Behind the scenes at Fox News in the aftermath of the 2020 election, on-air personalities and top executives were irate and uneasy. Donald Trump had been defeated by Joe Biden. Viewers were enraged when the conservative network projected Biden had won Arizona. And ratings were slumping fast.
As Trump and his allies peddled conspiracy theories about voter fraud in the weeks after the election, Fox employees privately expressed skepticism about those claims while promoting them on air to millions of viewers, according to e-mail and text messages released as part of a lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox last month.
High-profile hosts, including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham, all expressed serious doubts about the false claims that the election had been stolen, with Carlson dismissing them as “ludicrous” and “off the rails,” according to excerpts in the court filing.
Yet the stars continued to support the unfounded narrative.
Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of the media empire that owns the network, acknowledged under oath in January that several of his hosts had “endorsed” the bizarre falsehoods and that he did not stop them despite having the power to do so, according to court documents released Monday.
The correspondence obtained by Dominion, which includes thousands of messages from Fox employees, are part of the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit it filed against the network. Dominion is arguing that Fox and its hosts publicly pushed conspiracy theories about the election company, alleging that it rigged the election to ensure a Biden victory.
The company is using the messages to bolster its argument that “despite knowing the truth — or at minimum, recklessly disregarding that truth — Fox spread and endorsed these ‘outlandish voter fraud claims’ about Dominion even as it internally recognized the lies as ‘crazy,’ ‘absurd,’ and ‘shockingly reckless,’” according to the filing.
Dominion contends that Fox employees “peddle[d] this false narrative” to the masses because its audience was rejecting the network following the election, so it went on “‘war footing,’ caring more about protecting its own falling viewership than about the truth,” according to the lawsuit.
Fox filed a counterclaim in response to the lawsuit soon after it was filed. The network also downplayed the exchanges and revelations as “cherry-picked quotes stripped of key 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,” a spokesperson for the network said in a statement.
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries sent a letter to Murdoch and other Fox executives, alleging that network personalities “dangerously endorsed and promoted the Big Lie” that Trump won the election.
“We demand that you direct Tucker Carlson and other hosts on your network to stop spreading false election narratives and admit on the air that they were wrong to engage in such negligent behavior,” Schumer and Jeffries wrote. “You can continue a pattern of lying to your viewers and risking democracy or move beyond this damaging chapter in your company’s history by siding with the truth and reporting the facts.”
Here are some of the most explosive messages disclosed in the lawsuit:
Nov. 5, 2020
Carlson to his producer, Alex Pfeiffer: “We worked really hard to build what we have. Those [expletive] are destroying our credibility. It enrages me.”
Carlson: “At this point we’re getting hurt no matter what.”
Pfeiffer: “It’s a hard needle to thread, but I really think many on ‘our side’ are being reckless demagogues right now.”
Carlson: “Of course they are. We’re not going to follow them.”
Carlson: “What [Trump]’s good at is destroying things. He’s the undisputed world champion of that. He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong.”
Nov. 7, 2020 — The day Fox called the election for Biden
Carlson to his producer: “Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience? We’re playing with fire, for real .... an alternative like newsmax could be devastating to us.”
Carlson: “[T]he software [expletive] is absurd .... Half of our viewers have seen the Maria clip.”
Carlson texted this message the night that Fox anchor Maria Bartiromo first aired Sidney Powell’s voter fraud claims. Powell was representing Trump and pushed conspiracy theories that Dominion’s voting machines had rigged the election in Biden’s favor.
Nov. 8, 2O20
Pfeiffer to Carlson: “I don’t think there is evidence of voter fraud that swung the election.”
Nov. 9, 2020
Tommy Firth, producer for Ingraham, to Ron Mitchell, one of the Fox executives responsible for overseeing Ingraham’s show: “This dominion [expletive] is going to give me a [expletive] aneurysm — as many times as I’ve told Laura it’s bs, she sees [expletive] posters and trump tweeting it.”
Mitchell: “This is the Bill Gates/microchip angle to voter fraud.”
Later in the day, Mitchell: “How’s it going [with] the kooks?”
Nov. 10, 2020
Pfeiffer to Carlson: “Many viewers were upset tonight that we didn’t cover election fraud ... [I]t’s all our viewers care about right now.”
Carlson: “I just hate this [expletive].”
Nov. 12, 2020 — A group text thread involving Ingraham, Hannity, and Carlson
During their group message, Carlson drew attention to a tweet by Fox reporter Jacqui Heinrich, who was “fact checking” a tweet by Trump that mentioned Dominion, according to the filing. The tweet mentioned Hannity’s and Lou Dobbs’ broadcasts that evening, which discussed Dominion.
“There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised,” Heinrich tweeted.
Carlson to Hannity: “Please get her fired. Seriously .... What the [expletive]? 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.”
Hannity: “I’m 3 strikes. [Chris] Wallace [expletive] debate[.] Election night a disaster[.] Now this BS? Nope. Not gonna fly.”
Wallace had been criticized for his performance in moderating the first presidential debate. Hannity later discussed the matter with his team. By the next morning, Heinrich had deleted her tweet.
Nov. 15, 2020 — A group text thread between Ingraham, Hannity, and Carlson
Ingraham to Hannity and Carlson: “[Sidney Powell is] a bit nuts.”
She also texted Carlson, according to the court filing, that “Sidney is a complete nut,” “No one will work with her,” and “Ditto with Rudy [Giuliani],” who was also representing Trump.
Nov. 16, 2020
Carlson to Pfeiffer: “Sidney Powell is lying. [Expletive] [Expletive].”
Nov. 18, 2020
Pfeiffer texted Carlson that election fraud claims “need to be backed up” or it could undermine Biden as president if he was eventually confirmed.
Carlson to Pfeiffer: “Yep. It’s bad.”
Nov. 22, 2020
Raj Shah, senior vice president at the Fox Corporation to Pfeiffer: “[Expletive] is so crazy right now. So many people openly denying the obvious that Powell is clearly full of it.”
Pfeiffer: “She is a [expletive] nutcase.”
Carlson to Ingraham: “[Powell’s] a nut, as you said at the outset. It totally wrecked my weekend. Wow ... I had to try to make the WH disavow her, which they obviously should have done long before.”
Ingraham: “No serious lawyer could believe what they were saying.”
Carlson: “But they said nothing in public. Pretty disgusting.”
Carlson texted his executive producer Justin Wells that weekend: “We won the battle with Powell. Thank god.”
Dobbs to John Fawcett, a producer on his show:
He texted Fawcett that he did not know what Powell was “thinking or doing, Or why!”
Fawcett: “Could be losing her mind.”
Fawcett: “I just don’t think she is verifying anything she is saying.”
Before a Nov. 16 broadcast, Fawcett also texted others at Fox that he believed Powell was “doing lsd and cocaine and heroine and shrooms.”
Jan. 6, 2021
Carlson to Pfeiffer: “[Trump] is a demonic force, a destroyer. But he’s not going to destroy us.”
A violent mob loyal to Trump stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, after Trump’s repeated peddling of baseless election fraud claims. Parts of the building were ransacked, police officers were assaulted, and elected officials were sent into hiding. Five people died as a result of the attack.
Dana Perino, a political commentator: In texts and emails obtained by Dominion, she described the allegations about the election company and election fraud, as “total bs,” “insane,” and “nonsense.”
Perino also messaged: “Where the hell did they even get this Venezuela tie to dominion? I mean wtf.”