Lawsuit claims Fox News knew — and now its viewers do, too

February 20, 2023 2:12 pm

Dominion Voting Systems is suing Fox News for $1.6 billion, claiming Fox repeatedly defamed the vote-counting company, despite knowing that allegations of vote-rigging were false. (Photo via Canva)

Iowa Writers 'Collaborative. Linking Iowa readers and writers.Loyal viewers of Fox News should be asking themselves a critical question. Are they getting facts, or are they getting lies told to them because Fox thinks that’s what they want?

The answer should be obvious following the bombshell revelations in a court filing Thursday. Dominion Voting Systems is suing Fox News for $1.6 billion, claiming Fox repeatedly defamed the vote-counting company, despite knowing that allegations of vote-rigging were false.

The filing contains numerous quotes from Fox News executives and its biggest stars that they knew Donald Trump’s claims of a stolen election were “nuts” and “BS,” but they were having those conversations among themselves privately, while still spewing the lies on air about a stolen election. The quotes come from thousands of text messages Dominion’s lawyers obtained from Fox staffers, as well as from depositions in preparation for trial.

Although the court filing is heavily redacted, there is still plenty of damaging information. Dominion’s lawyers feel the evidence is so strong that “Fox knew” what it was doing, that the filing asks the judge to grant summary judgment in Dominion’s favor, without needing a trial. That’s unlikely to happen, but it appears Dominion has a strong defamation case.

The filing shows that Fox’s biggest stars privately mocked Trump and his legal team following the election. Tucker Carlson texted Laura Ingraham “Sidney Powell is lying by the way. I caught her. It’s insane.”  Ingraham replied via text, “Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy.”  Yet Fox continued to put Powell and Giuliani on TV.

Here’s the context. On election night, 2020, Fox correctly predicted Joe Biden won Arizona. That call angered Trump, who had Mark Meadows call Fox and demand the call be reversed. It also angered Fox viewers who expect Fox to be loyal to Trump. Those viewers flooded Fox over the next few days with angry emails and phone calls. Many of them left Fox to watch the ultra-conservative Newsmax network, which was also peddling election conspiracy theories.

Fox execs and on-air stars felt the heat from their angry viewers, to the extent that they cracked down on any Fox journalist who cast doubt on Trump’s election lies. Example: On Nov. 12, 2020, Fox reporter Jacqui Heinrich sent a tweet that cast doubt on a Trump tweet that criticized Dominion. Heinrich’s tweet read: “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

The court filing then shows a text message from Tucker Carlson to fellow host Sean Hannity, referring to Heinrich: “Please get her fired. Seriously…what the f***?  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.”

According to the court filing, Hannity then took up Heinrich’s tweet with the CEO of the news division, Suzanne Scott, who told other Fox executives: “Sean texted me – he’s standing down on responding but not happy about this and doesn’t understand how this is allowed to happen from anyone in news. She (Heinrich) has serious nerve doing this and if this gets picked up, viewers are going to be further disgusted.”

By next morning, the filing says, reporter Heinrich’s tweet had been deleted. This is just one example among many in the 179-page filing. Another: One Fox News executive telling another, “It’s remarkable how weak ratings make good journalists do bad things.” Or, Carlson texting another employee that Trump is “a demonic force, a destroyer. But he’s not going to destroy us.”

Fox filed a response claiming it had First Amendment rights to cover the election deniers as a legitimate issue of interest to Americans.

The trial is scheduled for later this year but the filing raises serious concerns about the inner workings of the highest-rated cable news network. Viewers would be wise to ask themselves whether the Fox News personalities report facts that they believe in, or whether they’re ignoring what they know to be true because they think that’s what their viewers want.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It’s not a journalist’s job to be liked. It’s not a job if you want to be popular. A journalist’s job is to report the facts as best you can determine them. If viewers and readers leave because a journalist has reported facts they don’t like, so be it. It goes with the territory.

The ONLY thing a journalist has going for him or her is credibility. Once you lose credibility, you’re done.

We will see how this defamation case plays out. The courts have rightly set a high bar and it’s tough to win cases against media defendants.  Whether Dominion Voting Systems prevails or not, Fox viewers must wonder whether they’re getting facts they need to make up their own minds about important affairs, or whether they’re being fed lies so Tucker Carlson doesn’t have to worry about the Fox’s stock price.

You can read a summary of the filing from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the entire court filing here. I could not find a story about the filing on the Fox News website as of Friday evening, although the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal did post an online story Friday afternoon.

This column was first published by “Dave Busiek on Media” and is reprinted here through the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.

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Dave Busiek
Dave Busiek

Dave Busiek spent 43 years working in Iowa radio and television newsrooms as a reporter, anchor and the last 30 years as news director of KCCI-TV, the CBS affiliate in Des Moines. In that role, he planned coverage of the Iowa caucuses, the floods of 1993 during which 250,000 central Iowans lost drinking water for 12 days, and organized the first national debate between Democratic candidates for president in 2015. He served as national board chair of the Radio-Television News Directors Association. In 2014, he was Broadcasting and Cable Magazine’s News Director of the Year. He was inducted into the Iowa Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2018 and is a recipient of the Iowa Broadcast News Association’s Jack Shelley award. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism. He retired at the end of 2018. He is a member of the Iowa Writers' Collaborative and his blog, "Dave Busiek on Media" appears on Substack.