After the 2020 election, the President of the United States refused to recognize his opponent’s victory, which he blamed on systematic fraud on a scale that beggars belief. He presented no evidence to support his outlandish claims, which were rejected by election officials on both sides, the judges he appointed, and his own attorney general.
It was a big story, and Fox News covered it along with many other news outlets. But did Fox just report what Donald Trump and his representatives were saying, or did it back up their wild accusations? That’s the question raised by the defamation suit that Dominion Voting Systems, which figured prominently in Trump’s conspiracy theories, filed against Fox News in March 2021.
Dominion must meet the “actual malice” test that the Supreme Court has said is required by the First Amendment for defamation claims by public figures. That means it must prove that Fox executives, producers and hosts either recklessly ignored questions about the veracity of Trump’s stolen-election fantasy or promoted it even though they knew it was false. Dominion’s latest brief, which it filed today, presents evidence to support both of these hypotheses.
The brief, which includes revisions requested by Fox, argues that company executives were nervous about alienating Trump and losing his supporters to right-wing competitors such as Newsmax and the One America news network. To support that argument, Dominion cited an email that News Corp. executive chairman Rupert Murdoch sent to Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott two weeks after the election.
Murdoch mentions a The Wall Street Journal story about Newsmax and added: “If you should look at these people suspiciously. Trump will finally admit [something that still has not happened] And we should focus on Georgia, helping in any way we can. We don’t want to oppose Trump anymore, but [Trump lawyer Rudy] Giuliani [should be] Taken with a large grain of salt. Everything is risky here.”
Three days later, Giuliani, joined by Trump campaign lawyers Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis, held a wild news conference that exposed the insanity of the president’s election claims. Giuliani and Powell said Joe Biden stole the election through a “massive fraud” involving Dominion, strategic voting software, fake ballots, election officials across the country, George Soros, the Clinton Foundation and “communist money through Venezuela, Cuba, and possibly China.” In a text message that day, Murdoch described the baroque story as “really crazy stuff.”
Other people at Fox took the same view. An internal fact check conducted in November 2020 found the allegations against Dominion to be “false” and “not evidence of extensive fraud”. On December 1, Fox News reporter Lucas Tomlinson told Fox Chief Political Correspondent Brett Baer that “these conspiracy theories” are “dangerously insane”. In a deposition, Fox News host Sean Hannity recalled his reaction to “the whole narrative that Sydney was pushing”: “I didn’t believe it for a second.” Tucker Carlson fired the same. “Sydney Powell is lying,” he told his producer on November 16.
Carlson reiterated that conclusion two days later in a private text exchange with Fox News colleague Laura Ingraham. “Sydney Powell is lying,” he wrote. “I caught him. It’s crazy.” Ingraham agrees: “Sydney is a complete nut. No one will work with him. Same with Rudy.” Carlson added: “It’s incredibly offensive to me. Our viewers are good people and they believe that.”
The next day, Carlson made his suspicions public, albeit in less clear terms. If what Powell says is true, he said on his show, it would be “the single greatest crime in American history.” But he noted that Powell, despite repeated requests from his staff, refused to back up his claims with evidence.
Other Fox hosts were more credible, at least in public. During a November 12 interview with Giuliani, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs believed what Murdoch would call “really crazy stuff” a week later. “It’s stunning,” Dobbs said. “They don’t have the ability to meaningfully audit the votes that are cast because the servers are located elsewhere. [It] It seems to me that this is… the end game of a four and a half year long effort to oust the President of the United States Dobbs “continued to broadcast these false accusations throughout the week and for nearly. one month – until December 10,” Dominion’s summary said.
time a Lou Dobbs tonight In the Nov. 16 interview, Powell falsely asserted that Smartmatic, another voting technology company he blamed for Biden’s victory, “owned Dominion.” Dobbs replied, “Yes.”
Before that interview, Jeff Field and Alex Cooper, senior producers Lou Dobbs tonight, received an email in which a Fox colleague noted that the Associated Press had debunked the claim that Smartmatic owned Dominion. John Fawcett, an associate producer, also cast doubt on Powell’s credibility, texting colleagues that he appeared to be “doing LSD and cocaine and heroin and shroom.” But as Dominion’s brief notes, “None of Dobbs’ producers stopped Powell from lying on the air that evening or corrected his claims on the rebroadcast.”
