How Fox News Begged D-List Right-Wingers to Defend Them
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Internal Fox News documents spilled in the channel’s legal fight with Dominion Voting Systems offer a rare glimpse into how the network’s infamously aggressive PR team led by Irena Briganti attempts to plant favorable stories among conservative allies.
Six days after the 2020 election, Fox was taking hits from its right-wing fanbase after being the first network to call Arizona for Joe Biden. The network’s favorability ratings with its usual audience had plummeted, according to an internal report, as the network faced what the report called “extremely high levels of conservative discontent.”
In an email to Nov. 9 email to fellow Fox executives, network vice president (and former Trump White House vet) Raj Shah scrambled to find right-wing pundits willing to write columns pushing the angle Briganti described in an email as “Let’s all take a deep breath on the conservative backlash against Fox News.”
Shah wrote: “The biggest folks aren’t going to rush to our defense, but the Tier 2 folks might write.”
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Those “Tier 2” folks (ouch!) included pundit and historian Victor Davis Hanson, Washington Times columnist Peter Roff, former Ohio state Rep. Jonathan Dever, and American Greatness writer Bill Asher—all of whom warrant a collective “Who?”
Shah also listed some potential social-media boosters, whose names were redacted, including a person associated with a conservative group called the Article III Project.
Unfortunately for Fox’s embattled PR team, Hanson—by far the biggest name on the “Tier 2” list—wasn’t biting.
In an 11 p.m. email to Lachlan Murdoch, Fox CEO Suzanne Scott, and chief legal officer Viet Dinh, Briganti admitted that Hanson, “usually a reliable surrogate for us,” said no—as did other “usually reliable reporters/outlets on the right.” The top flack’s effort to place a right-wing column defending Fox’s Arizona call outraged Tucker Carlson, who wrote in a text message to Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity that the outreach was “insanity,” and that Hanson was “upset by it, and obviously refused.” The Fox star asked: “Why does Irena work here?”
Fox PR did succeed, however, in placing a Fox defense via Asher, a far lesser-known writer than Hanson, who meekly defended the network by saying he preferred it to CNN and MSNBC. But for all of the effort that went into placing the story, it seems to have had little effect in shoring up the network’s reputation. The most popular tweet about Asher’s article earned a mere seven retweets, while another—from the Article III Project that Shah predicted would carry water for Fox on social media—received another five retweets. An internal Fox report noted that Asher’s article had earned only 79 interactions on social media in total.
Fox News, Hanson, and Roff didn’t respond to requests for comment, while Dever and Asher couldn’t be reached.
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