“I think no regular person could read this and look at Fox like a news organization at this point.”
In the wake of bombshell legal filings showing that Fox News executives and stars seemingly sought to pacify their disgruntled MAGA viewers by airing election lies, while punishing and censoring the employees attempting to deliver the actual truth, the above observation has become commonplace within media circles.
But some of the shots are being fired from within the conservative cable giant.
According to nine Fox News staffers and insiders, the pre-trial filings in Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News further impugn and sully the reputation of the network’s “straight news” journalists, especially since they show Fox was “operating out of fear” over losing viewers to smaller right-wing competitors following its Decision Desk’s early (and accurate) Arizona election night call for President Joe Biden.
“We are not happy,” one reporter told The Daily Beast.
At the same time, five sources familiar with the situation say that despite the very public reputational harm resulting from the Dominion documents, the news side has been kept in the dark on the filings, with no communication from Fox’s corporate management or human resources department.
“It’s just a really bad time to be working here,” one news producer said.
The network, on the other hand, defended its treatment and handling of the news division.
“Under the leadership of FOX News Media CEO Suzanne Scott, the network has increased its investment in journalism by more than 50%, further expanding our newsgathering footprint both domestically and abroad while providing state-of-the-art resources to enhance our coverage,” a Fox News spokesperson said in a statement. “We are incredibly proud of our team of journalists who continue to deliver breaking news from around the world and will continue to fight for the preservation of the First Amendment as Dominion attempts to suppress basic rights protected by our Constitution.”
With the much-anticipated trial kicking off next month, multiple filings from Dominion’s lawyers have been unsealed in recent weeks, pulling back the curtain on Fox News’ inner machinations surrounding the 2020 presidential election, which saw former President Donald Trump and his acolytes peddle baseless conspiracy theories about widespread election fraud.
More than anything, the tranche of internal messages and texts Dominion obtained from Fox executives, hosts, and producers show a network in full-blown crisis over the fear of losing its relevance within the conservative movement—and a network whose top stars loathed the fact-driven journalists on the “hard news” side. Rupert Murdoch, the head of the Fox empire, privately conceded that Trump’s claims were “really crazy stuff,” and Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott warned shortly after the election that they shouldn’t “give the crazies an inch.”
Even stars like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham privately trash-talked Team Trump’s “insane” fraud claims. But despite all that, the Fox hosts were simultaneously boosting them on the network’s airwaves in the days and weeks after the election.
Additionally, with wannabe rival Newsmax suddenly pulling away Fox’s viewers by openly embracing Trump’s false “stolen election” narrative, there was a concerted internal effort to thwart any embarrassing fact-checks of these lies by Fox News journalists, the documents show.
White House correspondent Kristin Fisher was “punished” by her boss Bryan Boughton for debunking the “really crazy” Nov. 19, 2020, press conference by Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, with Boughton telling her she “needed to do a better job of…respecting our audience.”
Tucker Carlson and Hannity demanded that management fire reporter Jacqui Heinrich for fact-checking a Trump tweet that tagged Fox Business host Lou Dobbs. “Please get her fired. Seriously….What the fuck?” Carlson messaged Hannity, adding: “It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”
And while Scott did not terminate Heinrich (she has since been promoted), another Fox News executive did privately complain at the time that the reporter “has serious nerve doing this and if this gets picked up, viewers are going to be further disgusted.”
Other hard news Fox hosts such as Neil Cavuto and Leland Vittert also found themselves in the crosshairs for pushing “anti-Trump” narratives in the days following the election. Hannity, for his part, was particularly enraged with Cavuto, who had cut away from a Nov. 9 press conference when then-White House Press Secretary (and now Fox News host) Kayleigh McEnany began tossing out baseless allegations. Vittert, meanwhile, was blasted by Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch over his “smug and obnoxious” coverage of a Nov. 14 Trump rally, which Murdoch felt should be treated as a “celebration of the president.”
And in a group chat shortly after the election, Carlson, Hannity, and Ingraham raged about the news division, fuming that their “anger at the news channel is pronounced” because “we devote our lives” to “building an audience and they let Chris Wallace and Leland fucking Vittert wreck it.” The primetime stars noted they had “more power than we know or exercise” and they should “force a change” together. “The first thing we need to do [is] exactly what we want to do,” Carlson declared on Nov. 16.
The two top faces of the network’s hard news division, Martha MacCallum and Bret Baier, did not necessarily cover themselves in glory, however. The New York Times recently obtained a Zoom recording from shortly after the election that found Baier and MacCallum just as panicked over Fox’s ratings drop as Scott and Fox News President Jay Wallace. And the issue largely revolved around the Arizona call and how it angered the network’s audience.
“We are still getting bombarded. It became really hurtful,” Baier said during the Nov. 16 call.
Baier had previously sent an email to Wallace urging Fox to pull the Arizona projection and “put it back” in Trump’s column. (It was never in Trump’s column.) On the call, MacCallum and Baier also asked for another “layer” surrounding election projections so they could “think beyond, about the implications.”
Bill Sammon, the managing editor for Washington who oversaw the Decision Desk, was also on the call. “If I may defend the Decision Desk for a moment, they got all 50 states right,” he said on the call. “We called Arizona. It was a good call. It held up.”
Four days later, Rupert Murdoch suggested that maybe it was “best to let Bill go right away” as it would “be a big message with Trump people.” Sammon was “told the inevitable” later that day, with the termination framed as a “retirement.” Chris Stirewalt, the political editor tasked with defending the Arizona call on air, was also let go. Fox portrayed his firing as a “restructuring.”
