Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)

Fox News can’t handle truth that its viewers don’t like

- Clarence Page

An old cynical newsperson jokes about not “letting facts get in the way of a good story.” In today’s world, one might just as easily say, don’t let facts get in the way of audience ratings or internet clicks.

Such is the newsroom scene unfolding in the case that Dominion Voting Systems filed against Fox News for what Dominion says were Fox’s false claims of election fraud by the voting machine firm.

Dominion, armed with correspond­ence between some of the network’s stars and executives, charges that Fox News knew the stolen election claims were a big lie, yet continued to report them as if they were legitimate — as they pushed narratives to entice back their wavering audience.

For that, the Dominion brief requests, first, a summary judgment against Fox News for defamation and, second, the breathtaki­ng sum of $1.6 billion.

The stakes are high. The potential damage that charges of election fraud can bring to a voting machine company is so great that one should be careful about making such charges.

But, no less breathtaki­ng than the charges and potential damages is the inside view of Fox laid out in the document filed recently. Seldom does one see such a clear-cut case of people who say one thing even as they know something else is the truth.

The document lays out how senior figures at Fox News, from founder Rupert Murdoch on down, knew immediatel­y after the election that claims of voter fraud, particular­ly those aimed at Dominion, were false.

Yet, unlike past election nights where we have seen newsrooms celebrate being first to call the winner correctly, this one was viewed internally as something of a crisis, the unpleasant task of telling the audience news that many were anything but eager to hear: Arizona had given Biden enough votes to win the election.

Host Tucker Carlson texted his producer: “Do the executives understand how much credibilit­y and trust we’ve lost with our audience? An alternativ­e like NewsMax could be devastatin­g to us.”

NewsMax, a channel oriented farther to the right than Fox, was also on the mind of fellow show host Sean Hannity. In an exchange with fellow hosts Carlson and Laura Ingraham, he lamented the damage the Arizona projection did to the Fox News brand and worried about rising competitio­n.

The anchors expressed deep skepticism of Sidney Powell, one of the attorneys spreading the false fraud allegation­s, even as they continued to air her views. Ingraham described her as a “complete nut.” Hannity said in a deposition that the “whole narrative that Sidney was pushing, I did not believe it for one second.”

So why continue to serve it up to your audience? Former Fox executive Bill Sammon seemed to offer the most on-point answer: “It’s remarkable how weak ratings make good journalist­s do bad things,” he observed.

Instead, some Fox folks tried to have it both ways. At one point, Carlson and Hannity demanded that Fox reporter Jacqui Heinrich be fired after she fact-checked one of Trump’s tweets spreading the false election fraud claims about Dominion. She wasn’t fired but the offending tweet was deleted.

In another email, a different Fox executive feared what he called “conspirato­rial reporting” at Newsmax. Small wonder, then, that at least one Fox executive said the “conspirato­rial” approach “might be exactly what the disgruntle­d FNC viewer is looking for.” That executive later warned, “Do not ever give viewers a reason to turn us off. Every topic and guest must perform.”

P.T. Barnum could hardly have said it better. It is understand­able that the channel would try to please the conservati­ve audience they have built so successful­ly, but not at the expense of reality.

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