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From the network that brought you Any Reasonable Viewer Can See Tucker Carlson Isn’t Stating Actual Facts comes another hit show, We Disdain Our Viewers and Feed Them Slop We Don’t Believe. Yes, it’s another lawsuit against Fox News in which the resulting court case has been highly revelatory.
In the Carlson case, which was decided back in September 2020, Fox lawyers argued he’s not presenting factual claims about the world but “exaggeration” and “non-literal commentary” in order to defeat a defamation suit. (The federal judge who agreed with them also suggested the programming could be characterized as “simply bloviating for his audience.”) In the ongoing Dominion Voting Systems suit against Fox News, once again alleging defamation, we learned from a court filing on Thursday that Carlson, fellow primetime infotainment stars Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, and network executives all knew Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen were lies. They just allowed these claims to cook on their airwaves anyway.
Around the time that Trump and his merry band of loony toons were banging on about a stolen election in November and December 2020, here’s some of what the Fox News luminaries were saying off-air. Fox, for its part, says these quotes were taken out of context:
Ingraham told Hannity and Carlson that Trump election conspiracy lawyer Sidney Powell was “a bit nuts” and told Carlson “Sidney is a complete nut,” adding “No one will work with her, and Ditto with Rudy [Giuliani].”
Ingraham’s producer, Tommy Firth, investigated the Dominion claims and quickly found they were false. “This dominion shit is going to give me a fucking aneurysm,” he said at the time.
On November 16, Carlson wrote to his producer that “Sidney Powell is lying” about having evidence of fraud. On November 21, Carlson texted that it was “shockingly reckless” to claim Dominion rigged the election.
One of the network’s “straight news” stars, Bret Baier, texted that “there is NO evidence of fraud. None. Allegations stories. Twitter Bullshit.”
Dana Perino, another on-air talent at the reasonable end of the Fox spectrum, said in contemporaneous communications that the claims were “total bs,” “insane,” and “nonsense.”
On November 6, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott told Fox head honcho Rupert Murdoch that “if Trump becomes an afternoon loser, we should watch Sean [Hannity] especially.”
On November 19, Rupert Murdoch told Scott in an email that Giuliani’s fraud claims were “terrible stuff damaging everybody, I fear.” Scott responded: “yes Sean [Hannity] and even [Jeanine] Pirro agreed.”
Speaking of which, Pirro and Hannity were two on-air personalities that executives openly discussed as nuts or otherwise unreliable as sources of information. Fox executive Gary Schreier said Maria Bartiromo was a conduit for conspiracy theorists. Pirro’s boss, weekend programming chief Jerry Andrews, said on November 22 that “Jeanine is just nuts.” A Fox Corporation SVP said Hannity is “out there.” And Fox President Jay Wallace wrote in September 2020 that “the North Koreans do a more nuanced show” than Lou Dobbs.
And yet they aired the fraud claims anyway. “That whole narrative that Sidney was pushing,” Hannity has tested in the Dominion suit, “I did not believe it for one second.” On November 30, 2020, he hosted Powell on his show to talk about the fraud conspiracies. For its part, Dominion presents an argument that Fox disregarded the truth value of these claims because they were losing viewers to Newsmax at the time, an upstart conservative network that was willing to go all-in on Trump’s bullshit. The picture Dominion paints is the biggest network in cable news tearing at the fabric of American democracy to protect its market share. Fox lawyers are now arguing that the network was within its rights to talk about Trump’s allegations as they had inherent news values.
But the filing also presents substantial evidence that Fox News retaliated against its own employees who made the mistake of telling the truth. It’s public record that Chris Stirewalt, who oversaw the elections desk that called Arizona for Biden early, was forced out thereafter. Bill Sammon, the network’s Washington Managing Editor, was also forced out after CEO Suzanne Scott wrote that he didn’t grasp “the impact to the brand and the arrogance” in calling Arizona for Biden, saying it was his job “to protect the brand .” When none other than Rupert Murdoch suggested the primetime stars—Carlson, Hannity, Ingraham—come out on January 5 and admit Trump lost, Scott told a colleague that “we need to be careful about using the shows and pissing off the viewers.” The come-to-reality moment never happened.
Instead, the primetime stars continued, in private, to both admit the fraud claims were false and denounce colleagues who said so on-air. When Fox News reporter Jacqui Heinrich fact-checked this crapola on Twitter, Carlson told Hannity: “Please get her fired. 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.” Nothing says “populist truth-teller fighting the elites” like “stop telling the truth, the stock is down.”
We should note that Carlson (along with Murdoch) was one of the only people who had flashes of responsible behavior. On November 9, Carlson acknowledged on-air that “false claims of fraud can be every bit as destructive as the fraud itself…the fraud that we can confirm does not seem to be enough to alter the election results. We should be honest and tell you that.” He also demanded evidence from Sidney Powell on-air. But having texted on November 21 about how reckless it was to claim Dominion rigged the election, by January 26 he was hosting MyPillow Guy Mike Lindell to…make the familiar claims about Dominion voting machines. Maybe he thought enough time had passed since Trump’s superfans attacked the national legislature based on these kinds of claims to bring them back responsibly. It had, after all, been nearly three weeks. What else would you expect from a guy who texted his producer on January 6 telling him that Trump is “a demonic force, a destroyer. But he’s not going to destroy us.”
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