Fox News needs to present a specific face to its audience. It’s one of grievance and hurt, of a changing world that is changing too damn fast. Though all too often, the entire network strays into the absurd, whether it’s guests going on about “climate vaccines” or its hosts like Tucker Carlson going off about being “turned off” by a redesigned M&M mascot.
Nothing was more absurd than the 2020 election denier conspiracy. Fox News did its part platforming the people who said President Joe Biden stole the election from former President Donald Trump, despite there being no evidence there was anything behind the conspiracy.
According to court documents filed on Thursday by Dominion Voting Systems, many of those at Fox and its parent company Newscorp doubted there was any real proof of voter fraud. The documents share texts and emails sent back and forth between major Fox faces. In those texts, prominent show hosts actively critiqued prominent election deniers like Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, calling them “nuts” or “idiot.” All the while, the hosts grew intensely concerned their ratings would be hurt if they disputed anything of the Trump’s election denial campaign.
Dominion filed a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News back in 2021 in Delaware state court. The company argued Fox magnified the false story that Dominion was involved in a vast conspiracy to rig the 2020 election in favor of President Biden. The company has filed a similar lawsuit against ultra-conservative networks Newsmax and OAN.
Steve Bannon, the ex-White House staff turned MAGA mouthpiece after his ouster, made it clear that there was a “plan.” In a text to Fox personality Maria Bartiromo on Nov. 10, 2020, Bannon wrote: “71 million voters will never accept Biden. This process is to destroy his presidency before it even starts; IF it even starts.....We either close on Trump’s victory or delegitimize Biden...THE PLAN.”
But according to the filings, Fox was more than beholden to its audience. After the channel called Arizona for Biden, execs and prominent hosts were taken aback by the intensity of the criticism thrown their way.
In its own summary judgment published the same day, Fox’s lawyers argued the network had the right to report on election fraud allegations by Trump, calling it “undeniably newsworthy,” according to Reuters. The network further said its coverage was protected under New York Times v. Sullivan, the landmark case that provides protections for media companies being sued by public officials. The full trial is expected to begin April 17.
In their texts, hosts often chatted about rating analyses with each other. After every time they or reporters made mention of the election denial campaign being, in talk show host Tucker Carlson’s own words, “ludicrous,” they would see an immediate “backlash” with ratings. Carlson even said “I’ve heard from angry viewers every hour of the day all weekend, including at dinner tonight.”
Bill Sammon, the former managing editor and VP for Fox News, told the network’s political analyst Chris Stirewalt “it’s remarkable how weak ratings make good journalists do bad things,” according to the filing.
Overall, the messages show that the prominent Fox News personalities felt the entire narrative was wrong, but that they had to thread the needle to not destroy Fox News’ stock price or upset Trump and his fans that made up such a huge part of the Fox News audience.