Enterprise-Record (Chico)

Dominion voting case exposes post-election fear at Fox News


A court filing in a lawsuit against Fox News lays bare a panic at the network that it had alienated its viewers and damaged its brand by not lining up with President Donald Trump’s false claims that he had won the 2020 presidenti­al election.

That worry — a real one, judging by Fox’s ratings in the election’s aftermath — played a key role in Fox not setting the record straight about unfounded fraud claims, the network’s accuser contends.

Weak ratings

“It’s remarkable how weak ratings make good journalist­s do bad things,” the filing quotes Fox Washington news executive Bill Sammon as saying.

The details were included in a trove of private communicat­ions unearthed by lawyers and contained in a redacted brief filed Thursday by Dominion Voting Systems. Dominion claims in a $1.6 billion lawsuit that Fox aired allegation­s that Dominion had doctored the vote against Trump, even as it knew that was untrue. Fox says it was doing its job as journalist­s by airing the accusation­s made by Trump and his allies.

Fox’s internal troubles began with a correct call: Declaring on election night 2020 that Democrat Joe Biden had beaten Trump in Arizona. The declaratio­n, coming ahead of other news organizati­ons, infuriated the president and his fans.

The backlash was noted in internal emails. “Holy cow, our audience is mad at the network,” said one, quoted by Dominion. “They’re FURIOUS,” said another.

Five days after the election, Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch communicat­ed to Suzanne Scott, Fox News CEO, that the channel was “getting creamed by CNN. Guess our viewers don’t want to watch it,” according to court papers.

Fox News tumbled from first to third in the news network ratings between the Nov. 3, 2020 election and Biden’s inaugurati­on on Jan. 20, 2021, according to the Nielsen company. Meanwhile, thousands of Fox viewers flocked to the more conservati­ve Newsmax, where prime-time viewership shot from 58,000 the week before the election to 568,000 the week after.

The change shook the foundation­s of a network that had consistent­ly led in the news ratings for the better part of two decades.

Genuine worry

Fox roared back into the lead by tacking more sharply to the right after Biden took office. But in the immediate aftermath of the election, there was genuine worry at its New York headquarte­rs.

Almost immediatel­y, the network went on “war footing,” Dominion said, quoting a Fox executive.

“Do the executives understand how much credibilit­y and trust we’ve lost with our audience?” Fox prime-time star Tucker Carlson wrote to his producer, according to Dominion’s brief. “We’re playing with fire, for real ... an alternativ­e like newsmax could be devastatin­g to us.”

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