UPDATED, with additional details: A huge release of partially redacted text messages, emails and deposition transcripts that dropped Tuesday in the Dominion vs. Fox litigation sheds further light on the scramble among Fox News personalities and Fox Corp. executives to respond to the backlash in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election and then the repercussions after the attack on the Capitol on January 6th.
In one email that Rupert Murdoch sent to Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott on Jan. 21, 2021, he wrote, “Big morning with McConnell meeting with Graham and other anti-impeachers.
“Still getting mud thrown at us! Is it ‘unarguable that high profile Fox voices fed tha story that the election was stolen and that January 6th an important chance to have the result overturned’? Maybe Sean and Laura went too far. All very well for Sean to tell you he was in despair about Trump but what did he tell his viewers.”
Fox News faced criticism earlier on Tuesday for the way that its most popular primetime host, Tucker Carlson, downplayed the January 6th attack. On his show on Monday evening, Carlson aired the first of Capitol Hill surveillance footage from that day, arguing that it showed that those who stormed the Capitol were “not insurrectionists. They were sightseers.” Carlson’s revision of the events drew a rebuke from Capitol Police chief Thomas Manger and from McConnell, who said that it was a “mistake” for the network to depict the events of that day that way.
RELATED: Democratic Leaders Seize On Rupert Murdoch Deposition In Dominion Lawsuit, Call On Fox News To Stop Spreading “Election Denialism”
The Dominion lawsuit exhibits also show the tension between the news side of Fox and its opinion hosts, who groused over the network’s early call of Arizona for Joe Biden, the first indication that Donald Trump would lose the election. That angered the Trump White House, with the then-president urging followers to turn to Newsmax and One America News Network, smaller conservative outlets that more fully embraced his election claims.
In one exchange, the network’s primetime hosts — Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham — groused over the news side.
“We are all officially working for an organization that hates us,” Ingraham wrote.
Ingraham alleged that Irena Briganti, Fox News’ head of communications, was “coordinating” a defense of the network’s news side, which was debunking the election fraud claims. “Without question,” Carlson wrote. “She hates us.” He then claimed that Briganti called writer Victor David Hanson to pen a piece defending Chris Wallace and the network’s call of Arizona.
“What?” Hannity wrote.
“That’s true,” Carlson responded.
“Why would anyone defend that call,” Carlson wrote.
“Irena hates prime time, Trust me. That’s not speculation.”
Still, Briganti and other Fox News PR reps have spent a lot of time over the years both defending and promoting the three hosts, as many media reporters can attest.
In the exchange, the hosts also bash Wallace and Leland Vittert. Both since have left the network.
“My anger at the news channel is pronounced,” Ingraham wrote, followed by an “LOL.”
Carlson responded: “It should be. We devote our lives to building an audience and they let Chris Wallace and Leland f*cking Vittert wreck it. Too much.”
“Too much is correct,” Hannity wrote. “I am disgusted at this point.”
Ingraham wrote later in the exchange, “I think the three of us have enormous power. We have more power than we know or exercise….Together.”
RELATED: Donald Trump Says Rupert Murdoch Should Fire Anchors Who Pushed Back On Unfounded 2020 Election Claims
Dominion is suing the network for $1.6 billion, claiming that Fox News personalities and guests amplified claims that the voting systems company rigged the 2020 election, even though many at the network knew the allegations were bogus.
In previous filings, Dominion has presented emails and texts in which Fox News anchors cast doubt and disbelief over Donald Trump’s election fraud claims as well as those made by Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, and Sidney Powell, who represented the campaign before she was let loose. Both were guests on Fox shows in the aftermath of the election.
In his deposition, Murdoch himself told Dominion attorneys that he did not even believe that the company was trying to rig the election. But in the aftermath of the election, he did express concern over antagonizing Trump, who already had been urging followers to turn to Newsmax and One America News, smaller conservative network rivals to Fox.
“Trump will concede eventually and we should concentrate on Georgia, helping anyway we can,” he wrote in an email to Scott on Nov. 11, 2020. He was referring to the upcoming Georgia runoffs, where Republicans were defending two Senate seats.
