Jaw-Dropping Filings Reveal Civil War Inside Fox News

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Reuters
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Reuters
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A Delaware judge on Tuesday unsealed hundreds of pages of damning text messages, testimony, and emails from Fox News’ top executives and its most famous faces—adding to the trove of explosive documents released last month as part of Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against the network.

The documents show a network at war with itself as it balanced the need to juice its ratings with the apparent knowledge that it was platforming false claims of fraud by then-President Donald Trump in the days and weeks following the 2020 election.

A number of depositions also released on Tuesday pull back the curtain on how those at the top of the Fox food chain, including owner Rupert Murdoch, were aware that the network was airing false information.

“Do you currently believe Dominion committed election fraud by rigging the 2020 presidential election?” Dominion’s lawyers asked Murdoch at one point in a Jan. 19 deposition.

“I honestly do not know,” Murdoch replied.

“You don’t know?” the lawyer pressed.

“I’ve seen no evidence that they did,” Murdoch allowed.

Later, the lawyer asked if Murdoch had ever seen “any credible evidence” suggesting Dominion was “engaged in a massive and coordinated effort to steal the 2020 presidential election.”

“No,” Murdoch said.

Fox News denied wrongdoing, and in a Tuesday statement said, “Thanks to today’s filings, Dominion has been caught red handed again using more distortions and misinformation in their PR campaign to smear FOX News and trample on free speech and freedom of the press.”

“We already know they will say and do anything to try to win this case,” the statement continued, “but to twist and even misattribute quotes to the highest levels of our company is truly beyond the pale.”

Many of the same famous faces who were shown ridiculing and expressing misgivings about the baseless claims of voter malfeasance in previously released filings also appear in Tuesday’s batch.

In a group chat, “opinion” stars Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Laura Ingraham took turns blasting the company’s “news” personalities and blaming spiraling ratings on them. Targets of particular ire included anchors Chris Wallace and Leland Vittert, who both publicly defended the network’s (accurate) decision to call Arizona early on election night for Joe Biden.

“Why would anyone defend that call,” Hannity seethed.

“My anger at the news channel is pronounced,” Ingraham wrote later. “Lol.”

“It should be,” Carlson replied. “We devote our lives to building an audience and they let Chris Wallace and Leland fucking Vittert wreck it. Too much.”

“Too much is correct,” Hannity emphasized.

In the same chat, Ingraham also suggested that they “all think about how together we can force a change,” adding, “We have more power than we know or exercise.”

Both Wallace and Vittert decamped to CNN and NewsNation, respectively, in the months following.

But Carlson’s own qualms about Trump appeared to grow over the ensuing weeks. Two days before the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, he texted an unknown Fox employee, “We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can’t wait.”

He added: “I hate him passionately.”

In another revealing December 2020 text exchange, Bill Sammon, then the network’s managing editor for D.C., called the 2020 election an “existential crisis” for the network.

“More than 20 minutes into our flagship evening news broadcast and we’re still focused solely on supposed election fraud—a month after the election,” he wrote to Chris Stirewalt, then one of the network’s politics editors. “It’s remarkable how weak ratings makes good journalists do bad things.”

“It’s a real mess,” Stirewalt agreed.

A few minutes later, Sammon wrote, “In my 22 years affiliated with Fox, this is the closest thing I’ve seen to an existential crisis—at least journalistically.”

“What’s most worrisome is that there doesn’t seem to be much conflict,” Stirewalt messaged back. “Everybody is lazily paddling ahead of Niagara.”

“Ugh,” Sammon wrote.

“What I see us doing is losing the silent majority of viewers as we chase the nuts off a cliff,” Stirewalt then said.

Both Sammon and Stirewalt were pushed out of the network shortly after their discussion.

And while the marquee names were gossiping about their colleagues, other network higher-ups were busy discussing their biggest stars.

In an email sent two days after the election, network attorney Viet Dinh advised a senior executive that they “buckle up for the ride” as their hosts continued to narrate the result of the race. “Hannity is getting awfully close to the line with his commentary and guests tonight,” he added.

Writing to CEO Suzanne Scott on Jan. 21, 2021, Rupert Murdoch expressed similar trepidation. “Still getting mud thrown at us!” he mused. “Maybe Sean and Laura went too far.”

As was revealed in February’s Dominion brief, Murdoch then went on to ask Scott in the same email 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 result overturned.”

Scott kicked the can to other Fox executives, one of whom later returned with more than 50 examples proving as much.

Other documents included in the trove offer a broader picture of how panicked executives were about some of the personalities from Trumpland they were continuing to allow on Fox’s shows.

In a Nov. 19 email, Murdoch described a Rudy Guiliani press conference promoting Trump as “stupid and damaging.”

“The only one encouraging Trump and misleading him,” Murdoch wrote. “Both increasingly mad. The real danger is what he might do as president. Apparently not sleeping and bouncing off walls!”

After the Capitol insurrection, Murdoch brooded over whether Trump had finally crossed the line. “Trump’s troubles multiplying,” he emailed former Rep. Paul Ryan, who sat on Fox’s board of directors. “His businesses now ruined! ... The brand is now poison!”

He went on to wonder if Trump could still “resign and get Pence to pardon” him, then “just disappear.”

Murdoch was equally as contemptuous of Trump attorney Sidney Powell. During his deposition, he confirmed that he’d referred to her in a text as a “crazy would-be lawyer.”

Other voices at Fox were similarly worried about Powell around the time of the election.

“That Sydney Powell interview was problematic—will monitor for traction,” Caley Cronin, Fox’s senior vice president of media relations, texted senior vice president for corporate communications Irena Briganti on Nov. 8.

“Yes tons of crazy,” Briganti responded.

Just over a week later, Carlson texted Ingraham and Hannity that he was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with Trump’s conspiracy theories. “The whole thing seems insane to me,” he wrote. “And Sidney Powell won’t release the evidence. Which I hate.”

He added that Powell was “making everyone paranoid and crazy, including me.”

But the communications also show network personalities chatting warmly with other far-right figures, including Trump ally and former White House official Stephen K. Bannon.

Fox News host Maria Bartiromo had an extended conversation with Bannon about her disappointment over the election results, saying she was “so depressed” while reassuring him she “would not allow her team to call” Biden “president-elect” on scripts “until this moves through the courts.”

Bannon, who later praised her in a message as “our fighter,” replied: “This process is to destroy [Biden’s] presidency before it starts. IF it even starts.”

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