‘Crazy.’ ‘Nuts.’ Six wild revelations from the Fox News defamation case
Having emails and texts revealed in court — and thus available for prying public eyes — is a nightmare for any company. Fox News is living through that horror now after Dominion Voting Systems on Thursday filed a motion for summary judgment against the network, laying out dozens of internal communications that were sent during the months after the 2020 presidential election.
The filing in Delaware court is part of Dominion’s $1.6 billion defamation case that accuses Rupert Murdoch’s network of knowingly promoting former President Trump’s false claims of election fraud, which included a disproved theory that the company manipulated votes to make President Biden the winner.
A court filing in the voting company’s defamation case says Rupert Murdoch’s network knowingly pushed false information about the 2020 election.
Fox News has maintained that its coverage of Trump’s claims was newsworthy, despite being false, and therefore protected under the 1st Amendment. In a statement, the network criticized Dominion’s brief — which is based on depositions and discovery for the case — saying the company “mis-characterized 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.” The network is filing its motion in response to Dominion’s allegations on Feb. 27.
Nevertheless, the 169-page brief makes for some eye-opening reading. Here are some takeaways.
‘Crazy,’ they call them
In nine instances, Fox News hosts and executives use the word “nuts” when describing the unsubstantiated Dominion charges and the people who spread them. “Crazy” gets 29 mentions. Most of the time, the adjectives describe Sidney Powell, Trump’s attorney who was responsible for making the most outrageous false claims, alongside fellow lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
But the description comes up in conversations about Fox News talent as well. Gary Schreier, senior vice president of programming at Fox Business, said anchor Maria Bartiromo was “saying [crazy] s—” online. Jeanine Pirro was kept off the air of her now-canceled Saturday night program on Nov. 7, 2020, when it was apparent to producers that she planned to discuss Dominion-related conspiracy theories (the election was officially called for Biden that day). A Fox News executive, David Clark, told another producer: “They took her off cuz they were being crazy. Optics are bad. But she is crazy.”
What happened to Maria Bartiromo? The Trump election fraud story has the TV news biz asking
Trump’s repeatedly discredited attempt to overturn the November results has been given continued sustenance by the Fox News star.
‘Human hunting expedition’
Perhaps the most bizarre theory espoused by Powell (albeit one that never made it to Fox’s air) was sent to Bartiromo on Nov. 7, 2020. Powell cited a source who told her that former Fox News chief Roger Ailes, who died in 2017, “huddles” every day with Rupert Murdoch about airing anti-Trump material, and that the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was “purposefully killed at the annual Bohemian Grove camp…during a weeklong human hunting expedition.”
Powell said her source claimed to get “her information from experiencing something ‘like time-travel in a semi-conscious state,’ allowing her to ‘see what others don’t see, and hear what others don’t hear,’ and she received messages from ‘the wind.’”
When Bartiromo read the email at the time, she responded to Powell saying she had shared this “very imp[ortant] info” with the president’s son Eric Trump. But at her deposition, Bartiromo acknowledged this email was “nonsense” and “inherently unreliable.”
3,682 emails and a tattoo
Dominion frequently attempted to get Fox News to correct the record after the network aired falsehoods, starting on Nov. 8, 2020. Described as “Setting The Record Straight,” or STRS, emails, they corrected false claims that Dominion was owned by Smartmatic (a voting software company also suing Fox News) and that it was founded in Venezuela to rig elections for Hugo Chávez.
The first of 3,682 emails was sent on Nov. 12, 2020, described by Fox News as being “approximately three pages of fact versus rumors listing in detail why the allegations against Dominion are false.” On Nov. 18, 2020, the STRS included an editorial published in the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal “emphasizing a complete lack of evidence to support recent claims against Dominion.”
The email communications were widely distributed at Fox News. David Clark, senior vice president of weekend news and programming, received Dominion’s fact-check so many times that he wrote to a colleague on Nov. 14, 2020: “I have it tattooed on my body at this point.”
Keeping the MyPillow guy happy
Fox News executives apparently became concerned about upsetting MyPillow owner Mike Lindell, the largest single advertiser on the network. Lindell is among the most outspoken proponents of Trump’s election fraud claims (he continues to spread them). The legal brief said Lindell was criticizing Fox News during appearances on rival Newsmax in the weeks after the 2020 election when the smaller conservative channel was gaining steam in the ratings. “Fox’s executives exchanged worried emails about alienating him and sent him a gift along with a handwritten note from (Fox News Media Chief Executive) Suzanne Scott,” the brief said.
Trump wanted to go on Lou Dobbs’ show on Jan. 6
While Fox News has maintained Trump’s false election fraud claims were newsworthy, the network did draw a line on the day his rioting supporters overran the Capitol in Washington in an attempt to prevent Biden’s electoral vote from being certified.
Trump dialed into Lou Dobbs’ show that night for an on-air interview. The brief said Fox executives vetoed that decision. “Why? Not because of a lack of newsworthiness. January 6 was an important event by any measure,” the brief said. “President Trump not only was the sitting President, he was the key figure that day.” Lauren Petterson, a Fox News executive said the network refused because “it would be irresponsible to put him on the air” and “could impact a lot of people in a negative way.”
Dobbs was the most aggressive of the Fox News anchors in presenting the Dominion conspiracy theories. His Fox Business program was taken off the air on Feb. 5, 2021. Jay Wallace, a top Fox News executive, told a colleague, “The North Koreans do a more nuanced show” than Dobbs.
Fox News Presents — Parler?
The idea of purchasing the conservative social media site Parler, launched in 2018 as an alternative to Twitter, came up in a conversation between Jay Wallace and chief Washington anchor Bret Baier. Wallace didn’t love the idea. “We can barely contain Dobbs—imagine all the crazy we’d be responsible for,” Wallace said.
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