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4 takeaways from the new Dominion-Fox lawsuit documents

Fox was a hotbed of backbiting, and its vaunted news division wasn’t as neutral as it claimed to be

Dominion Voting Systems sued Fox News for $1.6 billion on March 26, 2021, for repeated false claims about election fraud made by the network’s hosts and guests. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)
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Tuesday brought yet more documents in Dominion Voting Systems’ high-stakes lawsuit against Fox News over Fox’s handling of claims that Dominion’s voting machines helped rig the 2020 election.

The documents come after Dominion recently detailed how Fox executives and hosts privately derided the stolen-election claims even as the network chose to air them anyway — often credulously — in the name of appealing to its Trump-supporting viewers.

We’ve learned details from depositions in the case — including that of Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch, who acknowledged that his hosts endorsed stolen-election claims and expressed regret for that — and additional details from exhibits attached to the filings.

The lawsuit carries significant implications not just for Fox financially — Dominion is seeking $1.6 billion — but potentially for journalism itself, given questions about what responsibility a news outlet has not to promote misinformation.

After the documents were released Tuesday, Fox accused Dominion of “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.”

Below are some takeaways from the new documents.

1. Deriding Trump

While Fox’s hosts and executives clearly worried about alienating Donald Trump, it’s become abundantly clear that it wasn’t so much about personal affection as a cold business decision.

Repeatedly in the exhibits and depositions, they are shown deriding Trump.

In a Nov. 19, 2020, email, Rupert Murdoch appears to describe Trump and Rudy Giuliani as “both increasingly mad.”

He adds of Trump: “The real danger is what he might do as president. Apparently not sleeping and bouncing off walls! Don’t know about Melania, but kids no help.”

In his deposition, Murdoch not only disputed Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen, but he also agreed when asked whether Trump was a “sore loser.”

Other key comments come from Fox host Tucker Carlson. We knew previously that he privately warned that Trump “could easily destroy us if we play it wrong.” What we didn’t know was that he was speaking in the context of Trump’s business ventures.

Someone tells him, “One [sic] the bright side — Trump has a pretty low rate at success in his business ventures.”

Carlson responded: “All of them fail. What he’s good at is destroying things. He’s the undisputed world champion of that. He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong. It’s so obvious.”

At other points, both Murdoch and Carlson seemed to long for when Trump would be gone.

Two days before Jan. 6, Carlson texted someone, “We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can’t wait.”

He added, “I hate him passionately,” and then, of Trump’s four years in office: “We’re all pretending we’ve got a lot to show for it, because admitting what a disaster it’s been is too tough to digest. But come on. There really isn’t an upside to Trump.”

After Jan. 6, Murdoch also mused about Trump’s fading away, asking former House speaker and Fox Corp. board member Paul D. Ryan, “Could he still resign and get Pence to pardon, then just disappear?”

2. Extensive backbiting

The previous releases indicated that there was plenty of backbiting at Fox — particularly with big names objecting to fact-checking that they viewed as going too far and alienating viewers. In one case, Carlson advocated for a reporter to be fired for fact-checking a Trump tweet that mentioned Fox’s programming.

Now there’s more where that came from.

On Nov. 16, Carlson pointed to a tweet from a non-Fox reporter noting that Fox anchor Eric Shawn had debunked Trump lawyer Sidney Powell’s claims about Dominion shortly after host Maria Bartiromo had promoted them.

Carlson complained that “our news divisor [sic] people are promoting it.”

Later in the string, Carlson shared a Daily Beast story about Shawn’s debunking, and Ingraham responded, “Briganti,” referring to a Fox executive in the communications division, Irena Briganti. “She is coordinating this,” Ingraham alleged.

Carlson responded: “Without question. She hates us. … Irena hates prime time, trust me. That’s not speculation.”

Ingraham added later, after suggesting that the news side was to blame for Fox’s ratings slide, “My anger at the news channel is pronounced.”

In other communications disclosed, Briganti tells a Fox spokeswoman on Nov. 8 that Powell “is one of our biggest issues right now.” The colleague responds: “I am telling Sofie not to send out Powell — it’s problematic.”

3. Cheering for the red team

The conceit of Fox News has always been that its opinion hosts are conservative but its news-side produces real, neutral journalism. That conceit has repeatedly been called into question by disclosures showing that it viewed itself as allied with the GOP and the furtherance of its goals.

Additional disclosures reinforce that contradiction.

After CEO Suzanne Scott suggested on election night that Trump might win despite a historic popular-vote loss, Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch responded, “If that happens, god willing, we will have to defend the electoral college aggressively.” He added later, “Momentum in Pennsylvania looks good,” “Trump now ahead in Wisconsin!” and “Trump ahead in popular vote so far! Amazing.”

In his deposition, Rupert Murdoch acknowledged, “We were worried that Mr. Trump would lose the election and what Mr. Biden may do.”

Elsewhere, Rupert Murdoch is shown stating on Nov. 7 that he hoped Trump would win Arizona, even after Fox’s decision desk called it for Joe Biden, saying he was “still praying for Az to prove them wrong.”

The day before, Murdoch lamented, “With several states now disappointingly favoring Biden hard to claim foul everywhere.”

On Dec. 28, News Corp. chief executive Robert Thomson emailed Murdoch the front page of the New York Post calling for Trump to concede the election.

Thomson added: “Spoke to [former New York Post editor in chief] Col [Allan] over the weekend … having seen Trump up close, he agreed that we should take a stronger line. Georgia is crucial.” (Georgia was holding runoffs that would decide whether the GOP held the Senate on Jan. 5. Democrats wound up winning both and taking the Senate.)

Previously, documents showed Murdoch telling Scott on Nov. 16, “Trump will concede eventually and we should concentrate on Georgia, helping any way we can.”

4. Trump’s lack of interest in Georgia

Before some Republicans blamed Trump for the party’s relatively poor showing in 2022, some blamed him for torpedoing its chance to take the Senate after the 2020 election.

In their telling, his quixotic stolen-election crusade overshadowed the decisive runoffs that Georgia was holding the day before Jan. 6, 2021, discouraging GOP voters from turning out by suggesting they couldn’t trust that their votes would be counted. Trump showed little interest in helping out.

New evidence suggests Trump was indeed privately rather unconcerned with helping his party in the races, at least in late December.

In a Dec. 22 email, Lachlan Murdoch relayed Allan’s summary of a conversation with Trump.

“Col says POTUS was dismissive of Georgia race when he saw him on Friday,” Lachlan Murdoch said. “He basically said Republicans shouldn’t vote because it’s all rigged anyway. And if he can’t win no one should.”

“Friday” would have been Dec. 18, about 2½ weeks before the runoffs. Trump did a rally in Georgia on Jan. 4, the day before the runoffs, but he focused extensively on his own election rather than then-Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.). While the evidence isn’t conclusive, there is reason to believe GOP turnout suffered the next day.

In a 2021 interview, Trump said of the runoffs, “They didn’t want to vote, because they knew we got screwed in the presidential election.”

When asked whether he could have pushed harder for people to vote, he acknowledged: “I did say a version of that, but not as strongly as you said, because I was angry with what happened there.”