Behind the scenes of the shows where they were amplifying baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged, the star hosts, producers, and executives of Fox News were furiously messaging each other. They reacted in frustration and bewilderment to their own broadcasts, calling the conspiracy theorists to which they were ceding airtime “F’ing lunatics,” “totally off the rails,” and “MIND BLOWINGLY NUTS.”
As the start of an explosive brief unsealed Thursday evening as part of Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against the network argues: “Fox knew.”
“From the top down, Fox knew ‘the dominion stuff’ was ‘total bs,’” the filing continues. “Yet despite knowing the truth—or at minimum, recklessly disregarding that truth—Fox spread and endorsed these ‘outlandish voter fraud claims’ about Dominion even as it internally recognized the lies as ‘crazy,’ ‘absurd,’ and ‘shockingly reckless.’”
The partially redacted, 192-page filing is stuffed with texts, emails, and testimony from marquee names like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham lashing out at key Trumpworld figures and insulting them in bitter terms.
Sidney Powell? An “unguided missile,” “dangerous as hell,” and “poison,” according to Carlson.
Mike Lindell? “On the crazy train with no brakes,” as Gary Schreier, senior vice president of programming for Fox Business, phrased it.
Rudy Giuliani? “So full of shit,” a Lou Dobbs Tonight producer snapped.
The concerns wormed their way up to the top of the food chain, according to the filing. On Nov. 19, Rupert Murdoch, Fox’s powerful chairman, watched as his network broadcast the entirety of a press conference held by Giuliani and Powell, who took turns spewing vitriolic remarks about the election. Murdoch then fired off a text: “Really crazy stuff. And damaging.”
The messages show that Murdoch also at one point asked Fox CEO Suzanne Scott if it was “unarguable that high-profile Fox voices fed the story that the election was stolen and that January 6 [was] an important chance to have the results overturned.”
Network executives responded to his query with 50 examples proving as much, the brief states.
On Nov. 7, the New York Post, another Murdoch family jewel, published an editorial begging Trump to “stop the ‘stolen election’ rhetoric” and help yank Giuliani off TV. Scott, according to the filing, ensured the editorial “received wide distribution” inside the company. That was the same day Fox called the election for President Joe Biden.
Less than 24 hours later, Murdoch told Scott, “Getting creamed by CNN! Guess our viewers don’t want to watch it.”
In the days and weeks that followed, the filing states, any “effort to prevent false charges from spreading” by the network became markedly less overt.
Dominion’s lawyers have a high bar to clear in finding the “actual malice” they need to prove to win the case. The company’s attorneys need to demonstrate that Fox either knew that what it was broadcasting was false, or that it acted with reckless disregard of the truth.
The term “actual malice,” a standard established in the landmark 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan, is used 45 times in Thursday’s briefing.
“Here... literally dozens of people with editorial responsibility—from the top of the organization to the producers of specific shows to the hosts themselves—acted with actual malice,” the filing explains in its opening pages. Then it begins pulling receipts.
On Nov. 5, Bret Baier, Fox’s chief political correspondent, texted, “There is NO evidence of fraud. None. Allegations—stories. Twitter. Bullshit.”
Exactly a week later, a producer for The Ingraham Angle texted an executive, “This dominion shit is going to give me a fucking aneurysm—as many times as I’ve told Laura it’s bs, she sees shit posters and trump tweeting about it—” The rest of the producer’s message is redacted. In late January, NPR and The New York Times filed a challenge to the suit’s seal, which Fox’s lawyers have fought to keep in place.
In one particularly revealing exchange, Carlson lashed out at Powell, one of the attorneys who very publicly sought to overturn the 2020 election, often appearing on the Fox’s airwaves as she did so.
“Sidney Powell is lying by the way. I caught her. It’s insane,” the primetime host wrote to Ingraham just a few weeks later.
“Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy,” she responded.
Carlson had confronted Powell directly the day before, the brief says. “You keep telling our viewers that millions of votes were changed by the software. I hope you will prove that very soon,” he wrote to her. “You’ve convinced them that Trump will win. If you don’t have conclusive evidence of fraud at that scale, it’s a cruel and reckless thing to keep saying.”
Meanwhile, those who attempted to perform even basic due diligence were allegedly “punished” for doing their jobs, as Kristen Fisher, then the network’s White House correspondent, wrote in a text at the time. She was responding with exasperation after attempting to fact-check Nov. 19’s “really crazy” press conference.
After her fact-check, the filing claims, “Fox’s executives were not pleased. Fisher received a call from her boss, Bryan Boughton, immediately after in which he ‘emphasized that higher-ups at Fox News were also unhappy with it,’ and that Fisher ‘needed to do a better job of…—this is a quote—‘respecting our audience.’’”
In a statement on Thursday, a Fox spokesperson said, “There will be a lot of noise and confusion generated by Dominion and their opportunistic private equity owners, but the core of this case remains about freedom of the press and freedom of speech, which are fundamental rights afforded by the Constitution and protected by New York Times v. Sullivan.”
The network’s attorneys argued in a separate filing released hours earlier that Dominion’s billion-dollar claim in damages was “a staggering figure that has no factual support and serves no apparent purpose other than to generate headlines, chill First Amendment-protected speech.”
The same filing attempted to cast the network’s coverage in the weeks that followed the election in a more flattering light. “Fox News fulfilled its commitment to inform fully and comment fairly,” it said. “Some hosts viewed the president’s claims skeptically; others viewed them hopefully; all recognized them as profoundly newsworthy.”