(CNN) — The most prominent stars and highest-ranking executives at Fox News privately ridiculed claims of election fraud in the 2020 election, despite the right-wing channel allowing lies about the presidential contest to be promoted on its air, damning messages contained in a Thursday court filing revealed.
The messages, included in a legal filing as part of Dominion Voting System’s $1.6 billion lawsuit against Fox News, showed that Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham brutally mocked lies being pushed by former President Donald Trump’s camp asserting that the election was rigged.
In one set of messages revealed in the court filing, Carlson texted Ingraham, saying that Sidney Powell, an attorney who was representing the Trump campaign, was “lying” and that he had “caught her” doing so. Ingraham responded, “Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy [Giuliani].”
The messages also revealed that Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of Fox Corporation, did not believe Trump’s election lies and even floated the idea of having Carlson, Hannity, and Ingraham appear together in prime time to declare Joe Biden as the rightful winner of the election.
Such an act, Murdoch said, “Would go a long way to stop the Trump myth that the election stolen.”
The court document offered the most vivid picture to date of the chaos that transpired behind the scenes at Fox News after Trump lost the election and viewers rebelled against the right-wing channel for accurately calling the contest in Biden’s favor.
Dominion filed its mammoth lawsuit against Fox News in March 2021, alleging that during the 2020 presidential election the talk network “recklessly disregarded the truth” and pushed various pro-Donald Trump conspiracy theories about the election technology company because “the lies were good for Fox’s business.”
Fox News has not only vigorously denied Dominion’s claims, it has insisted it is “proud” of its 2020 election coverage.
In a statement Thursday night, Fox News argued that the court filing contained cherry-picked quotes lacking context.
“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,” the network said.
But the court document provided a mountain of evidence exposing Fox News as a right-wing talk channel void of the most basic journalistic ethics.
The legal filing also underscored how worried Fox News executives and hosts were in the immediate aftermath of the election of losing its viewership to Newsmax, a smaller right-wing talk channel that was saturating its airwaves with election denialism.
After the election, a furious Trump attacked Fox News and encouraged his followers to switch to Newsmax. And, in the days and weeks after the presidential contest had been called, they did just that. Fox News shed a chunk of its audience while Newsmax gained significant viewership.
In multiple instances, Fox News executives and hosts expressed worry over the matter and started to crack down on those at the network who fact-checked election lies — even as the messages show that Fox News’ chief political anchor, Bret Baier, pushed for such fact checks. In one case, after White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich fact-checked a Trump tweet pushing election fraud, Carlson said he wanted her fired.
“Please get her fired,” Carlson told Hannity over text message. “Seriously … what the f**k? I’m actually shocked … It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company.”
Hannity replied that he had already spoken to Suzanne Scott, the network’s chief executive. The next morning, Heinrich’s tweet had been deleted.
A person with direct knowledge of the matter told CNN that Heinrich was blindsided reading the details in the legal filing and was not aware of the efforts by top hosts behind the scenes to get her fired.
In another case, when host Neil Cavuto cut away from a White House press briefing where election misinformation was being promoted, senior Fox News leadership were told such a move presented a “brand threat.”
Scott exchanged messages with Lachlan Murdoch, the Fox Corporation chief executive, and outlined a plan to win viewers back. Scott said the right-wing talk channel would “highlight our stars and plant flags letting the viewers know we hear them and respect them.” Murdoch responded that the brand needed “rebuilding without any missteps.”
Soon after, Fox News debuted a new “standing up for what’s right” marketing campaign featuring the network’s top stars.
Despite what appeared on air, Fox News executives and hosts privately criticized the Trump camp for pushing claims of election fraud, the messages showed. Hannity even said Giuliani was “acting like an insane person” and Ingraham described him as “an idiot.” Rupert Murdoch said it was “really bad” that Giuliani was advising Trump.
The court filing also revealed that Fox News executives had criticized some of the network’s top talent behind the scenes. Jay Wallace, the network president, said that “the North Koreans” did a “more nuanced show” than then-host Lou Dobbs. Jerry Andrews, the executive producer of “Justice with Judge Jeanine,” referred to host Jeanine Pirro as “nuts.”
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