What key players at Fox News said about the network and its viewers

·17 min read
What key players at Fox News said about the network and its viewers

The $1.6 billion defamation case against Fox News has given the public a rare look at the inner workings of the conservative cable-news giant - including what its executives and top personalities privately had to say about their colleagues, their company and its viewers.

Emails and text messages sent among major players at the network, including figures like Rupert Murdoch and Tucker Carlson, reveal that many disbelieved the claims of election fraud aired by Donald Trump allies on Fox programs - but that they were concerned Trump-supporting viewers would flip to other channels if Fox journalists contradicted the false claims on air.

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The cache of documents was released as part of the lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems, which alleged Fox "spread and endorsed" false claims - such as, that its voting machines were rigged to "flip" votes from Trump to Joe Biden - and in doing so, harmed Dominion's reputation and damaged its business prospects. Fox has argued it was covering newsworthy claims and that Dominion has used "cherry-picked quotes stripped of key context."

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Rupert Murdoch

Fox Corp. chairman

"Still getting mud thrown at us! … Maybe Sean and Laura went too far. All very well for Sean to tell you he was in despair about Trump but what did he tell his viewers?" - Murdoch in an email to Fox News chief executive Suzanne Scott on Jan. 21, 2021, referring to two of Fox's top prime-time stars, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham


As chairman of Fox Corp., the parent company of Fox News, 91-year-old billionaire Rupert Murdoch oversees a massive media empire and is in frequent contact with the network's top executives. He is also executive chairman of News Corp., which owns the Wall Street Journal and New York Post.

Never a fan of Trump, whom Murdoch originally knew as a gossip column fixture in his own New York Post tabloid, the mogul entered a mutually beneficial relationship with the future president as he closed in on the White House. By the end of Trump's term, though, Murdoch fretted in private emails that he had gone "increasingly mad." He bemoaned the chatter of election conspiracy theories, even as they burbled up on his own network, but also worried about ratings and urged Fox executives to help Republican candidates in Georgia Senate runoff elections "any way we can."

Lachlan Murdoch

Fox Corp. CEO, son of Rupert

"News guys have to be careful how they cover this rally … The narrative should be this is a huge celebration of the president." - Lachlan Murdoch in a message to Scott, on Nov. 14, 2020, about coverage of a Trump rally in which two Fox journalists had contradicted election-fraud claims


Lachlan Murdoch, the chief executive of Fox Corp. since 2019, and the son of Rupert, has never enjoyed the close relationship with Trump that his father once did, but he has lately made his conservative views clear.

In texts with top executives following the election, he inserted himself into its coverage plan, urging that stories should focus on celebrating then-president Trump while also expressing concern that it was inappropriate for Laura Ingraham to attend a White House election-night watch party, adding that he preferred hosts showed "some distance and independence."

4. Paul D. Ryan

Board member

"I see this as a key inflection point for Fox … A solid pushback (including editorial) of his baseless calls for overturning electors, etc. will undoubtedly accrue pushback and possibly a momentary ratings dip, but will clearly redound to our benefit in terms of credibility." - Ryan in text messages to Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, Dec. 6, 2020


Paul D. Ryan, a former speaker of the House and leading light of the GOP before his brand of intellectual conservatism was swamped by the MAGA movement, joined the Fox Corp. board after leaving Congress. He has urged the party to move on from the former president, saying that Republicans "lose with Trump."

In correspondence uncovered by Dominion, Ryan texted to the Murdochs in December 2020 that he thought that Fox was at a "key inflection point." In calling for pushback of Trump's baseless claims, Ryan hoped the network could appeal to center and center-right voters.

"The sooner we can put down the echoes of falsehoods from our side, the faster we can get onto principled loyal opposition," Ryan wrote. "I truly hope our contributors, along with Tucker, Laura, and Sean get that and execute."

Viet Dinh

Chief legal officer

"Let's continue to buckle up for the ride for next 24 hours. Hannity is getting awfully close to the line with his commentary and guests tonight." - Dinh in an email to a senior vice president two days after the election


Viet Dinh is a longtime family friend of the Murdochs, and is the godfather to one of Lachlan Murdoch's sons. He is Fox Corp.'s chief legal officer, and also serves on its board of directors, after previously serving as an assistant attorney general during the George W. Bush administration.

