What the Dominion Lawsuit Reveals about Fox News
Brooke Gladstone From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone. This week, we all got a peek behind the curtain at Fox News. So much drama!
MSNBC Dominion Voting Systems has dropped the latest bombshell and its $1.6 billion defamation suit against Fox News.
CBS Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch acknowledged under oath that some Fox News hosts endorsed false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.
CNN There are newly revealed text messages that show how some of the biggest names at Fox News actually felt about the bogus election fraud claims that they were pushing at the same time on Fox's air.
Brooke Gladstone Dominion's case hinges on the claim that it was defamed by Fox, a historically high bar to clear as it requires proof a news organization knew it's spreading false information. In this case.
CBS Dominion argues, the cable news network falsely claimed the voting company had rigged the election in an effort to boost faltering ratings.
Brooke Gladstone A Fox News spokesperson told us that Dominion's motion is, quote, an extreme, unsupported view of defamation law and a, quote, blatant violation of the First Amendment that basically Fox News was just covering in commenting on the allegations of a sitting president. Dominion's motion, which became available to the public earlier this week, provides details about what happened on Fox's airwaves in the fall of 2020 and why.
Andrew Prokop Fox was the earliest network to call the state of Arizona for Biden. And it was a controversial call.
Brooke Gladstone Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox.
Andrew Prokop A lot of decision desks at other networks thought perhaps they jumped the gun a little bit. But Trump was furious. His campaign was furious. And according to the filing, Kushner called Murdoch to complain about it. And Murdoch said, I can't help you.
Brooke Gladstone But Trump wasn't alone in his rage.
Andrew Prokop Over the next few days, the backlash against Fox really built from their viewers. Trump was criticizing them publicly. Their ratings are dropping. They're starting to worry about competition from Newsmax and that they're essentially losing their viewers trust that they've won over so many years. So they make a strategic shift.
Brooke Gladstone Tucker Carlson.
Tucker Carlson How, for example, did senile hermit Joe Biden get 15 million more votes than his former boss? Rock star crowds for Barack Obama?\.
Brooke Gladstone Lou Dobbs.
This election, a lot of strange things happened and many of them highly suspicious. For example, Dominion's software.
Sean HANNITY The software glitch called Dominion, actually changed thousands of votes from Trump to Biden. Now, the same software also, quote, glitch in Georgia. We need really, Jeanine Pirro.
MSNBC The Dominion software system has been tagged as one allegedly capable of flipping votes.
Maria BARTIROMO about Smartmatic, which owns Dominion Voting Systems. They have businesses in Venezuela, Caracas. They have businesses in Cuba. And there are also links to China.
Brooke Gladstone But that shift from even a glass of journalism wasn't seamless on November 12th, 2020. Fox News reporter Jacqui Heinrich fact checked a Trump tweet that praised HANNITY and Dobbs for throwing shade on Dominion and the election results.
Andrew Prokop Jacqui Heinrich responded, That's not what top election infrastructure official said on the Record tonight. The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. There's no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes change votes or was in any way compromised. Tucker Carlson sent the tweet to Sean HANNITY and Laura Ingraham, his fellow primetime hosts. He said, please get her fired. He wrote in a text. Seriously, what the. I'm actually shocked. It needs to stop immediately. Like tonight. It's measurably hurting the company. The stock prices down. Not a joke.
Brooke Gladstone Around the same time, Fox News host Neil CAVUTO cut away from a White House press conference that was repeating the groundless claims of fraud. Fox executives called CAVUTO the decision a brand threat. Then, ten days later, Fox White House correspondent Kristen Fisher said that claims made at a press conference by Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell simply weren't true.
Andrew Prokop Fisher then testified that her own boss told her that higher ups at Fox News were unhappy with her fact checking and said that she needed to do a better job of, quote, respecting our audience. And she complained in text that she was being punished for doing my job.
Brooke Gladstone What's spelled out in the documents is that a group of Fox News executives and hosts viewed coverage of the Big Lie solely as a business decision. Tucker didn't believe it. HANNITY didn't believe it. Laura Ingraham didn't believe it. Rupert Murdoch certainly didn't believe it. Phrases surfacing this week from Fox's bold face names about respecting the audience. Representing the audience, serving the audience meant explicitly lying to the audience. Sure, reporters are people subject to biases, ambition and fear. But real reporters do not knowingly lie, pays sources or break the law in the course of doing business. Which is why the name of Fox's parent company, News Corp., has long been a bit of a misnomer.
Andrew Prokop This is probably the biggest reputational and legal peril to Murdoch's businesses since about a dozen years ago.
Brooke Gladstone David Folkenflik is the media correspondent for NPR News and author of the book Murdoch's World: The Last of the Old Media Empires. He reported on the last time the Murdoch enterprise was in existential peril 12 years ago in the U.K..
ABC The turmoil that has brought down one of the nation's oldest newspapers there is leading to arrests happening right now.
ABC Revelations that the paper illegally hacked the voicemails of 4000 people.
The Sun tabloid was hated by celebrities, politicians, even the royals for its relentless pursuit of sensational story stories that made it hugely popular with readers and hugely profitable for Murdoch.
David Folkenflik Murdoch's British tabloids were involved in hacking into the emails and voicemails and cell phones, not just of celebrities and sports stars and various royals who the British public often thought of as just targets for sport, but also crime victims. You know, a murdered girl. Former British troops have been killed in service.
