The lying scoundrels at Fox News

The lying scoundrels at Fox News

Updated: 29 days, 11 hours, 17 minutes, 7 seconds ago

Thanks to a libel suit filed against Fox News, the public is getting a rare peek at how the powerful network operates behind the curtains.

The evidence is shocking, and the conclusion is unavoidable: These people peddle lies. And the reason they do so is to drum up audience and make more money. They dupe their own viewers, treating them as rubes who can be manipulated to expand the Murdoch fortune.

The case concerns the many times that Fox ran segments claiming that Dominion Voting Systems rigged the 2020 election to deny a victory to Donald Trump. Fox was the biggest megaphone for the cabal of fanatics pushing the theory, most notably Sidney Powell, a lawyer for Trump.

How crazy were the accusations? Dominion used secret software to switch votes from Trump to Joe Biden. Dominion paid kickbacks to public officials to go along. Dominion is secretly owned by another company founded in Venezuela to rig the elections in favor of dictator Hugo Chavez.

Internal e-mails show that Fox knew this was all nonsense, even as senior players at the network, including on-air personalities like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, peddled it to gullible viewers.

“Sidney Powell is lying,” Carlson wrote to his producer on Nov. 16.

“The whole narrative Sidney was pushing – I didn’t believe it for one second,” Hannity later confessed under oath in a deposition.

“Sidney Powell is a bit nuts – sorry but she is,” Ingraham wrote in an e-mail to Carlson and Hannity on Nov. 15.

Among the serious journalists at Fox, there was grave concern about this. One correspondent wrote anchor Bret Baier about the “dangerously insane” election claims, and Baier contacted the Washington bureau chief saying their team must “prevent this stuff” from spreading.

In one telling moment, a reporter at Fox, Jacqui Heinrich, tweeted out a fact-check on one of Trump’s tweets that mentioned Dominion. “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised,” she wrote on Nov. 12, according to the complaint.

Carlson erupted.

“Please get her fired,” he texted to Hannity. “Seriously…What the f---? I’m actually shocked. It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”

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Fox claims that this grotesque cynicism is protected by the First Amendment. But the Constitution does not offer immunity from this kind of recklessness.

The Supreme Court set the standards in a vital 1964 decision, The New York Times v. Sullivan.To protect the press and preserve open debate, it ruled that public figures can be awarded damages only when a news outlet shows actual malice, or a “careless disregard” for the truth.

That’s why most reporters don’t worry much about libel suits. As long as you act in good faith, you are protected by that 1964 ruling -- even if you screw up and get your facts wrong.

But who could argue that Fox acted in good faith? They broadcast the claims of these conspiracy theorists week after week, knowing it was all bogus. And the damage they did, of course, goes way beyond Dominion’s bottom line. It wounded our democracy and set the stage for the Jan. 6 violence. It is obscene that Fox, after doing this damage, now seeks to hold up the Constitution as a shield. This is an arsonist demanding the protection of the firefighters he put at risk in the first place.

The irony is that Fox hosts like Carlson, Hannity and Ingraham are the first to dismiss reporting from the New York Times or Washington Post as fake news from the “mainstream media.” Did either paper ever commit these sins?

And please, enough of the false equity that is often drawn between Fox and left-leaning outlets like MSNBC. Did Rachel Maddow ever send emails showing that she knew her segments were factually incorrect? It’s one thing to have a point of view, and quite another to peddle lies for ratings.

The Dominion complaint recounts a moment when Fox lost viewers by correctly calling Arizona for Joe Biden on election night, before many other outlets did. The MAGA crowd was furious, and many switched to Newsmax and other conservative outlets.

“Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience,” Carlson wrote his producer. “We’re playing with fire, for real.”

Peddling the fake story about Dominion helped Fox recover its audience. Cynicism can be rewarding, just as it was when Fox endlessly repeated false claims about President Obama’s birthplace. This time, though, the network damaged Dominion’s bottom line, prompting this lawsuit that seeks $1.6 billion. Here’s hoping Dominion wins.

More: Tom Moran columns

Tom Moran may be reached at or (973) 986-6951. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find Opinion on Facebook.

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