As the highest ranking lawyer in Fox Corp., he frequently received reports from Irena Briganti, senior executive vice president for corporate communications, about the company's response to media inquiries about claims made on prime time shows. Some of those messages were written under the title, "Prepared for and at the request of Counsel in anticipation of litigation."

Raj Shah

Senior vice president

"This isn't an audience that can easily be persuaded and are willing to believe just about anything." - Shah in a Nov. 23, 2020, email to Lachlan Murdoch, Dinh and Scott analyzing conservative Twitter attacks on Tucker Carlson after he initially challenged Sidney Powell's fraud claims


Raj Shah worked for the Republican National Committee and as a deputy press secretary in the Trump White House before joining Fox Corp. in 2019 as senior vice president. He was part of the White House team that worked to prepare Brett M. Kavanaugh for his Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and he helped arrange Kavanaugh's interview with Fox host Martha MacCallum to discuss allegations he faced of sexual assault.

Shah sent survey data to senior leaders at Fox after the 2020 election, warning them that declining favorability among its core audience was "getting pretty perilous." He called for "bold, clear and decisive action" to regain the trust "with our core audience," and wondered if that audience felt they'd been "somehow betrayed by the network."

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Suzanne Scott


"I can't keep defending these reporters who don't understand our viewers and how to handle stories. The audience feels like we crapped on [them] and we have damaged their trust and belief in us. ... We can fix this but we cannot smirk at our viewers any longer." - Scott in a Nov. 11, 2020, email to Fox News President Jay Wallace after host Dana Perino suggested on air that Dominion could sue Rudy Giuliani over election-fraud claims


Suzanne Scott was named chief executive of Fox News in 2018 after serving as president of programming for both the Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network. After joining the network at its 1996 launch, she was deeply involved in launching several top-rated shows. She is a controversial figure inside the company, after many years working directly under co-founder Roger Ailes, who was later ousted amid a 2016 sexual harassment scandal.

After the election, she talked with both Murdochs about shaping news coverage to "keep the audience who loves and trusts us." Concerned about ratings, Scott was upset that some hosts contradicted audience views on election conspiracy theories and told Jay Wallace that the coverage needed to change.

Jay Wallace


"The North Koreans do a more nuanced show." - Wallace in a September 2020 email to Fox News executive Irena Briganti and Scott mocking host Lou Dobbs's fawning deference to Donald Trump


Jay Wallace, the president and executive editor of Fox News, has been with the network since 1996 and oversees all news and editorial programming across several Fox properties. He is viewed internally as having an affinity for the news programs and was particularly close to Shepard Smith, a news anchor who left in 2019 after a public dispute with Tucker Carlson over the network's coverage.

Wallace said in his deposition that while he has ultimate editorial control over the content broadcast on Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network, there is a "separation of sorts" between the news and opinion shows. When asked if he had editorial control over Carlson's show, he equivocated, saying producers on the opinion shows report to him "in some dotted line forms."

Irena Briganti

Senior executive vice president, corporate communications

"Yes tons of crazy." - Briganti in a Nov. 8, 2020, text to a colleague after watching Maria Bartiromo interview Trump ally Sidney Powell


Irena Briganti, who joined Fox in 1996, became senior executive vice president of corporate communications in 2018.

In internal communications following the 2020 election, Briganti referred to host Maria Bartiromo interviewing Trump-allied lawyer Sidney Powell, who went on several Fox programs spinning wild election conspiracy theories, as "one of our biggest issues right now." During the same time period, host Laura Ingraham complained in other internal communications that Briganti was behind efforts to promote Fox anchor Eric Shawn's debunking of Powell's claims about Dominion.

"She is coordinating this," Ingraham alleged to Carlson.

"Without question . . .. Irena hates prime time, trust me. That's not speculation," Carlson responded.

