Can Fox News, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s influential conservative paper, overcome its legal troubles and revelations of behind-the-scenes intrigue?
A steady stream of private messages, texts and emails from top network members continues to surface amid a defamation lawsuit, with each revelation enthralling US media and Democratic critics of the 24-hour news giant.
The billion-dollar lawsuit, filed by an electronic voting equipment maker, Dominion Voting Systems, alleges Fox News encouraged former President Donald Trump’s false claims that his equipment was used to rig the 2020 election.
By releasing stacks of company announcements, Dominion’s lawyers have pulled back the curtain on what commentators and executives really thought of Trump, who had relied on Fox News for constant support.
“We’re very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights…I really can’t wait,” Fox News star Tucker Carlson wrote to his team on Jan. 4, 2021, two days before Trump supporters announced the US stormed the Capitol to overturn the election.
“I hate him passionately.”
Fox News internal documents and communications show that after the November 2020 election, few people on the network, including Murdoch, believed Trump’s claim that the election was “stolen” by Democrats, particularly through electronic voting.
But they kept their beliefs to themselves while letting conspiracy theorists appear on the nightly prime time shows of Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson.
These contradictions are at the heart of Dominion’s lawsuit, which is seeking $1.6 billion in damages in a civil trial scheduled for mid-April in the state of Delaware.
The lawsuit against the Dominion, Fox News told AFP, is “nothing more than another flagrant attack on the First Amendment… (and) would have grave ramifications for journalism in this country.”
The network adds that it was legitimate to give the floor to the Trump camp when it challenged the vote and “essential to the search for truth” to let all sides have their say. It accuses Dominion of “cherry picking and taking quotes out of context.”
But Dominion gives Fox News a hammer.
“They bloodied Fox badly,” said Mark Feldstein, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland.
“For a long time we were like people in a theater watching a play.
“What we didn’t realize before is how intentional and intentional and orchestrated that was.”
However, Feldstein is wary of the impact the lawsuit could have on viewership. Fox News was the most-watched cable news channel last year for the seventh straight year, well ahead of rivals like MSNBC and CNN.
Faced with increasing competition from smaller, more far-right channels, some Fox presenters openly worried about losing viewers if they backed away from conspiracy theories.
“They promoted these lies in large part because their audiences wanted to hear them,” Feldstein said.
Founded in 1996, the network has weathered several crises in recent years, including the sexual harassment scandals surrounding its iconic boss, Roger Ailes, who died in 2017, and one of its iconic anchors, Bill O’Reilly, who was fired that same year.
There is no doubt that if Dominion were awarded over $1 billion in damages, it would deal a blow to its parent company, Fox Corporation Group, which had $14 billion in revenue in its most recent full fiscal year . And Fox News is being sued in a similar case by another company, Smartmatic.
The network remains on course for the time being. Last week, Tucker Carlson dedicated his show to trying to downplay the violence of Trump supporters during the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, with the footage being presented as exclusive.
“Beyond the legal process, the most likely consequences if Fox faces it will come from advertisers who find the brand too unreliable to associate with them, and viewers who choose to walk away from it for good.” , said Kyle Pope, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review.