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The painful truth about email and text messages, which every TV anchor and media executive should learn, is that you never know which message will be publicly released when your company is sued.
It’s especially painful if, as is the case for Fox News anchors and executives, the messages appear to show you are knowingly allowing false information on the air.
Lawyers for Dominion Voting Systems released portions of unflattering messages and depositions in court filings as part of their $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox for broadcasting conspiracy theories about Dominion’s role in the 2020 presidential election.
That’s how we know Tucker Carlson tried to get a Fox News White House correspondent fired for fact-checking former President Donald Trump’s false tweet about election fraud.
“Please get her fired,” Carlson texted to fellow Fox News anchor Sean Hannity. “Seriously … what the f**k? I’m actually shocked … It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company.”
Green was the most important color
Note that he said company. The Fox leaders and top talent were focused on the company, not the country. Democracy was at stake, but the larger concern at Fox News appears to be that rival Newsmax was gaining traction after Trump lashed out at Fox News for his 2020 election loss.
Fox Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch didn’t mind the politics of putting the conspiracy theory-pushing MyPillow CEO on Fox News, he said in a deposition, according to court records.
“It is not red or blue, it is green,” Murdoch said, according to court documents.
Murdoch suggested firing the Fox News Washington bureau chief shortly after the network projected Joe Biden would win in Arizona, which had caught network anchors off guard and put the election all but out of reach for Trump.
Fox denies any wrongdoing and has accused Dominion of cherry-picking quotes for its filing.
There’s a chicken or egg question in all of this
Did Fox viewers question the election because of what they saw on the network, or did Fox allow election falsehoods on its air because it feared its viewers?
Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, who sits on the Fox Corporation board, sent an email to Murdoch about the circular false information loop – election deniers “got a diet of information telling them the election was stolen from what they believe were credible sources,” he wrote.
‘Scared to lose viewers’
Murdoch told Ryan in one email that Hannity had “been privately disgusted by Trump for weeks, but was scared to lose viewers.”
CNN’s Oliver Darcy has been all over this media story, which poses a real threat to Fox’s credibility, such as it is:
But the epic unmasking of Fox News also speaks to the tectonic movements on the American right wing.
CNN’s Stephen Collinson puts it perfectly: “Fox News is the latest example of opinion formers on the right exposed for being held hostage to the fury they helped to incite. … The new details underscored how key players on the right feel they have no choice but to appease, satisfy and further inflame the voters and viewers on whom their profits or hopes of political power depend.”
‘Going through a lot of churn’
Darcy notes that Ryan was grilled by a conservative commentator last week over his decision to remain on the board of directors of Fox News’ parent company.
In the interview posted Tuesday on The Bulwark Podcast, Ryan said he believed Fox News is “gonna have to be a part of the solution if we’re going to solve the problem in the conservative movement.”
“Because there isn’t a bigger platform than this in America,” Ryan said. “So I think the conservative movement is going through a lot of churn and a lot of turmoil and I don’t like where it is right now.”
That churn among conservatives is more and more evident.
What’s the Fox position on Ukraine?
During the George W. Bush administration, Fox would have been a major backer of military aid for Ukraine if Russia had invaded as it did a year ago. That perspective is still evident on the network, where many guests talk about the importance of Ukraine aid.
But its top stars, like Carlson, are mimicking Trump and questioning whether the US should be opposed to Russia’s authoritarianism and invasion of Ukraine.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump’s current chief rival as they look ahead to the 2024 presidential race, represents the evolution in his own policy positions, as CNN’s KFile notes: “DeSantis wanted to send weapons to Ukraine when he was a congressman – as a presidential hopeful he questions US involvement.”
Trump will appear this weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference, long a major stop for potential Republican presidential candidates. The other major announced candidate, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, will also attend.
But DeSantis, who is soft launching a nascent campaign, is skipping the event as he prepares promote his new book. He’ll also pop into a private retreat for the anti-tax Club for Growth in Palm Beach, Florida, where he can hobnob with donors, according to Politico.
Failure to endorse
Trump’s allies have been quietly trying to enlist hard-right lawmakers to back his third White House bid and give it some fresh momentum.
Perhaps surprisingly, they’re running into some walls.
CNN’s Melanie Zanona and Manu Raju interviewed two dozen or so lawmakers that Raju described as “hardcore Trump supporters, people who are part of the Freedom Caucus, people who were essentially his staunchest defenders during his four years in office.”
“Many of them are just not yet ready to commit,” Raju told CNN’s John King on “Inside Politics.”
They’re interested in DeSantis and even Haley and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.
“The overriding concern among Republicans: They are concerned about Trump’s viability as a candidate,” Raju said. “After he underperformed in the last three election cycles, they’re worried that he could give Joe Biden another four years in the White House.”
Multiple members of the Freedom Caucus actually traveled to Florida not to meet with Trump, but instead to talk to DeSantis, according to Raju. They were impressed.
Rep. Ralph Norman told Raju the GOP has “the best stable of candidates ever,” and he is endorsing Haley, his fellow South Carolinian.
Norman said he hopes other Republicans back new candidates.
“It’s called democracy,” Norman said. “It’s called the political process. When is it bad to get behind a candidate that you believe in?”