“We don’t want to antagonize Trump further, but Giuliani taken with a large grain of salt. Everything at stake here.”
In another email, Murdoch wrote that Trump and Giuliani were both getting “increasingly mad.”
Fox Corp. and Fox News also released its own batch of documents on Tuesday. They claimed that in its 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. 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.”
As an example. they pointed to a reference that Dominion made to Murdoch’s deposition. Many news outlets interpreted the reference to mean that Murdoch, in answering questions about MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell’s ads, said, “It is not red or blue, it is green.” In fact, Dominion’s attorney said that quote, and asked Murdoch if it was right. “Correct,” Murdoch said.
In a passing reference in its latest filing, Dominion’s attorneys wrote that “during Trump’s campaign, Rupert provided Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, with Fox confidential information about Biden’s ads, along with debate strategy.”
Two groups, Media Matters for America and End Citizens United, have filed complaints since with the Federal Election Commission, calling for an investigation as to whether Murdoch’s support constituted an illegal corporate campaign contribution. But Fox Corp. said that Murdoch did forward a link to a Biden campaign advertisement that already made public.
Murdoch “also flatly denied sharing any information about the Biden campaign’s debate preparations or strategy. He simply suggested to Mr. Kushner that Mr. Trump avoid looking like a bully in the next debate which was a common refrain by many at the time,” including in editorials and op eds.
“The information that Mr. Murdoch shared with Mr. Kushner was not ‘material non-public information’ about the Biden campaign,” the company said. “The sharing of public information cannot yield a coordinated communication or an in-kind contribution.”
In the excerpts Fox released of depositions of with Fox Corp executives, figures ranging from Murdoch to board member Paul Ryan to CEO Lachlan Murdoch give the impression that they have little say in what goes on the network.
Still, there are moments where Murdoch is crystal clear over some of the exchanges with Fox News leadership. In an exchange in his January 19, 2023, deposition, Murdoch is rather disarmingly straightforward with a Dominion attorney over an email he sent to Scott on November 6, 2020:
Q: And you are suggesting that Fox should call Pennsylvania for Biden; correct?
A: Yes. Whenever – I thought whenever Pennsylvania is out of doubt, it is over.
Q: I’m sorry. I didn’t hear that.
A: I thought that once it is declared for Biden – that Pennsylvania is declared for Biden, the election is over. All doubt.
Q: All doubt, There is nothing more to talk about?
The network also pointed to deposition testimony from Lachlan Murdoch in which he said that while he was “concerned” about Fox News’ ratings after the election, he was not “overly concerned.”
“I was concerned, to speak for myself, but not in the long term,” he said. “I think we felt that the brand was strong enough. I know I felt that the brand was strong enough, that this would be a temporary dip and we would get through it.”
Among the other highlights:
Maria Bartiromo and Steve Bannon: On November 10, 2020, several days after the major networks called the presidential race for Biden, Fox host Maria Bartiromo expressed dismay over the results to Steve Bannon, the podcast host who once served as Trump’s chief strategist.
“I am watching the world move forward. & it’s so upsetting steve,” she wrote.
“I want to see massive fraud exposed Will he be able to turn this around. I told my team we are not allowed to say pres elect at sll [sic]. Not in scripts or in banners on air. Until this moves through the courts.”
Bannon wrote, “71 million voters will never accept Biden. This process is to destroy his presidency before it starts; IF it even starts.”
“But I’m scared & sad,” Bartiromo wrote.
Bannon responded, “You are our fighter. Enough with the sad ! We need u.”
He then suggested that she run for Senate against Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “This is your moment,” he wrote.
“1. We either close on Trumps victory or delegitimize Biden. 2. Win both seats in Georgia. 3. Win back house in 2022 4. Elect u to the Senate. 5. IF we don’t close on Trump victory now have Trump declare for 2024 the day after taking back House and you win in Nov 2022.”
Republicans lost both seats in Georgia, as it turned out. But they did narrowly win the House last year, and Trump announced his presidential bid a week later. Bartiromo did not run.
