A trove of text messages, emails, and other material from Fox News executives and on-air personalities were made public Tuesday as part of Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against the right-wing channel.
Among the the hundreds of pages of previously unreleased documents include repeated statements from Fox Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch rejecting conspiracy theories about Dominion that his own network promoted after the 2020 election. And Internal Fox News emails and messages — also made public Tuesday — further show how Fox News’ staff privately dismissed some of the election conspiracies that were promoted on-air.
Dominion has alleged in its lawsuit that during the 2020 presidential election the right-wing talk channel “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.”
In a statement Tuesday, Fox News accused Dominion of distortions, misinformation and misattributing quotes as part of an attempt to “smear Fox News and trample on free speech and freedom of the press.”
Dominion on Tuesday said, “the emails, texts, and deposition testimony speak for themselves.”
“We welcome all scrutiny of our evidence because it all leads to the same place — Fox knowingly spread lies causing enormous damage to an American company,” Dominion said.
In a January deposition, Murdoch rejected conspiracy theories about Dominion, according to a transcript of his deposition released Tuesday.
“Do you believe that Dominion was engaged in a massive and coordinated effort to steal the 2020 presidential election?” Murdoch was asked by Dominion lawyers.
“No,” Murdoch replied.
“Have you ever seen any credible evidence to suggest that Dominion was engaged in a massive and coordinated effort to steal the 2020 presidential election?” the Dominion lawyer pressed.
“No,” Murdoch replied.
“Have you ever believed that Dominion was engaged in a massive and coordinated effort to steal the 2020 presidential election?” the Dominion lawyer asked.
“No,” Murdoch replied.
“You’ve never believed that Dominion was involved in an effort to delegitimize and destroy votes for Donald Trump, correct?” the Dominion lawyer asked.
“I’m open to persuasion; but, no, I’ve never seen it,” Murdoch replied.
The hundreds of pages of new documents that came out Tuesday include previously unreleased excerpts from key depositions, including Murdoch, and are part of Dominion’s defamation lawsuit against Fox News.
Fox News denies wrongdoing and says the judge should resolve the case in favor before it even goes to trial, which is scheduled for next month in Delaware.
In messages from November 2020, then-Fox Business host Lou Dobbs asked producer John Fawcett what he thought of a recent lawsuit Sidney Powell filed attempting to overturn the 2020 election.
“It’s complete bs,” Fawcett responded, according to court filings made public Tuesday. “I can’t believe that was the kraken,” he added, referring to the phrase Powell used to describe the meritless suits she filed across the country.
Dobbs was one of the most notorious on-air promoters of Powell’s conspiracy theories related to Dominion and the 2020 election before his show was canceled in February 2021.
Additionally, shortly after the 2020 election, Fox News host Tucker Carlson acknowledged that Powell wasn’t telling the truth.
According to a court filing released Tuesday, Carlson told an unknown number on November 17, 2020, that “Sidney Powell is lying” and called her an expletive.
More than a month after the 2020 election, then-Fox News DC Managing Editor Bill Sammon decried the network’s coverage of false election claims in private messages to a colleague, fearing it had become an “existential crisis” for the right-wing channel.
“More than 20 minutes into our flagship evening news broadcast and we’re still focused solely on supposed election fraud – a month after the election,” Sammon wrote to then-political editor Chris Stirewalt. “It’s remarkable how weak ratings makes good journalists do bad things.”
Stirewalt replied, “it’s a real mess.”
The messages were part of hundreds of pages of documents released Tuesday in Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox News. (The network denies wrongdoing.)
“In my 22 years affiliated with Fox, this is the closest thing I’ve seen to an existential crisis – at least journalistically,” Sammon said.
“What’s most worrisome is that there doesn’t seem to be much conflict,” Stirewalt said.
“What I see us doing is losing the silent majority of viewers as we chase the nuts off a cliff,” Sammon replied.
Both men, Sammon and Stirewalt, departed the company in early 2021.
Murdoch said in a January 2021 email that two of his top TV hosts maybe “went too far,” in an apparent reference to their election denial after Donald Trump lost.
“Maybe Sean and Laura went too far,” Murdoch wrote in the email, referring to Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. “All very well for Sean to tell you he was in despair about Trump, but what did he tell his viewers?”
Murdoch sent the email to Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott on January 21, 2021, the first full day of President Joe Biden’s administration. The email also mentioned the ongoing impeachment proceedings against Trump.
In the email, Murdoch asked Scott if it was “unarguable that high profile Fox voices fed the story that the election was stolen and that January 6th (was) an important chance to have the result overturned”?
Later, Scott sent the question to Irena Briganti, Fox News’ senior vice president for corporate communications, requesting a specific answer. Briganti responded with more than 15 pages of transcript excerpts from Fox hosts Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.
The Dominion lawsuit is one of two separate cases brought by voting technology companies against Fox News that collectively seek $4.3 billion in damages, posing a serious threat to the highly profitable arm of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. Fox News has not only vigorously denied the claims, it has insisted it is “proud” of its 2020 election coverage.
The recent court filings in the Dominion case have offered the most vivid picture to date of the chaos that transpired behind the scenes at Fox News after Trump lost the election.
In one particularly damaging admission revealed in the case last month, Murdoch acknowledged that several Fox News hosts endorsed false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
“They endorsed,” Murdoch said, referring to Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Maria Bartiromo, and former host Lou Dobbs.
“Some of our commentators were endorsing it,” he said, when asked about the talk hosts’ on-air positions about the election. “I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it, in hindsight,” he added.
In his deposition, Murdoch also acknowledged that it was “wrong” for Carlson to have hosted election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell on his program following the presidential contest.
Fox has defended the actions of its executives and hosts in its own legal filings countering Dominion’s lawsuit, alleging that its hosts’ on-air assertions about election fraud were taken out of context.
“Dominion’s summary judgment motion is flawed from top to bottom and should be rejected in its entirety,” lawyers for Fox News wrote in a filing last month.
And Fox Corporation, the parent company of Fox News, alleged Dominion “has produced zero evidentiary support for its dubious theory that high-level executives at Fox Corporation ‘chose to publish and broadcast’ or played a ‘direct role in the creation and publication’ of false election lies.”
While the First Amendment sets a high bar for defamation cases brought against media outlets, a protection that was reinforced in the landmark 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan, legal experts have told CNN that Dominion’s case appeared unusually strong.
“It’s a major blow,” renowned First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams said of Dominion’s evidence presented last month, adding that the “recent revelations certainly put Fox in a more precarious situation” in defending against the lawsuit on First Amendment grounds.
Rebecca Tushnet, the Frank Stanton Professor of First Amendment Law at Harvard Law School, described Dominion’s evidence as a “very strong” case that “clearly lays out the difference between what Fox was saying publicly and what top people at Fox were privately admitting.”
Tushnet said that in her years of practicing and teaching law, she had never seen such damning evidence collected in the pre-trial phase of a defamation suit.