OutFoxed: Lawsuit Bares Fox News’s Duplicity

OutFoxed: Lawsuit Bares Fox News’s Duplicity
via Fox News

The Mediaverse by Dennis Kneale, TruthDAO opinion columnist

Tucker Carlson is the highest-rated anchor at Fox News. In the $1.6 billion defamation  lawsuit filed against Fox News by Dominion Voting Systems, his name shows up 89 times in the 192-page complaint—and not in a good way.

The lawsuit, filed publicly in Delaware Superior Court on Feb. 16, shows that Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, other anchors, and Fox executives aired claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election—even as they exchanged emails doubting the veracity of the charges and the people making them.

In the aftermath of the Trump loss, Rudy Giuliani, lawyer Sidney Powell, and MyPillow owner Mike Lindell were slinging accusations that Dominion had rigged the vote count in favor of Joe Biden. Carlson hosted two guest segments (Powell on Nov. 20, 2020, and Lindell on Jan. 26, 2021); Hannity hosted two more (Giuliani on Nov. 20, and, Powell on Nov. 30), according to information in the Dominion complaint; and Fox Business anchor Lou Dobbs had Powell on his show a total of six times from Nov. 13 to December 10, 2020.

Yet in private communications, Tucker Carlson referred to Sidney Powell in various emails as “lying,” a “crazy person,” a “lunatic,” an “unguided missile,” and “dangerous as hell.” Killer line: “I’ve got a high tolerance for crazy, but Powell is too much.”

Laura Ingraham of “The Ingraham Angle” said of Giuliani, “Rudy is such an idiot,” and Sean Hannity wrote, “Rudy is acting like an insane person.” As for Mike Lindell, one Fox manager emailed: “He’s on the crazy train with no brakes.”

None of this skepticism was expressed on air by the Fox News talent. They feared losing viewers if they did so.

The media have covered this gleefully. (Fair game.) New York Times: “Fox Stars Privately Expressed Disbelief About Election Fraud Claims. ‘Crazy Stuff.’” Forbes: “‘Mind Blowingly Nuts’.” Slate: Tucker Carlson’s Dominion Text Messages Are a Thing of Beauty. The Atlantic, even more sanctimonious than The New Yorker: “Why Fox News Lied to Its Viewers.”

The Dominion lawsuit builds a credible case that Fox ran with the fraud allegations to win back angry viewers who had defected to Newsmax, after Fox, on election night, raced to be the first to call Arizona for Biden.

A few days after the election, Rupert Murdoch, Fox News’s de facto owner, took a dim view of the election-fraud claims, and he made this clear to the network brass, who then fretted over how far the anchors would take this theme.

A senior vice president, Meade Cooper, discussed “whether their primetime hosts Hannity, Carlson, and Ingraham would push false claims of election fraud,” the lawsuit states, and she wrote: “I feel really good about Tucker and Laura. I think Sean will see the wisdom of this track eventually, but even this morning he was still looking for examples of fraud.”

The catty nature of the TV news business also is laid bare. (I was an anchor at CNBC and Fox Business.) “Crazy Tucker and crazier Hannity,” wrote one Fox manager as the coverage unfolded. “Hannity is a little out there,” an SVP emailed. Another executive said host Jeanine Pirro was “just as nuts,” and Tucker’s executive producer said, “she is crazy.”

Tucker Carlson, meanwhile, took a shot at Fox Business’s No. 1-rated anchor at the time, Lou Dobbs, the most outspoken Fox anchor on election fraud allegations, emailing: “Lou was reckless.” Jay Wallace, Fox News president back then, wrote about Dobbs: “the North Koreans do a more nuanced show.” When anchor Bret Baier suggested Fox buy Parler, a rival to Twitter, Wallace said: “we can barely contain Dobbs—imagine all the crazy we’d be responsible for.”

In later testimony, a Dominion lawyer asks Dobbs, “It was a false statement that Powell had revealed groundbreaking new evidence on your show, indicating that the 2020 presidential election came under massive cyberattack orchestrated with the help of Dominion, wasn’t it?” Dobbs: “It was an overstatement, yes.”

He abruptly left Fox Business on Feb. 5, 2021, and his top-rated show was yanked, possibly as a sacrificial sop to a future Dominion lawsuit. Disclosure: I have known and admired Lou Dobbs for many years, and I helped him write his most recent book, “The Trump Century.”

The $1.6 billion figure cited as damages in the Dominion lawsuit has more to do with political retaliation and headline-grabbing than economic value. Dominion is valued at $80 million, and it remains in business with $100 million in annual revenue.

Still, Fox News loses even if it were to win this case. Its biggest stars have been exposed as duplicitous and disingenuous, not to mention catty, and driven by ratings rather than the pursuit of a fair and balanced truth. My guess is Fox settles soon, rather than endure the embarrassment of more media coverage.

Whether all the anchors survive their awkward moment in this harsh spotlight depends on whether they hold on to their viewers and their advertisers. As ever.

Dennis Kneale, @denniskneale on Twitter, is a media strategist and writer in New York. He spent more than 30 years at The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CNBC, and Fox Business. His podcast is called "What's Bugging Me."