Bannon actually had been shunned by the network. According to Dominion’s filing, Murdoch testified that he probably told Fox News to avoid certain guests. Among them was Bannon who, according to the filing, Murdoch saw him as a “fringe character.”
Bannon, meanwhile, has more recently criticized Fox News for the earlier release of Dominion filings showing that Murdoch and other top executives dismissed Trump’s election fraud claims. At the CPAC conference last week, Bannon said, “Remember, Murdoch, you have deemed that Trump is not going to be president. Well, we have deemed that you are not going to have a network.”
‘I hate our Decision Desk people!”: Rupert Murdoch wrote to Col Allen, the former editor in chief of the New York Post, another Murdoch property, apparently lamenting the backlash the network was getting for its call of Arizona for Biden.
Murdoch’s email came on Nov. 7, 2020, right after CNN became the first network to call the race for Biden.
“CNN declares and FOX coming in minutes,” Murdoch wrote. “I hate our Decision Desk people! And pollsters! Some of the same people I think. Just for the hell of it still praying for Az to prove them wrong!,” he said in reference to Biden’s victory over Donald Trump.”
In advance of the election, the network had heavily promoted its Decision Desk capabilities. In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, Fox News and the AP launched their own election exit polling project, abandoning the National Election Pool used by other networks. The result was that for days, only Fox News and AP had called Arizona for Biden.
Murdoch sent an email to his son, For Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch, that same day, writing, “We should and could have gone first (calling the election for Biden) but at least being second saves us a Trump explosion!”
Lachlan Murdoch wrote back, “I think good to be careful. Especially as we are still somewhat exposed on Arizona.”
“It’s hurting us”: Fox personalities very quickly warned executives about the backlash to the Arizona call. By the Thursday after the election, only Fox News and the AP had called the state for Biden, while the vote count showed his lead shrinking.
That morning, anchor Bret Baier wrote to Fox News president Jay Wallace, managing editor and vice president Bill Sammon and political editor Chris Stirewalt, suggesting that they retract the call and “put it back in his column,” apparently referring to Trump.
The email read, “I know you guys are feeling the pressure. But this situation is getting uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable. I keep on having to defend this on air. And ask questions about it. And it seems we are holding on for pride (I know the confidence you say you had and the numbers — but it’s at least within the realm of possible that he closes the gap now). And it’s hurting us. The sooner we pull it – even if it gives us major egg. And we put it back in his column. The better we are. In my opinion.”
Fox News did not retract the call, and Biden ended up winning the state. But by January, Sammon and Stirewalt were out.
“Weak ratings make good journalists do bad things”: In a chat exchange, Sammon and Stirewalt lament the attention the network has given to election fraud claims.
“More than 20 minutes into our flagship evening news broadcast and we’re still focused solely on supposed election fraud — a month after the election,” Sammon wrote. “It’s remarkable how weak ratings makes good journalists do bad things.”
“It’s a real mess,” Stirewalt responded.
Dominion claims that Fox News, worried about losing audience to Newsmax, purposely pumped up the election fraud claims even as they were presented with the election systems company’s proof that they were falsehoods.
Sammon went on, “In my 22 years affiliated with Fox, this is the closest thing I’ve seen to an existential crisis — at least journalistically.”
Stirewalt responded, “What’s most worrisome is that there doesn’t seem to be much conflict.”
He added, “Everybody is lazily padding ahead of Niagara.”
“Ugh,” Sammon wrote.
Stirewalt added, “What I see us doing is losing the silent majority of viewers as we chase the nuts off a cliff.”
Fox News, though, points to parts of Baier’s deposition in which he said: “I look at my job as being sort of an ice hockey goalie trying to stop bad pucks from getting through, and there were a lot of bad pucks out there when it comes to allegations. So we tried to follow through and see what was real and what was not and then report that on air to the best of our ability.” He said that what they did was “dig down” on the allegations rather than “he said/she said.” “If you have a Republican secretary of state who is a conservative and ideally would want President Trump to win, but he’s coming out and saying, ‘There is no evidence of fraud,’ that’s an important fact to bring to the viewers.”
