The court case that could bring down Fox News

Litigation has revealed Fox News knew voter fraud claims were ‘bogus’ but didn't want to lose viewers

man holds up sign that reads "Fox lies, democracy dies" with the faces of Fox News correspondents on it outside the news stations' corporation
Protesting outside Fox News headquarters to stop the ‘lies’
(Image credit: Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Mark it down as a red-letter day: 16 February 2023, said Charles P. Pierce in Esquire. It was the day Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News – America’s most-watched cable news network – was finally exposed as the empty fraud it always has been.

Fox News is being sued by the voting-machine company, Dominion Voting Systems (DVS), for constantly repeating Donald Trump’s lie that his 2020 defeat by Joe Biden was the result of electoral fraud. In particular, Fox had suggested that DVS’s vote tabulators may somehow have been rigged, and hinted at a link with corruption in Venezuela.

But last week, as part of its $1.6bn defamation lawsuit against Fox, DVS publicly revealed internal texts and emails among Fox News hosts and executives, showing that they all knew full well that the idea that the election was stolen was an outright lie. These revelations destroy once and for all “Fox News’s credentials as a legitimate news organisation”.

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‘Entirely bogus’

What the correspondence now made public reveals, said The New York Times, is that all the most senior people at Fox were fully aware that the claims of voter fraud put about by Trump’s lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani were entirely bogus.

“Really crazy stuff,” is how Murdoch himself characterised them. “Terrible stuff damaging everybody.” As for the three stars of Fox News commentary – top-rated hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham – all three agreed, said The Washington Post, that the two attorneys, Giuliani and Powell, were “nuts”, “insane”, and “f**king lunatics”. Carlson even referred to Trump as a “demonic force, a destroyer”.

Yet such was Fox’s terror of the possibility that the right-wing network Newsmax might steal its viewers, it not only went on airing allegations of fraud it knew to be baseless, but even tried to silence anyone in the organisation who questioned them, said Adam Serwer in The Atlantic.

In fact, when a junior Fox reporter challenged a Trump tweet about DVS’s machines being rigged, Carlson contemplated firing her. Her tweeting “needs to stop immediately”, he told fellow host Hannity. “It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.” Fox, it turns out, is stuck in a “propaganda feedback loop”.

The network “inflames right-wing conspiracism” for profit, and its hosts and executives are all too aware that it risks losing viewers if it fails to tell the lies the audience wishes to hear. As one Fox executive, fretting that Newsmax was luring “disgruntled” Fox viewers, put it in an email: “Do not ever give a reason to turn us off. Every topic and guest must perform.”

‘Viewers don’t care about the truth’

Deliberately lying would be a huge scandal for any legitimate news organisation, said Amanda Marcotte in Salon, yet no one expects Fox to lose a single viewer over these revelations. Why? Because Fox’s viewers “don’t care about the truth”: it is demonstrations of tribal loyalty they’re looking for.

Fox’s viewers, in short, are “in on the con”. Bear in mind though, said Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times, that every network operates “with ratings in mind”: on the liberal MSNBC, the latest Trump scandal always gets prominent coverage. However, Fox’s treatment of its viewers is “unique in its bad faith”: witness what Hannity wrote to Carlson after Trump lost the election.

This network has to pretend to take the phony stolen-election claims seriously, he insisted, because “respecting this audience whether we agree or not is critical”. It didn’t seem to occur to him that deliberately lying to your viewers is “a version of respect indistinguishable from contempt”.

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