Fox News hosts and executives, including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, did not believe Donald Trump’s election fraud claims in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, but the network nevertheless amplified the conspiracy theories as it worried about losing viewers to Newsmax, according to filings from Dominion Voting Systems made public on Thursday.
In its motion for summary judgment in its $1.6 billion defamation suit against Fox, with a redacted version made public on Thursday, Dominion makes heavy use of text messages and emails from the Fox personalities and staff to contend that the network was well aware that claims made by guests such as Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani were bogus. (Read it here).
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“Really crazy stuff,” Rupert Murdoch wrote in a Nov. 19 text about Giuliani, according to the filing.
Dominion’s lawsuit is over claims, made on air by Powell, Giuliani and others, and then advanced by Fox News figures like Lou Dobbs, that it was involved in rigging the results of the 2020 election. The company contends that the claims were made on air even though many at the network knew they were false.
In its filing, Dominion’s attorneys wrote, “Fox knew the truth. It knew the allegations against Dominion were ‘outlandish’ and ‘crazy’ and ‘ludicrous’ and ‘nuts.’ Yet it used the power and influence of its platform to promote that false story. Fox knew better.”
In its own motion for summary judgment (read it here and here), also made public, Fox contends that Dominion is taking an extreme and unsupported view of defamation law and has cherry picked quotes that lack context or are irrelevant to the 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,” Fox said in a statement.
In its motion, Fox’s attorneys argue that Dominion’s lawsuit is an “assault on the First Amendment.” They said that the network was covering something “as newsworthy as it gets”: the attempt by a sitting president to challenge the election results.
“As the story unfolded, and Dominion denied many of the allegations, Fox News covered those denials too, including by reporting Dominion’s position, giving Dominion the opportunity to tell its side, and soliciting the views of disinterested third parties on the allegations and their likelihood of making a difference in election outcomes, sometimes in a debate-like format,” Fox’s attorneys wrote.
Fox also filed an amended counterclaim on Thursday (read it here) that challenges the damages claim. In the counterclaim, Fox attorneys wrote that Dominion investor Staple Street Capital bought a controlling interest in Dominion at a “small fraction” of the amount being sought in the lawsuit. of even under the most optimistic projections, Staple Street has never estimated Dominion’s value as a business to be anywhere near $1.6 billion. They wrote that “even under the most optimistic projections, Staple Street has never estimated Dominion’s value as a business to be anywhere near $1.6 billion.”
The trial is scheduled to start in April in Delaware Superior Court, but the public release of the motions gives a glimpse of both sides’ cases and of what has been turned up in discovery. Murdoch, Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott and a number of personalities have sat for depositions.
According to the filing, when Murdoch watched Giuliani and Powell at a post-election press conference on Nov. 19, he told Scott, “Terrible stuff damaging everybody, I fear.” Scott replied, “yes Sean and even Pirro agrees.” The latter was a reference to Jeanine Pirro, another Fox News host and stalwart defender of Trump.
“Instead of calling out the truth, however, Fox continued to ‘damage everybody’ — not only continuing to invite those guests onto its shows but endorsing those lies,” Dominion’s attorneys wrote. “Fox duped its audience.”
Dominion’s filing highlights messages sent between Fox News personalties and executives in which they worried about losing audience to Newsmax in the aftermath of the 2020 election. It was triggered by Fox News’ call of Arizona for Joe Biden on election night, angering the Trump White House, but giving the first sign that the president would lose the election.
Instead, through a series of retweets, Trump promoted Newsmax or One America News Network, two much smaller rivals to Fox, with a number of personalities who quickly embraced the president’s vote rigging claims.
According to the Dominion filing, in one exchange with his producer, Alex Pfeiffer, Carlson wrote, on November 5, “We worked really hard to build what we have. Those f—ers are destroying our credibility. It enrages me.” He said that he had spoken with Hannity and Ingraham and they were “highly upset.” “At this point we’re getting hurt no matter what.”
“It’s a hard needle to thread, but I really think many on ‘our side’ are being reckless demagogues right now,” Pfeiffer wrote.
Carlson replied, “Of course they are. We’re not going to follow them.” He then added, “What [Trump is] good ad is destroying things. He’s the undisputed world champion of that. He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong.”
More to come.
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