Fox News feared losing viewers by airing truth about election, documents show

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Within the weeks after the 2020 election, Fox Information confronted an existential disaster. The highest-rated cable information community had alienated its Donald Trump-loving viewers with an correct election evening prediction for Joe Biden and was dealing with a terrifying rankings slide, to not point out the ire of a once-loyal president.

Concern got here from the very high: “All the pieces at stake right here,” Rupert Murdoch messaged Fox Information CEO Suzanne Scott.

The billionaire founder was desperate to see the Republican candidate prevail within the coming Senate runoff in Georgia — “serving to any method we are able to,” he wrote. However he additionally suggested Scott to regulate the uptick in rankings for a smaller, extra conservative channel whose election skepticism abruptly appeared to be resonating with pro-Trump viewers.

Newly launched messages present Fox executives fretting that month over an uncomfortable revelation: that in the event that they instructed their viewers the reality concerning the election, it might destroy their enterprise mannequin.

“Getting creamed by CNN!” Murdoch wrote to Scott on Nov. 8, a day after most information organizations declared that Biden had received. “Guess our viewers don’t wish to watch it.”

What Fox’s loyal viewers needed to look at — and what Fox Information was keen to do to maintain them — emerged this week as a central query in a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit introduced towards the community by Dominion Voting Programs.

A surprising cache of internal correspondence and deposition testimony obtained by the software program firm and made public on Thursday in a Delaware courtroom submitting confirmed high-level Fox executives and on-air stars privately agonizing over the wild and false claims of a stolen election that Trump allies promoted on Fox airwaves within the weeks after the 2020 election. “Sidney Powell is mendacity,” prime-time star Tucker Carlson wrote to his producer a couple of Trump lawyer who had appeared on Fox and spewed baseless accusations. “There may be NO proof of fraud,” anchor Bret Baier wrote to certainly one of his bosses.

The plaintiff’s legal professionals argue that such messages show Fox brass knew the claims that Dominion had “flipped” votes from Trump to Biden had been unfaithful — however “unfold and endorsed” them anyway.

However the Dominion submitting additionally lends ammunition to their long-held argument: that Fox allowed the false claims to air as a result of it was scared of dropping viewers to Newsmax, an ever extra pro-Trump information channel.

“The texts and emails help [Dominion’s] declare that Fox was extra involved about its viewers and market share than the reality regarding the 2020 presidential election,” mentioned Timothy Zick, a professor at William & Mary Legislation College who specializes within the First Modification and known as the breadth of the inner communications “extraordinary.”

In an announcement, a Fox spokesperson mentioned: “There shall be quite a lot of noise and confusion generated by Dominion and their opportunistic non-public fairness homeowners, however the core of this case stays about freedom of the press and freedom of speech, that are basic rights afforded by the Structure and guarded by New York Instances v. Sullivan.”

Some exchanges confirmed Fox executives elevating an alarm when journalists tried to counter false claims from the Trump crew.

On a Nov. 9 broadcast, information anchor Neil Cavuto reduce away from a reside briefing by White Home press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, warning viewers that she was making unsubstantiated claims of fraud. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he mentioned on air. “Except she has extra particulars to again that up, I can’t in good countenance proceed to point out this.”

Executives took discover: Cavuto’s actions had been communicated to senior management at father or mother firm Fox Corp. as a “Model Risk.”

In the meantime, they stored a detailed eye on rankings.

“The Newsmax surge is a bit troubling — actually is another universe whenever you watch, however it could possibly’t be ignored,” one message from Fox Information President Jay Wallace to his CEO learn. “Attempting to get everybody to grasp we’re on battle footing.”

Later that month, Fox broadcast the whole thing of a information convention that includes Powell and fellow Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani outlining their unsubstantiated case for election fraud — a efficiency that Murdoch dubbed “actually loopy stuff,” in an e mail, “and damaging.”

However when Fox host Dana Perino speculated that such claims might draw a lawsuit from Dominion, Scott expressed concern in an e mail, saying on-air personalities couldn’t afford to “give the crazies an inch proper now … they’re in search of and blowing up all appearances of disrespect to the viewers.”

In one other message, Scott famous, “The viewers appears like we crapped on [them] and we’ve broken their belief and perception in us … We are able to repair this however we can’t smirk at our viewers any longer.”

The rankings considerations turned out to be warranted. In January 2021, for the primary time in 20 years, the cable community reported month-to-month rankings that fell behind each of its primary cable information rivals, CNN and MSNBC.

As Trump refused to let up on his election fraud claims, Murdoch recommended that Fox might need the clout to push again. In early January 2021, he relayed in a message to Scott a suggestion that their three largest prime-time stars — Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham — “ought to independently or collectively say one thing like ‘the election is over and Joe Biden received.’” Murdoch handed on the suggestion that such a transfer “would go a protracted option to cease the Trump fable that the election stolen.”

However such a coordinated announcement by no means got here. In forwarding his e mail to her workers, Scott added, “we must be cautious about utilizing the exhibits and p—ing off the viewers.”

Inside Fox, the messages present, many frightened that the community had been harm by two key incidents: a debate through which some conservatives believed Fox anchor Chris Wallace lobbed unfair inquiries to Trump; and Fox’s election evening prediction that Biden would win the hotly contested state of Arizona.

Hannity wrote to Carlson and Ingraham on Nov. 12 that the mix “destroyed a model that took 25 years to construct and the harm is incalculable.”

“It’s vandalism,” Carlson responded.

In a message to a colleague, Scott complained that Invoice Sammon, then the pinnacle of the community’s Washington bureau, didn’t perceive “the influence to the model and the vanity in calling AZ.” In a separate message, to Fox Corp. govt chair and CEO Lachlan Murdoch, she wrote that: “Viewers going via the 5 phases of grief. It’s a query of belief — the AZ [call] was damaging however we’ll spotlight our stars and plant flags letting the viewers know we hear them and respect them.”

“Sure,” Murdoch replied. “However wants fixed rebuilding with none missteps.”

In one other message, Ron Mitchell, the community govt in command of prime-time programming and analytics, warned that Newsmax’s model of “conspiratorial reporting is likely to be precisely what the disgruntled [Fox News Channel] viewer is in search of.” In consequence, he added, Fox shouldn’t “ever give viewers a cause to show us off. Each subject and visitor should carry out.”

Mitchell continued: “‘No unforced errors’ in content material — instance: Abruptly turning away from a Trump marketing campaign information convention.”

Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.

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