is pronounced,” Ingraham said later in the exchange.
Carlson piped in saying, “It should be. We devote our lives to building an audience and they let Chris Wallace and Leland (expletive) Vittert wreck it. Too much.”
Wallace and Vittert were Fox News hosts and anchors at the time.
Maria Bartiromo said she would not refer to Biden as the president-elect on air
In text messages with longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon on Nov. 10, 2020, Fox News host Maria Bartiromo said, “Omg I’m so depressed. I can’t take this” and lamented how upsetting it was to watch the “world move forward.”
“I want to see massive fraud exposed. Will he be able to turn this around,” she added, referring to Trump. “I told my team we are not allowed to say pres elect at all. Not in scripts or in banners on air. Until this moves through the courts.”
“You are our fighter,” Bannon later replied. “Enough with the sad ! We need u.”
Biden was projected the winner of the presidential race on Nov. 7.