Brooke Gladstone Two members of Murdoch's editing staff where arrested Rupert Murdoch had to testify before a parliamentary committee and a judicial inquiry. British lawmakers were in high dudgeon.
CNN More than any individual alive. He used to blame. Morally, the deeds are his. It is his company, his culture, his business, his failures, his lies, his crimes, the price of profits and his power.
Brooke Gladstone At the time, questions rose about a possible inquiry into the crown jewel of Murdoch's empire, Fox News. But that didn't happen.
David Folkenflik Rupert Murdoch in 2011 was concerned, as he is now, about the erosion of the newspaper's dominance and standing with the public, and that the way to take care of that was to continue to report aggressively about the things that interested their audiences. At one point, he said anything that the public is willing to pay for as a service is a public service.
Brooke Gladstone Murdoch's view of journalism as entertainment at all costs prompted other lawsuits, ones that offer insight into how Dominion's lawsuit might go. In 2019, a former Playboy model named Karen McDougal sued Tucker Carlson for claiming that she'd tried to extort Donald Trump. In 2020, the judge dismissed McDougal's defamation case on the grounds that, well, no one believes Tucker Carlson.
NBC Now, some lawyers call this the Tucker Carlson defense. Fox News lawyers said viewers shouldn't believe everything Carlson says.
David Folkenflik And what the judge decided was that people don't come to Tucker Carlson expecting to hear the truth. It might feel truth. But, you know, it wasn't real. And that's how he got off the case.
Brooke Gladstone Similar arguments protected MSNBC's Rachel MADDOW against the right wing One America News Network back in 2021. MADDOW was sued for $10 million after she said that oh, an N was, quote, The most obsequiously pro-Trump right wing news outlet in America really literally is paid Russian propaganda, unquote. The judge in the case said that, quote, No reasonable viewer could conclude that MADDOW implied an assertion of objective fact.
David Folkenflik The idea was that people had to be given some running room to be less than perfectly precise at all times. Otherwise, you could have the courts used to essentially clamp down on critics, particularly political and government officials, public officials, and abuse the system that is supposed to ensure freedom of speech. So, you know, political rhetoric is allowed, opinions are allowed and hyperbole that stray from the facts are allowed.
Brooke Gladstone But that doesn't mean that absolutely everything goes. When the corporation fought off the lawsuit against Tucker Carlson. Another story was stirring up trouble for the network.
David Folkenflik The family of Seth Rich is suing Fox News for broadcasting false conspiracy theories about the death of their son.
Brooke Gladstone Seth Rich was a Democratic National Committee staffer who was killed in a robbery gone wrong in Washington, D.C., in July of 2016. About a year later, a story appeared on the Fox News website with information. That came after a Fox News commentator, an investment adviser, offered to hire a private investigator to help the family find their son's killer. But instead of finding the perp, he found ways to connect the murdered man to the leak of DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Fox ran with it. The original story was eventually taken down by the network for not meeting their editorial standards. But that's a weak remedy.
David Folkenflik The family is suing, saying that they've had a lot of emotional distress over Fox's story. We debunked it here at CNN within hours of the FOX. It took him seven days to actually retract that story, and now it seems it actually might cost them.
David Folkenflik To my mind, it's one of the most despicable chapters in Fox's history, where they took a young dead man and blamed something that an overwhelming series of governmental investigations, including the Republican led Senate Intelligence Committee, you know, pinned on forces linked to Russian intelligence and tried to blame it on him, saying that he was trying to sabotage Hillary Clinton's election prospects in ways that are utterly unsupported by facts.
Brooke Gladstone Fox settled the case with the rich family in the fall of 2020, and just when Fox was coming out of a settlement for lying on air came the 2020 election and Fox hosts lied again, sparking another lawsuit, though Fox viewers might not hear about it.
David Folkenflik Fox itself is not covering this. In fact, its own media critic finally revived himself enough this past Sunday to say that Fox had told him he can't report on this. So Fox viewers aren't going to be confronted by that, except in that very elliptical way. And as a result, they will pivot and move on to other things.
Brooke Gladstone Another disclosure from these court filings, Rupert Murdoch shared President Biden's 2020 campaign ads with Jared Kushner. Before they aired, it was confidential stuff Murdoch gave to the Trump campaign, along with helping Trump with his debate strategy. Regardless of the legal or monetary punishment Fox might endure. None of this is likely to cause a ratings fall for while some of us may clutch our pearls at the running river of confirmation bias that is Fox News. That's not why people tune out.
Andrew Prokop I think a lot of people have the too simple model that they put out a propaganda line and then their viewers simply accept that. But it's much more of a two way process.
Brooke Gladstone Andrew Prokop.
Andrew Prokop They are trying to win their own viewers attention. Loyalty and trust. They play to their fears and prejudices. They entertain them. They convey they're on the same side, but they're also trying, as Murdoch says, to lead them in certain directions.
Brooke Gladstone They say journalism is the first draft of history. But that's operating under the assumption that news outlets are reporting ethically about what they know and what they don't. Even the most responsible reporting, dependent as it is on location and outlook and who holds the information, is a view through a soda straw. What goes into the historical record and what gets left out? That's what we're looking at in the rest of the hour. Coming up when On a journey for Historical truth. Historical fiction is a crucial port of call. This is On the Media.
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