Fox: Court records show political pressure behind show
In May 2018, the nation’s top Republicans needed help. So they called on Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch.
President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are trying to prevent West Virginia Republicans from nominating Don Blankenship, who was found guilty of violating mine safety standards in a fatal accident at a in his coal mines, to challenge the incumbent state senator, Democrat Joe Manchin.
“Both Trump and McConnell are calling for help to defeat the jailed former unelectable mine owner,” Murdoch wrote to Fox News executives, according to court filings released this week. . “Anything for the day helps, but Sean (Hannity) and Laura (Ingraham) blaming him will probably save the day.”
Murdoch’s encouragement, revealed in court documents as part of a defamation lawsuit by a company with a voting system, is an example of how actively Fox has engaged in politics instead of just reporting or giving an opinion on it. The revelations pose a challenge to the reliability of the most-watched cable news network in the US at the start of a new election season in which Trump is once again the frontrunner, after announcing his candidacy. elected for the third time to the White House.
Blankenship, who ultimately lost in the main interview, said in an interview Wednesday that he felt the change immediately, with network coverage becoming more extreme during the hours. last before the primaries.
“They’re so smart about the elections – they dumped the day before the election, so I didn’t have time to react,” said Blankenship, who filed a defamation lawsuit against Fox to no avail. public, said.
On Wednesday, the network described the Dominion Voting System’s lawsuit as a blatant attack on the First Amendment and said the company made out-of-context statements. According to Fox, that included an admission by Murdoch that he shared with Jared Kushner, the head of Trump’s re-election campaign and the president’s son-in-law, an advertisement for the presidential campaign. Joe Biden’s will be broadcast on his network. Fox said the ad Murdoch forwarded to Kushner was publicly posted on YouTube and at least one television station.
“Dominion was caught again using more disinformation and misinformation in their PR campaign to smear Fox News and trample on freedom of speech and press freedom,” Fox said in a statement. An announcement.
Fox has long been considered a force in GOP politics with a large conservative fan base. But thousands of pages of documents released this week in a defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion show how revolution blurs the lines between journalism and party politics. Dominion sued after becoming the target of a 2020 election conspiracy theory, often advertised on Fox’s airwaves.
The documents show that Murdoch also told executives at Fox News to push the benefits of Trump’s 2017 tax cuts and pay more attention to Republican Senate prospects. . He wants the network to “smash” Biden’s little-known presidential campaign during the height of the pandemic in 2020.
Nicole Hemmer, a Vanderbilt University history professor and author of “Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s,” said the revelations in the lawsuit punctured Fox’s lengthy argument that There is a dividing line between news and opinion parties.
“The real revelation here is the fictional extent of that division,” says Hemmer. “Some people who know Fox have argued that for a while, but now we have solid evidence.”
Hemmer cited text messages revealed in court documents from early November 2020 sent by Fox political reporter Bret Baier, urging the network’s leaders to retract the right call on election night that President Joe Biden won in Arizona. Baier advocates putting Arizona “back to its column,” referring to Trump.
In the days following the election, as Trump increasingly made myths that fraud cost him the White House, Lachlan Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch, the executive chairman of Fox Corp., texted Fox News chief executive Suzanne Scott alarmed about a Trump rally.
“Reporters must be careful how they cover this protest,” wrote Lachlan Murdoch, according to legal documents. “So far some of the comments on the sidelines are a bit anti, and shouldn’t be. The narrative should be this grand celebration of the president. Et cetera.”
Some of Fox’s politics – like star host Sean Hannity’s frequent conversations with Trump during his presidency – are well known. But court papers show how Rupert Murdoch, the boss, was also involved in the action.
Murdoch emailed Scott in November 2017 urging her to push for Trump’s tax cut proposal, which has already passed the House and is about to be voted on in the Senate.
“Once they passed this bill, we had to tell viewers over and over again what they were going to get,” Murdoch wrote in an email, which was included in court records. “Great, I get it, for under $150,000.”
After the first presidential debate in 2020, Murdoch was “horrified” to tell Kushner that Trump should be more restrained in the next debate. (Trump canceled that event.)
“It was advice from a friend to a friend,” Murdoch said in his testimony. “That’s not advice from Fox Corporation or in my ability at Fox.”
“What’s the difference?” Ask Dominion’s attorney, Justin A. Turner.
“You’ve – continue to question me as head of Fox,” Murdoch said. “It’s a different role when it comes to being a friend.”
According to court records, Murdoch’s email conversation with Kushner led to an exchange of Biden ads. That exchange is now the subject of a complaint from the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America to the Federal Election Commission, alleging that Fox illegally contributed to the Trump campaign by providing information about the Trump campaign. Biden ad. Fox said sharing information publicly cannot be considered a donation.
Court records show that on September 25, 2020, Murdoch emailed Kushner that “my people told me” that Biden’s ad was “much more creative than his ad. Just pass it on.”
That same month, Murdoch asked in an email to Col Allan, a former editor of the Murdoch-owned New York Post, “how can anyone vote for Biden?” Allen replied that “Biden’s only hope is to stay in his basement and not face serious questions.”
“Just make sure Fox will deal with these issues,” Murdoch replied, according to court filings. “If the audience speaks then the topic will spread.”
Another prominent politician Murdoch describes as a “friend” is McConnell, whose wife, Elaine Chao, then Trump’s transportation secretary, had served on the Fox board. Murdoch said he will speak to Republican Senate leaders “three or four times a year.”
During the 2017 Republican Senate special primaries in Alabama, Murdoch said when he was removed from office, he told his top executives that he, like McConnell, opposed Roy Moore, a controversial former chief justice of Alabama. Moore eventually won the party’s nomination but lost the general election after he was accused of sexual misconduct, including pursuing relationships with teenagers when he in his 30s. Moore denied the allegations.
Murdoch, in the affidavit, also cited his personal friendship with an unnamed Senate candidate in his suggestion to Scott that the network should care more about Republicans in close races. button to the Senate.
Days before the 2020 election, after Lou Dobbs, Fox’s business host, criticized Senator Lindsey Graham, RS.C., Murdoch asked Scott to ask Hannity to support Graham, who was facing a challenge. faces an extremely well-funded challenge from Democrat Jamie Harrison.
“You may be aware of Lou Dobbs’ outburst against Lindsay Graham,” Murdoch wrote October 27, misspelled the senator’s name in a copy of the message in court documents. “Can Sean say something supportive? We can’t lose the Senate if we can.”
Scott replied that Graham had been on Hannity’s show the night before, “and he’s got plenty of time.” She added, “I tackled the Dobbs boom.”
Riccardi reports from Denver. Associated Press writers Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta, Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix, Gary Fields in Washington and Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed to this report.