“I truly can’t wait”: Two days before the January 6th attack on the Capitol, Carlson expressed his dislike of Trump — actually his hatred of him “passionately.”
“We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights,” he wrote to an undisclosed person. “I truly can’t wait.”
The unnamed person responded: “I want nothing more. It does feel very close. I imagine things will get nice starting around mid February.
Carlson wrote back: “I hate him passionately. I blew up at Peter Navarro today in frustration. I actually like Peter. But I can’t handle much more of this.”
In another exchange with an unidentified person, Carlson lashed out at Powell. He wrote on November 17, 2020 that she was “lying. F*cking bitch.”
The day before, in an exchange with Ingraham, he wrote: “The whole thing seems insane to me, and Sidney Powell won’t release the evidence. Which I hate. ..I’m going to ask every legitimate question.”
Ingraham responded. “Sidney Powell is a bit nuts. Sorry but she is.”
“She’s making everyone paranoid and crazy, including me,” Carlson wrote.
He later cast doubt on her claims on air, which also led to a bit of a backlash.
On the day after the attack on the Capitol, Carlson had a text conversation with an unidentified person, as they lamented Trump’s role in stirring up his base. “He’s a demonic force, a destroyer. But he’s not going to destroy us. I’ve been thinking about this every day for four years.”
But Carlson, as recently as Monday, gave credence to the idea that the election was “unfairly conducted.” “In retrospect, it is clear the 2020 election was a grave betrayal of American democracy. Given the facts that have emerged since that election, no honest person can deny it,” he said on the show.
“I did not believe it for one second”: Dominion has highlighted one quote from Sean Hannity on the election claims being made by Powell and some other Trump allies: “I did not believe it for one second.”
But Fox noted that Hannity’s complete answer was, “I did not believe it for one second, and I tried to listen as time when on. I gave them a fairly generous period of time, I felt, in terms of, let’s see what you have, you are making accusations, you say that proof is coming. I wanted for the proof. I got my Sidney answer on November 30th.” Hannity testified that he brought Powell on air, but did not invite her back when she did not produce evidence.
The “wackadoodle” email: Dominion has pointed to an email that was the “the evidence for these far-fetched claims” that Powell was making. As Dominion noted, the author of the email admitted that she was “pretty wackadoodle,” as she said that “The Wind” had told her she was a ghost, “but I don’t believe it.”
Powell forwarded the email to Bartiromo on Nov. 7, before her appearance on the show the next day. “I just spoke to Eric & told him you gave very imp info,” Bartiromo responded.
Fox, though, noted that Bartiromo testified at her deposition that she did not report on the email and did not consider it evidence. Bartiromo said that “it has nothing to do with the allegations at hand and the fact that a sitting president was charging that his election was stolen because of a voting machine” company. “I was pressing them where the evidence is, and will they be able to prove it in court.”
“Smugness and Snickering”: In the aftermath of Fox News and other networks declaring Biden the victor in the 2020 election, they featured a guest who declared, “Remember, just because CNN says, or even Fox News says that somebody’s president doesn’t make them president.”
As she continued, anchor Sandra Smith said, “What? What is happening? Trace, we have called it.” She was referring to the other anchor with her for the segment, Trace Gallagher, but apparently was unaware of a hot mic. The clip went viral, and Trump supporters took it to mean that she was dismissive of the election fraud claims.
Breitbart and other outlets on the right seized on the clip to claim that the network was mocking its own viewers.
In an email to Alan Komissaroff, senior VP of news and politics, and cc’d to Scott and Jay Wallace, Briganti warned linked to an American Thinker story on the Fox News “betrayal” and wrote that is “worth a read to understand the severe damage that Sandra did with the hot mic smugness and snickering.” Scott called it “very damaging on many levels.”
“What she did and then what Neil did was worse,” Scott wrote in an email, referring Neil Cavuto’s decision to cut away from a press conference being given by White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany because of its misinformation.
She added, “Neil doesn’t think the American audience is smart s ought to make a decision for themselves in watching a press conference? Terrible.”
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