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Meade Cooper

Executive vice president, prime-time programming

"I feel really good about Tucker and Laura. I think Sean will see the wisdom of this track eventually, but even this morning he was still looking for examples of fraud." - Cooper in a Nov. 6, 2020, text message to Ron Mitchell, a Fox executive


Meade Cooper, a production assistant at Fox News's 1996 launch, is an executive vice president for the network's prime time programming. At the time of the election and its aftermath, she oversaw the shows of some of Fox's biggest stars, including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, as well as Jeanine Pirro and Mark Levin. In her deposition with Dominion's lawyers, she noted that while she is in charge of these shows, "Very rarely is an actual script run by me."

David Clark

Former senior vice president of weekend programming

"I don't know." - Clark when asked during a deposition whether anchor Maria Bartiromo is a credible source of news


The former senior vice president for weekend news and programming, David Clark started with Fox News in 1996. Clark testified in his deposition that he was responsible for overseeing Maria Bartiromo's "Sunday Morning Futures." Asked whether he considered that show to be a "credible source of news," Clark answered: "I don't know." When pressed, he said "I am going to answer the question yes."

Clark also sent an email to Jeanine Pirro and her producers asking the host to make clear that "Dominion denies these allegations," according to internal communications.

Bill Sammon

Former senior vice president, Washington editor

"In my 22 years affiliated with Fox, this is the closest thing I've seen to an existential crisis - at least journalistically." - Sammon in a Dec. 2, 2020, text message to colleagues


Part of the decision desk team that made a controversial early projection that Biden would win the Arizona, Bill Sammon came under fire from Trump's camp, according to internal communications. Jason Miller, a senior campaign aide, texted him that night "WAY too soon to be calling Arizona," and Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows called to question him about how the decision was made, Sammon said in his deposition. As Fox began to air election conspiracy theories, Sammon expressed frustration.

Sammon was later let go from his job, and according to a Nov. 20, 2020, email, Rupert Murdoch backed the decision. "Maybe best to let Bill go right away," he said, adding that it would "be big message with Trump people."

Chris Stirewalt

Former political editor

"What I see us doing is losing the silent majority of viewers as we chase the nuts off a cliff." - Stirewalt in a Dec. 2., 2020, text to Bill Sammon


Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News in 2010 and was a political editor during the 2020 election. He was a regular on-air commentator on election night, appearing several times on air to express confidence in the network's early and ultimately accurate projection that Biden would win Arizona.

Like Sammon, his boss, Stirewalt was also ousted in January 2021. He later testified in a deposition that "Fox could have done a better job" of telling its audience the truth about the election and that, "no reasonable person would have thought" the allegations against Dominion were true.

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Tucker Carlson

8 p.m. host

"We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can't wait." - Carlson in a text message to an colleague on Jan. 4, 2021


Tucker Carlson joined Fox News as a political analyst in 2009, after stints at MSNBC and CNN, and in 2016, he took over a prime show that has become one of the most-watched shows in cable news.

In several exchanges, Carlson offered concerns or criticisms of Trump, at one point declaring "I hate him passionately." But he also worried how the network's news side's rejection of Trump conspiracy theories was hurting Fox's brand and ratings.

He cast doubt on some of the characters promoting falsehoods. "Sidney Powell is lying," he once wrote to his producer, referring to Powell's outlandish claims about the election. Yet he also wrote about mulling whether to air puffed-up claims about dead voters, apparently to appease viewers.

Sean Hannity

9 p.m. host

"You don't piss off the base." - Hannity in texts with Fox News host Steve Doocy


Sean Hannity, the 9 p.m. opinion host who joined Fox at its inception in 1996 and was one of the most outspoken hosts in publicly questioning the integrity of the 2020 election, also criticized the news side for pushing back on air against unsubstantiated fraud allegations.

In a Nov. 27, 2020, text exchange with Fox News host Steve Doocy, Hannity complained of the news division's impact on the network's viewership. "'News' destroyed us," he wrote, adding, "you don't piss off the base."

At the same time, top executives privately worried that Hannity was going too far in spreading election conspiracy theories and potentially sounding like a "sore loser."

