Times Standard (Eureka)

Court records show the political pressure behind Fox programmin­g

- By Nicholas Riccardi and David Bauder

In May 2018, the nation’s top Republican­s needed help. So they called on the founder of Fox News, Rupert Murdoch.

President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were trying to stop West Virginia Republican­s from nominating Don Blankenshi­p, who had been convicted of violating mine safety standards during a lethal accident in one of his coal mines, to challenge the state’s incumbent senator, Democrat Joe Manchin.

“Both Trump and McConnell are appealing for help to beat unelectabl­e former mine owner who served time,” Murdoch wrote to executives at Fox News, according to court records released this week. “Anything during day helpful, but Sean (Hannity) and Laura (Ingraham) dumping on him hard might save the day.”

Murdoch’s prodding, revealed in court documents that are part of a defamation lawsuit by a voting systems company, is one example showing how Fox became actively involved in politics instead of simply reporting or offering opinions about it. The revelation­s pose a challenge to the credibilit­y of the most watched cable news network in the U.S. at the outset of a new election season in which Trump is again a leading player, having declared his third run for the White House.

Blankenshi­p, who ended up losing the primary, said in an interview Wednesday that he felt the change right away, with the network’s coverage taking a harsher turn in the final hours before the primary.

“They were very smart about elections — they did their dumping the day before the election, so I had no time to react,” said Blankenshi­p, who filed a separate, unsuccessf­ul libel suit against Fox.

On Wednesday, the network characteri­zed Dominion Voting Systems’ lawsuit as a flagrant attack on the First Amendment and said the company had taken statements out of context. According to Fox, that included an acknowledg­ement by Murdoch that he shared with Jared Kushner, the head of Trump’s reelection campaign and the president’s son-in-law, an ad for Joe Biden’s presidenti­al campaign that was to air on his network. Fox said the ad Murdoch forwarded to Kushner was already publicly available on YouTube and at least one television station.

“Dominion has been caught red handed again using more distortion­s and misinforma­tion in their PR campaign to smear Fox News and trample on freedom of speech and freedom of the press,” Fox said in a statement.

Fox has long been seen as a power in GOP politics with its large conservati­ve fan base. But thousands of pages of documents released this week in the libel suit filed by Dominion show how the network blurred the line between journalism and party politics. Dominion sued after it became the target of 2020 election conspiracy theories, often promoted on Fox’s airwaves.

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