“It’s remarkable how weak ratings make... good journalists do bad things,” Sammon wrote in a Dec. 2 email, worrying that Fox had reached an “existential crisis” over its coverage of false election claims.
The way actual journalists at the network see it, the revelations are depressing—but also not unexpected.
“I mean, anyone that’s been paying attention has kind of realized, obviously it’s deteriorated,” a news production staffer said. “Chris Wallace leaving, everything that happened in the wake of Jan. 6, I guess the deterioration is faster, and maybe there’s been more of a flashlight shown on the actual operation within Fox.”
Noting that he’s not sure “how much has changed” because it’s always been “opinion first, news secondary” at Fox, the staffer did say that Fox has lost a lot of its ability to publicly boast about its news division.
“The news side has always been kind of used as a bit of a shield, a bit of a legitimacy play,” he stated. “And I think that in and of itself is, it’s kind of falling apart now.”
The feeling among the news division’s employees that journalism is not a high priority, and that money and ideology drive decisions at the network, has only risen since the Dominion filings were unsealed.
“Because the problem is, it’s pretty damn clear that the motivation is the money-based machine on the opinion side that drives all their business decisions, that drives a lot of their programming decisions,” the reporter told The Daily Beast. “And so even if you have good reporters who are trying to report the news, it’s just not what Fox as an entity sees its value as, so that sucks.”
The producer, for her part, called the filings “disappointing” before wondering why “is the news side being censored?” (Fox News media host Howie Kurtz recently revealed on air that the network is preventing him from discussing the fallout over the Dominion filings on his weekly media show.)
She continued: “If journalists are being criticized for being hard on the Trump admin or truthfully talking about the election, it’s a form of censorship. The news division is being given less importance.”
Another veteran Fox journalist disagreed that he was being “censored or scared.” But he does feel “incredibly angry that the reputations of amazing news people and reporters are being dragged through the mud because of the buffoonish and dangerous actions of a few during that election.”
He added: “There were journalists every single day that did that right thing during that time. We stuck to the facts despite pressure from our audience and social media to not do our jobs.”
Another reporter, meanwhile, called the fallout over the filings “demoralizing, deflating and soul-crushing” as a journalist.
With all of the turmoil over the filings and the revelations about how Fox News really operates, has upper management addressed the staff?
Not really, sources told The Daily Beast.
“I’m also shocked by the fact that like, we have not had any sort of corporate communication,” the reporter said. “We’re operating as though nothing’s happening.”
The news production staffer declared that there was “definitely nothing formal coming from corporate” on the matter.
Another Fox News insider said it was “true” that corporate had not communicated at all with staff about the filings. “No word from anyone,” the insider added.
“Not a word to us,” a network correspondent said. “It’s like it’s not even a thing. There’s been no guidance—nothing internal, not even hush-hush in the hallways. But of course, we all see the reporting, and every day it’s more and more damning.”
While management is keeping Fox staffers in the dark as the controversy only continues to grow, they did make sure to put out the word to media outlets that Scott’s job was not in danger.
This comes amid speculation that the Murdochs “are certainly setting Suzanne Scott up to take the fall for this,” and that “they’re leaving a trail of crumbs that lead back to her office.” Rupert Murdoch himself said in his deposition that network executives who knowingly allowed election lies to be aired “should be reprimanded, maybe got rid of.”
“Suzanne Scott, she’s in charge of the whole company, so that’s news and opinion and she’s clearly not looking out for the news side here,” the reporter exclaimed. “How can we all continue to work for her?! How can anyone watching Fox for news believe that they’re gonna get news if she’s in charge? We are not happy.”
The reporter also wondered how Carlson could continue to work for the company after it was revealed that he was demanding at least one journalist be fired for doing their job.
“It’s wrong,” the producer said of Carlson’s behind-the-scenes actions. “He acts like the king of Fox. Entitlement. Extremely unprofessional.”
“Honestly, Tucker is a joke, and I don’t know many in the news division that likes or respects him,” a correspondent sighed. “He makes our jobs harder and way more dangerous.”
The veteran journalist, however, pointed out that “Tucker has publicly attacked and humiliated journalists here at Fox before” so “it shouldn’t be a surprise that he was trashing us behind the scenes.”
Citing the enormity of Fox as an entertainment and media corporation, and how even $1.6 billion may not change the bottom line all that much, the news production staffer observed: “I don’t think it’s going to change anything operationally for them, right?”
In the end, one thing that stood out to many of these staffers was the mere fact that Fox News was legitimately worried that Newsmax would suddenly overtake them as the top cable destination for conservative viewers.
“Generally speaking it was very clear that Fox leadership was incredibly worried about Newsmax and viewer backlash,” the journalist said. “It was clear we were operating from a place of fear and bad decisions were made.”
The news production staffer was far more blunt.
“The biggest eye-opener of all of this is the paranoia at the highest levels of the company. That an upstart like Newsmax can even be in the same arena as Fox for them,” he proclaimed. “This is Fox, Fox News, dude, like, they have a huge infrastructure nationwide. So many resources that something like a Newsmax just cannot even come close to matching, and to think that they were so concerned about losing market share to someone like Newsmax and to go so far as to report these conspiracy theories on the air?”
The staffer concluded: “That to me is the most revealing of all of this is that the people in the positions of power—Rupert, Lachlan, Scott, all of them—they were actually genuinely concerned and paranoid that without pandering to the Trump base and entertaining the lies, that they would actually crumble as a business. That’s just ridiculous in my mind.”