Laura Ingraham

10 p.m. host

"We are all officially working for an organization that hates us." - Ingraham in a Nov. 16, 2020, text message to Carlson and Hannity arguing that their news colleagues were hurting ratings


Ingraham, the 10 p.m. opinion host, joined the network in 2007. A lawyer by training, Ingraham was a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1992.

In texts with Carlson and Hannity, she said that when she signed with Fox she was told it was a "conservative alternative." An influential presence on-air and in the organization, Ingraham decried three Fox News reporters as "vicious liberals," and worried her brand would be damaged because they were fact-checking election conspiracy claims.

Bret Baier

Chief political anchor

"They do it differently and I think that they, you know, stir the pot in different ways, but sure." - Baier when asked in a deposition whether he thought the opinion side of Fox had an obligation to tell their audience the truth


Joining Fox News in 1998 as an Atlanta correspondent, Bret Baier came up through the ranks as a Pentagon and White House reporter and is lauded by Fox for representing traditional, nonpartisan news values. He is the chief political anchor of the network and is its 6 p.m. news host.

In private communications, Baier told Fox executives the situation was "getting uncomfortable," after the network called Arizona for Biden, asking them to put the state "back in [Trump's] column" and arguing that the network was "holding on for pride."

Phil Vogel, a producer for Baier's show, left the job and texted to another employee that "post election coverage of 'voter fraud' was probably the complete end," and that "I realized I couldn't defend my employer to my daughter while trying to teach her to do what is right."

Maria Bartiromo

Anchor, Fox News and Fox Business

"My audience wanted to hear what the president and his legal team were doing, and I was pressing them where the evidence is, and will they be able to prove it in court." - Bartiromo when asked in a deposition about her decision to keep hosting Trump ally Sidney Powell on her show despite a lack of evidence for her election-fraud claims.


A host on both Fox News and Fox Business Network since 2014, Maria Bartiromo previously reported on the stock market and prominent business figures for CNBC. At Fox, she ventured into politics and policy and became an outspoken Trump supporter. In her deposition, she testified that she had Sidney Powell on her show because of the newsworthiness she presented as Trump's lawyer.

Fox, in its defense, has argued that Bartiromo either truly believed or was open to election conspiracy theories; Bartiromo repeatedly said in her deposition that she still had questions about the 2020 election. But critics say she played a unique role in promoting Powell's claims, having the lawyer on her widely-watched show multiple times after the election.

Lou Dobbs

Former host, Fox Business

"When I was hired by Roger Ailes, I was hired, as he put it, to be Lou Dobbs." - Dobbs when asked in a deposition about pressure from Fox executives or Murdoch family members over the content of his show


Lou Dobbs, a former reporter who helped launch CNN in 1980, joined Fox Business Network in 2010, and his show premiered in early 2011. He became something of an unofficial adviser to then-president Trump, who occasionally patched him by phone to meetings with Cabinet officials. After the 2020 race, he hosted Powell and Rudy Giuliani to share their claims of election fraud and criticized Republican officials for not pursuing the allegations.

Tucker Carlson also texted his producer that Rupert Murdoch could not stand Dobbs's show and didn't watch it. His show was canceled in February 2021.

Jeanine Pirro

Co-host, "The Five"

"I'm not an investigative reporter. My job as a reporter was to ask the questions and then have [Powell] respond." - Pirro when asked in a deposition what evidence she had seen to support a false claim that Dominion was owned by a company founded in Venezuela to rig elections for the dictator Hugo Chávez


Jeanine Pirro joined Fox News as a legal analyst in 2006 and hosts a weekday evening show for the network; she was previously the host of a syndicated court show. She first came to prominence as the district attorney for New York's Westchester County in the 1990s and became friends with Donald Trump from the time her ex-husband served as his lawyer.

Pirro also hosted Sidney Powell on her show to discuss election-fraud claims. Fox has argued that Pirro, along with Bartiromo and Dobbs, sincerely believed the theories or were genuinely open to them, and thus were not acting with actual malice. In Pirro's depositions, which have been heavily redacted, she said that she hosted Powell because she was the president's lawyer alleging she had evidence of fraud.


The Washington Post's Matt Brown, Amy Gardner, Rosalind S. Helderman, Elahe Izadi, Meryl Kornfield and Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.

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