A filing in Delaware state court, which came as part of a Dominion Voting Systems’ blockbuster lawsuit against Fox News and its parent company, contains bombshell claims and never-before-revealed information from inside the network in the days following the 2020 election.
Text messages, emails and testimony contained in the filing show some of the outlets’ top executives, and most well-known hosts, casting doubt on claims made by former President Donald Trump of a stolen election and worrying how fact-checking those assertions on-air might be received by the outlet’s largely conservative audience.
Dominion is suing Fox for defamation, seeking $1.6 billion in damages, alleging the network knowingly aired false information about its software based on competitive and political pressure.
Fox has argued in filings and statements that it was covering Trump’s allegations about voter fraud, as any news organization should, and has in turn accused Dominion’s lawyers of “cherry picking quotes” from its employees in this week’s filing to build a stronger case.
“There will be a lot of noise and confusion generated by Dominion and their opportunistic private equity owners, but the core of this case remains about freedom of the press and freedom of speech, which are fundamental rights afforded by the Constitution and protected by New York Times v. Sullivan,” the network said in a statement this week.
One of the biggest revelations came from a pair of the outlet’s top hosts, whose text messages showed them Trump supporter and lawyer Sidney Powell, who made many of the on-air claims that now sit at the center of the suit.
“Sidney Powell is lying by the way. I caught her. It’s insane,” Tucker Carlson wrote to fellow prime-time host Laura Ingraham on Nov. 18, 2020, according to the filing.
“Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy,” Ingraham reportedly replied in an apparent reference to Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Both Powell and Giuliani publicly promoted claims that Dominion shifted vote counts to steal the election from the former president. This led to Carlson confronting Powell at one point about the claims.
“You keep telling our viewers that millions of votes were changed by the software. I hope you will prove that very soon,” he said. “You’ve convinced them that Trump will win. If you don’t have conclusive evidence of fraud at that scale, it’s a cruel and reckless thing to keep saying.”
The filing also alleges that both Carlson and Sean Hannity considered pressuring network leaders to fire Fox White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich after she fact checked a tweet from Trump, promoting some of the claims against Dominion.
The filing says Carlson told Hannity, “Please get her fired. Seriously….What the f–k? 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.”
Hannity then told Carlson, “I’m 3 strikes. Wallace s–t debate. Election night a disaster. Now this BS? Nope. Not gonna fly. Did I mention Cavuto?”
Dominion alleges that the two hosts were not the only ones taking issue with reporters’ fact checking, as after White House correspondent Kristin Fisher fact checked claims that Powell and Giuliani made during a press conference on Nov. 19, 2020, Dominion claims that Fox’s executives “were not pleased” and that Washington Bureau Chief Bryan Boughton allegedly called Fisher and told her that she needed to do a better job of “respecting our audience.”
The filing also claims that several big names at Fox were concerned about competition from other outlets as Trump grew increasingly critical of Fox in the weeks leading up to and following the election.
Dominion claims that some at the network were concerned about the ascendence of Newsmax, a smaller conservative channel that aired many of the former president’s claims. They allege that Carlson texted a producer on his weeknight primetime show, saying, “Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience? We’re playing with fire, for real …. an alternative like newsmax could be devastating to us.”
In an exchange among executives one week after the election, Lauren Petterson, the president of Fox Business Network, purportedly wrote of Newsmax, “they definitely have a strategy across all shows to try to target and steal our viewers.”
Dominion further alleged that Jay Wallace, the president of Fox News Channel, at one point wrote, “The Newsmax surge is a bit troubling — truly is an alternative universe when you watch, but it can’t be ignored.”
Additionally, the suit alleges that Rupert Murdoch dismissed Trump’s claims, saying that when he watched Giuliani and Powell make claims of electoral fraud on Nov. 19, 2020, he told Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott: “Terrible stuff damaging everybody, I fear,” according to the filing.
On Jan. 5, 2021, a day before the U.S. Capitol riot, Murdoch wrote to Scott saying “It’s been suggested our prime time three should independently or together say something like ‘the election is over and Joe Biden won’” and that such a statement “would go a long way to stop the Trump myth that the election stolen.”
Since the election, Murdoch has publicly distanced himself from the former president, and the network has become increasingly critical of him in some of its programming, throwing weight behind other leading Republican candidates or possible contenders, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Murdoch separately told Fox News leadership that Guiliani was to be taken “with a very large grain of salt” and bemoaned the fact the former New York City mayor was advising Trump in the post-election period, the filing shows.
Finally, the outlet seems to be preparing a first amendment defense in court and has questioned the motives of Dominion. The case against Fox hinges on Dominion’s ability to prove that the network acted with “actual malice” or reckless disregard for the truth, which has been historically difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
Fox has for months argued it was doing its journalistic duty by covering the claims coming from Trump and his team, and in a filing of its own this week said it “fulfilled its commitment to inform fully and comment fairly” on Trump’s claims.
“Some hosts viewed the president’s claims skeptically; others viewed them hopefully,” Fox’s filing reads. “All recognized them as profoundly newsworthy.”
The spokesperson for the outlet said this week Dominion’s filing “takes an extreme and unsupported view of defamation law and rests on an accounting of the facts that has no basis in the record.”
Fox has also argued that Dominion has inflated the valuation in pursuit of the $1.6 billion in damages it is seeking from the outlet.
“Dominion could not possibly suffer damages in that amount,” Fox’s filing reads. “Let alone suffer such damages because of a single press outlet’s coverage of a story that was reported by media throughout the world.”
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