As Donald Trump and his inner circle potentially face indictments over their efforts to overturn the 2020 election, Fox News is also in legal hot water for amplifying the same unfounded claims about election fraud. Dominion Voting Systems, which makes voting machines, has sued the conservative cable news outlet for $1.6 billion in a defamation suit that has exposed how top hosts and executives knew they were spreading misinformation but continued to push the conspiracy theories on air. “Fox News, despite its corporate name, is not in fact a news organization,” says Chris Lehmann, D.C. bureau chief for The Nation. “What they are doing is promulgating lies for the sake of maintaining audience share and high profitability.”
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Chris —
CHRIS LEHMANN: Yeah, go ahead.
AMY GOODMAN: Chris Lehmann, we wanted to move on to your other piece for The Nation that’s headlined “The Internal Decapitation of Fox News: Documents from Dominion Voting Systems’s lawsuit against Fox show the network’s awareness of the flimsiness of its stolen-election narrative.” That’s from your piece. See, Dominion’s $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit lays out how Fox News hosts and top executives thought former President Trump’s 2020 election fraud claims were completely unfounded, yet continued to push his conspiracy theories on air. Included in the documents was the response from Fox News executives when anchor Neil Cavuto cut off then-Trump Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany for making unsubstantiated claims.
PRESS SECRETARY KAYLEIGH McENANY: We want an honest, accurate, lawful count. We want maximum sunlight. We want maximum transparency. We want every legal vote to be counted, and we want every illegal vote to be —
NEIL CAVUTO: Whoa, whoa, whoa. I just think we have to be very clear: She’s charging the other side of welcoming fraud and welcoming illegal voting. Unless she has more details to back that up, I can’t in good countenance continue showing you this.
AMY GOODMAN: So, after that, Dominion said in its lawsuit that, quote, “The brand team led by Raj Shah at Fox Corporation notified senior Fox News and Fox Corporation leadership of the 'Brand Threat' posed by Cavuto’s action.” McEnany, by the way, is back hosting now on Fox News. Chris Lehmann, can you lay out what the documents reveal and what they say about Fox News? And particularly talk about the stars of Fox, what Laura Ingraham knew, what Sean Hannity knew, what Tucker Carlson knew, what has been revealed in these emails, and what they would say on the air.
CHRIS LEHMANN: Yeah, I think, you know, the clip you just played is quite revealing, because what Neil Cavuto is doing there is what’s known as journalism. He’s reporting on facts as he knows them and calling out a, you know, powerful spokesperson in the act of lying. That is fundamentally what, you know, in a perfect world, all journalists should be doing.
What’s so damning in the Dominion motion is you see again and again all the top talent and the top corporate executives at Fox in one breath acknowledging that they know that the stolen election narrative is a lie, but then tamping down. You know, they cited the Cavuto episode as something they should never do, going forward. And the reason for this is, their viewers, you know, who they’ve stoked for 25 years on resentment and grievance politics for the right, wanted to be spoonfed some sort of narrative that Donald Trump was denied a second term unjustly. And so, when the news division at Fox and some on-air commentators, like Cavuto, provided contradictory information, they started rising up and going over to Newsmax, which is a bottom-feeding, right-wing network that gleefully aired any and all claims about stolen elections. So Fox was in a meltdown at this moment, because they saw they were losing viewership.
You know, at one point, Tucker Carlson texted Sean Hannity in a fury, saying, you know, “Our stock price is going down. Not a joke.” And, you know, again, it’s just not the case that, you know, in a functioning democracy, the primary purpose of journalism should be to boost the stock price of your company. It should be to tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may. You know, there’s another sort of cliché about the conduct of journalism, is that it should be done without fear or favor. In the Dominion documents, you see all kinds of fear and all kinds of favor being extended to the Trump administration. So, this is, you know, such a damning moment, where you come to the realization that Fox News, despite its corporate name, is not in fact a news organization. What they are doing is promulgating lies for the sake of maintaining audience share and high profitability.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And we only have about a minute for this segment, but I’m wondering if you could speculate in terms of the potential long-term impact on Fox News as a result of this, and the likelihood that Dominion Systems is going to prevail in this lawsuit.
CHRIS LEHMANN: Yeah, you know, it’s very unusual in a defamation case for a motion for summary judgment to be granted, but the evidence is quite overwhelming. So, you know, it’s a $1.4 billion suit. Fox, I think, its revenues are north of $14 billion. So it would be a hit. But it’s also important to remember that a major corporation like this is going to have libel insurances, is not — you know, what’s scary, now that we know that the only calculus that matters for Fox News is the financial one, they could well regard $1.4 billion as an acceptable cost of doing business in the pursuit of greater profit. So, we’ll see. I mean, it’s definitely damaging to the reputation of the organization and its lead on-air personalities, but, you know, the sad truth of the matter is they did rebound from this moment when they thought there were losing audience share. They are enjoying really robust ratings and healthy profits. So, in the short term, I fear, not a great deal is going to change. Until and unless we get something like the fairness doctrine, which is the whole reason that Fox News was allowed to exist in the first place — the suspension of the fairness doctrine — it’s going to be a cancer on our democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Chris Lehmann, I want to thank you for being with us, D.C. bureau chief for The Nation. We’ll link to your pieces in The Nation at democracynow.org.
Next up, the family of Malcolm X announces plans to sue the CIA, the FBI, New York police and other government agencies over the 1965 assassination. Back in 30 seconds.