The Lou Dobbs tonight The team also knew that Carlson questioned Powell’s account, and that Fox contributor Victor Davis Hanson had similar doubts, saying he was “waiting to see some real evidence.” When the Trump campaign distanced itself from Powell on November 22 (even though Giuliani and Trump had essentially pushed the same claims), Fawcett texted Dobbs, noting that the campaign seemed to him to be “bullshit.” Dobbs told Fawcett he did not understand what Powell was “thinking or doing” or “why.” Fawcett suggested that Powell “may have lost his mind,” noting that his story “doesn’t make sense” and added, “I don’t think he’s verifying what he’s saying.”
Although “the clear awareness of the Dobbs team that Powell is untrustworthy
baseless claims,” Dominion said. “Dobbs had Powell appear on his show again on November 24 and Fox chose to broadcast (and rebroadcast) lies about Dominion, both fake and algorithmic.” Far from challenging Powell’s claims, Dobbs lamented that Americans “Wasn’t aware of election fraud perpetrated through electronic voting.” He said he was “referring to these electronic voting companies, including Dominion, specifically Dominion, that many Americans suspect.”
Dobbs interviewed Powell again on November 27. Two days earlier, Fawcett texted Dobbs, asking if he had read Powell’s election case, which Fawcett called “total BS.” Dobbs confirmed that he had read the cases. On December 4, Dominion’s brief stated, “Dobbs returned to Dominion, saying it was at the center of election theft, rhetorically asking his guest Phil Waldron if it was the ‘main culprit,’ and repeating claims that Dominion used algorithms that were not a secure system. designed to be wrong.”
Five days later, Dobbs and his producers learned that all of Powell’s election cases had been dismissed. That development, Dobbs acknowledged in a deposition, “had an impact[ed] His credibility or reliability, resulting in “doubts” about his claims But that didn’t stop him from interviewing her again the next day “We will gladly present your evidence that supports your claim that it was a cyber Pearl Harbor,” he said, adding, “We already have plenty of evidence.”
Fox News host Maria Bartiromo interviewed Powell on November 8. Powell asserted that a vote-altering “algorithm” developed by Dominion enabled a “massive and coordinated effort to steal this election.” Bartiromo seems to accept that claim. “We talked about Dominion Software,” he said. “I know there’s been voting irregularities. Tell me.”
Earlier in the day, Powell shared with Bartiromo an email titled “Election Fraud Information” from an unnamed “source” who summarized claims about Dominion’s alleged role in election fraud. The email itself, which Dobbs also received, described the claims as “pretty wackadoodle.” In a deposition, Bartiromo agreed that the “election fraud information” email was “cookie” and “bad.”
Dominion notes that other Fox shows, incl Hannity, Justice with Judge JeanineAnd Fox and friends, also gave Powell a platform. Given what the producers and hosts knew or should have known at the time, the company argues, their critical treatment of her claims was at least reckless.
Fox, which also faces a defamation lawsuit filed by Smartmatic in February 2021, maintains it was just reporting the news. But Dobbs clearly did more than that, and Bartiromo arguably did too.
Unlike the softball interviews that Dobbs and other hosts conducted, Fox News reporters Rightly skeptical Early on in Trump’s claims. After Giuliani et al.’s November 19 press conference, for example, Fox News White House correspondent Christine Fisher called it “colorful” but noted that it shed “light on the facts” adding that “a lot of [Giuliani] Said is simply not true or has already been thrown into court.”
In a Nov. 12 tweet, Dominion’s brief notes, Fox reporter Jackie Heinrich corrected a tweet in which Trump quoted Hannity And Lou Dobbs tonight To support his claim that Dominion was involved in electoral fraud. Citing “top election infrastructure officials,” Heinrich noted that “there is no evidence that any voting system has deleted or lost votes, altered votes or been compromised in any way.”
Carlson, who would privately declare a week later that “Sydney Powell is lying,” nevertheless took exception to Heinrich’s tweet. “Please fire him,” he told Hannity in a text. “This needs to be stopped immediately, like tonight. It’s hurting the company measurably. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”
Hannity, who would later say he didn’t “for one second” believe Powell’s claim, told Carlson that he had already complained to Scott about Heinrich’s tweet. The Fox News CEO agreed that Henrik was out of line. Heinrich “has serious nerve to do this,” Scott said in a text to other Fox executives. “If it’s picked up, the audience will be more upset.” The next morning, Dominion notes, “Heinrich deleted his fact-checking tweet.”