This week your newsfeed might have been filled with headlines about freshly unsealed court documents in Dominion Voting Machines’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News—and boy did they reveal a lot about the inner workings of the conservative network, including how even Rupert Murdoch struggled to reign in his all-star anchors.
The court documents contain private text messages, emails and links to Fox News footage that seem to show the networks’ anchors, reporters, and executives urgently trying to hold on to their base by airing false allegations against Dominion while privately acknowledging they were unsubstantiated and harmful. In the words of Bill Sammon, head of Fox News’ Washington bureau, “It’s remarkable how weak ratings can make good journalists do bad things.”
Fox has said that Dominion “mischaracterized the record” and “cherry-picked quotes stripped of key context.” The case is headed for a jury trial on April 17.
There’s a lot going on here! But how exactly were the most prominent Fox News hosts involved? We’re here to catch you up.
While the votes in the November 2020 election were being counted, Bartiromo hosted former Trump advisor Steve Bannon on her show and allowed him to perpetuate falsehoods about the 2020 election without any pushback. When Bannon said the election had been stolen during a Nov. 5, 2020, show, Bartiromo simply responded, “OK” and “I understand” and “you made a great case.”
Days after the election, she began posting “unfounded allegations of vote ‘dumps’ ” on social media, Dominion wrote in its legal brief.
Around the same time, as the Fox News host prepared to have Sidney Powell on her show—the infamous attorney who worked alongside Donald Trump’s legal team to try to subvert the 2020 election results—Powell sent along an email that she claimed to have received from a source detailing claims of election fraud. That email—Powell’s only corroborating evidence—was “nonsense” and “kooky,” in Bartiromo’s own words. It included the claim that Justice Antonin Scalia “was purposefully killed at the annual Bohemian Grove camp during a weeklong human hunting expedition.” How did the author of Powell’s smoking-gun email have access to this information? The author explained: “Who am I? And how do I know all of this? … I’ve had the strangest dreams since I was a little girl. … l was internally decapitated, and yet, I live. … The Wind tells me I’m a ghost, but I don’t believe it.” What did Bartiromo do with this information? She invited Powell on her show to air her claims unchallenged.
On that program, Powell described Dominion as “one common thread” in voting irregularities across several states. Bartiromo proceeded to interview Powell on-air and entertain her unfounded allegations.
Dominion alleges that Bartiromo’s interview with Powell opened the floodgates for false allegations about the company and became “a focal point of discussion within multiple shows at Fox.” The company says it tried to refute the charges Bartiromo was making in direct response to the Powell interview, sending regular “Setting the Record Straight” emails starting on Nov. 12.
Two days after Fox News correctly called Arizona for President Joe Biden on Nov. 3, 2020, Carlson said to his producer that calling the race against Trump was dangerous for Fox News’ viewership. “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,” Carlson wrote, according to court documents.
Dominion alleges that from that point on, Carlson continued to internally flag problematic claims his fellow coworkers and Fox guests were making on-air. Following Bartiromo’s interview with Powell, Carlson privately told his producer, “Sidney Powell is lying. Fucking bitch.”
Carlson ended up bringing Powell onto his show a few weeks later on Nov. 17, and did push back on her unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. “You keep telling our viewers that millions of votes were changed by the software. I hope you will prove that very soon … if you don’t have conclusive evidence of fraud at that scale, it’s a cruel and reckless thing to keep saying.”
But that didn’t keep Carlson from having guests on-air making similar claims. Weeks after the Jan. 6 insurrection, Carlson invited Mike Lindell, MyPillow CEO and known conspiracy theorist, to his show. He proceeded to allow Lindell to make false claims of voter fraud, but this time with no pushback. The interview also appears to contradict Fox News chairman Rupert Murdoch’s guidance—he claimed in his deposition that he suggested on Jan. 5 that Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham should say that the election is over and Biden had legitimately won.
Dominion alleges that Hannity believed in the early weeks of November 2020 that playing up a narrative about election fraud would be critical in winning back Fox News viewers after the Arizona call. He criticized the Fox decision desk in a private group text message to Carlson and Ingraham, according to the court documents. “In one week and one debate they destroyed a brand that took 25 years to build and the damage is incalculable,” he wrote. (Tucker Carlson replied: “It’s vandalism.”)
Hannity proceeded to lean into the subject of election fraud—after Fox News conducted an analysis that showed its viewers were tuning in to Powell whenever she was on-air. In late November, Hannity hosted Powell on his show, where she claimed that Dominion voting machines “shaved votes from Trump” and “used the machines to trash large batches of votes that should have been awarded to President Trump.”
Hannity later testified that he did not believe Powell’s allegations “for one second.”
Ingraham doesn’t come up in the available documents nearly as often as her fellow Fox News anchors, but she did text Carlson on Nov. 18 saying that Powell was a “complete nut,” according to the court filings. She also testified that she had no reason to believe that Dominion committed election fraud or that it is owned by a company founded in Venezuela to rig elections for Hugo Chávez. She said that she would want to make sure they “had some type of factual trail that we could trace and unpack,” before making those kinds of claims, according to court documents.
Ingraham hosted Powell on-air on Nov. 10, 2020, but tried to refute her claims about Dominion’s voting software being influenced by China and flipping people’s votes. During the interview, Ingraham pointed out that Powell’s accusations had been fact-checked by the AP and found to be false.