Off camera, Fox hosts doubted 2020 election fraud
WILMINGTON, DEL. — To millions of viewers, Fox News hosts gave allies of former President Donald Trump a platform to champion false claims that he lost the 2020 election because of voter fraud. To one another, they expressed doubts about the claims and mocked the people making them.
Private exchanges between Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, and other network bigwigs — including the chairman of Fox Corp., Rupert Murdoch — show a wide chasm between what the network promoted in primetime and the doubts its stars held behind the camera, according to new court filings in a defamation lawsuit being waged by a company whose voting systems were regularly maligned on air.
“Sidney Powell is lying” about having evidence for election fraud, Carlson said via text on Nov. 16, 2020, to a Fox News producer, referring to one of Trump’s lawyers.
Ingraham texted Carlson that Powell is “a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy,” referring to former New York mayor and Trump supporter Rudy Giuliani.
These and other internal communications were included in a redacted brief filed Thursday by attorneys for Dominion Voting Systems, which is suing Fox News and its parent company, Fox Corp., for $1.6 billion.
In a deposition, host Sean Hannity said “that whole narrative that Sidney was pushing, I did not believe it for one second,” according to Dominion’s filing.
Murdoch, meanwhile, in a Nov. 19 email, described what he saw in a press conference that day featuring Giuliani and Powell as “Really crazy stuff. And damaging.”
Dominion’s legal case rests on its belief that Fox News employees deliberately amplified false claims that the company had changed votes in the 2020 election, and that Fox provided a platform for guests to make false and defamatory statements.
Attorneys for Fox argued in a counterclaim unsealed Thursday that the lawsuit is an assault on the First Amendment. They said Dominion has advanced “novel defamation theories” and is seeking a “staggering” damage figure aimed at generating headlines, chilling protected speech and enriching its owner, Staple Street Capital Partners.
“Dominion brought this lawsuit to punish FNN for reporting on one of the biggest stories of the day — allegations by the sitting President of the United States and his surrogates that the 2020 election was affected by fraud,” the counterclaim states. “The very fact of those allegations was newsworthy.”
Fox attorneys have noted that Carlson repeatedly questioned Powell’s claims in his broadcasts. “When we kept pressing, she got angry and told us to stop contacting her,” Carlson told viewers on Nov. 19, 2020.
Fox attorneys say Dominion’s own public relations firm expressed skepticism in December 2020 as to whether the network’s coverage was defamatory. They also point to an email from Oct. 30, 2020, just days before the election, in which Dominion’s director of product strategy and security complained the company’s products were “riddled with bugs.”
In their counterclaim, Fox attorneys wrote that when voting-technology companies denied the allegations being made by Trump and his surrogates, Fox News aired those denials, while some Fox News hosts offered protected opinion commentary.
“Freedom of speech and freedom of the press would be illusory if the prevailing side in a public controversy could sue the press for giving a forum to the losing side,” Fox attorneys wrote.