Fox News faces the defamation heat

I can understand how the execs at Fox News felt while dealing with audience outrage in the hours after the network called Arizona on election night for Democratic candidate Joe Biden -- a move that felt treasonous by the network’s Trump-favoring crowd. They panicked, imagining viewers fleeing to their far-right competition at conservative cable news outlet Newsmax.

The day we printed that Joe Biden won the presidency – a story that had never been controversial before — some readers called threatening to cancel their subscriptions. It defied belief because their televisions had repeatedly broadcast President Trump’s well-attended rallies while Biden campaigned low-key in those early days of the pandemic.

Trump, who has announced his bid to reclaim the presidency next year, continues to assert that the 2020 election was stolen despite abundant evidence to the contrary. Dozens of judges — including many Trump appointees — rejected his campaign’s attempts to challenge election results in court. Under penalty of perjury, his attorneys have admitted to a lot of speculation and conspiracy theories.

To try and hang on to its angry audience, Fox frantically played both sides. They injected conspiracies into their newscasts and hosted guests like election-denying attorney Sidney Powell, who made unsubstantiated rumors — repeatedly uttered by guests and hosts of Fox programs — that the voting machines of Dominion Voting Systems could run a secret algorithm that switched votes from one candidate to another, and that the company was founded in Venezuela to help that country’s longtime leader, Hugo Chávez, fix elections.

Thanks to internal communications that have come out of discovery in Dominion’s $1.6 billion defamation case against Fox News, we’ve learned a good bit about what Network honchos actually thought.

For example, after White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich fact-checked a stolen election claim made by Trump, host Tucker Carlson suggested she be fired.

Anchor Neil Cavuto triggered a “brand threat” when he cut away from a news conference at which White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was repeating the election claims, saying on air, “Unless she has more details to back that up, I can’t in good countenance continue showing you this.”

Rupert Murdoch, chairman of the conservative media empire that owns Fox News, acknowledged in a deposition that several hosts for his networks -- including Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo -- promoted the false narrative that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald J. Trump, and that he could have stopped them but didn’t.

“I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it in hindsight,” said the Australian media magnate.

You may not have heard about any of this if you are a Fox viewer because they aren’t really dedicating any coverage time to the defamation lawsuit against them. When Mr. Trump refused to concede and started attacking Fox as disloyal and dishonest, viewers began to change the channel.

The people running the country’s most popular news network knew Trump’s claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election were false but broadcast them anyway in a reckless pursuit of ratings, profit and power.

To prevail in its defamation case, Dominion must show not only that Fox broadcast false information, but that it did so knowingly. A judge in Delaware state court has scheduled a month-long trial beginning in April.

“This lawsuit is unquestionably a consequential defamation case that tests the scope of the First Amendment,” a filing by The New York Times reads.

The Times seeks to unseal redacted portions of summary judgment briefs and related materials. “It has been the subject of widespread public interest and media coverage and undeniably involves a matter of profound public interest: namely, how a broadcast network fact-checked and presented to the public the allegations that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen and that plaintiff [Dominion] was to blame.”

Fox may very well lose this defamation case. The admissions of owner Murdoch suggest he knew the truth yet failed to prevent and correct known falsehoods. It is unfortunate that the truth has become a casualty of partisan tribalism.

Fox News needs to come clean and apologize -- on the air -- for committing the greatest sin of any news organization: Lying.

— Steven Stiefel is the publisher of the Times-Journal. Email:

(1) comment


Gee Steven are you not aware all media lies? Examples are the Covid 19 lab leak, Hunter Biden’s laptop, Biden’s continuing lies on his background, amount others. Where is your columns on those items? Does it not fit your agenda?

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