Fox News hosts and executives privately mocked claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election but focused coverage on the claims anyway to protect their TV ratings, a new court filing indicates.
The new legal filing appears to show that primetime hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and other big names at Fox News doubted the various claims that former President Donald Trump and his allies made about the election being rigged, but feared they would lose viewers by broadcasting those doubts, the New York Times reported.
“It’s remarkable how weak ratings make good journalists do bad things,” the filing quotes Bill Sammon, the network’s then-senior vice president, as saying.
The filing came in a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems, a voting machine company that Trump allies – including his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and a former prosecutor, Sidney Powell – said tampered with the election to secure the presidency for Joe Biden.
Carlson is quoted writing that Powell, a chief promoter of Dominion fraud theories, “is lying by the way. I caught her. It’s insane.” And Hannity, who repeatedly interviewed Powell on his show, is also quoted in the filing as saying, “That whole narrative that Sydney was pushing, I did not believe it for one second.”
Ingraham is quoted telling Carlson, “Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy.” Hannity also referred to guests promoting the fraud theories as “f’ing lunatics” in December, according to the filing.
Still, the filing details an instance where Carlson called for a Fox reporter to be fired for fact-checking a Trump tweet about Dominion fraud and asserting that there was “no evidence” of votes being compromised.
“Please get her fired. Seriously,” Carlson wrote to Hannity. “It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”
Rupert Murdoch, head of Fox parent News Corp, told Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott in November 2020 that Giuliani’s and Powell’s theories were “Terrible stuff damaging everybody, I fear.” Scott wrote back: “yes Sean [Hannity] and even [host Jeanine] Pirro agrees.”
“Fox knew the truth,” the filing states. “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.”
In its own legal filing, Fox said its hosts only reported on newsworthy claims being made and did not endorse them.
“In its coverage, Fox News fulfilled its commitment to inform fully and comment fairly,” Fox’s filing said, according to the Times. “Some hosts viewed the president’s claims skeptically; others viewed them hopefully; all recognized them as profoundly newsworthy.”
“Dominion has mischaracterized the record, cherry-picked quotes stripped of key context and spilled considerable ink on facts that are irrelevant under black-letter principles of defamation law,” a Fox spokesperson said in a statement Thursday.