Since Fox News first overtook CNN as the top-rated cable news channel in 2002, one thing has been as certain and predictable as its dominance: Every time a Democrat takes the White House, the right-leaning network’s ratings temporarily dip.
That happened after the election of President Biden in 2020, too. But the reaction inside Fox was very different.
There is panic. From the Fox chairman down, executives scrambled to try and get viewers to tune in, believing they were facing a crisis. Now, Fox News is dealing with a threat that could prove to be more serious, thanks to decisions made after former President Donald J. Trump lost the election.
Dominion Voting Systems has launched a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit alleging that Fox knowingly spread false information about the role of the company’s election technology in a fabricated conspiracy. Both sides will have oral arguments before a judge in a Delaware state court on Tuesday in preparation for a trial next month.
Fox insisted that it did not take the claims about Dominion as fact, but reported and expressed opinion on it like any news organization.
As part of the lawsuit, Dominion obtained thousands of internal Fox emails and text messages and fired dozens of Fox employees. The evidence shows in great detail how the web lost its way in the weeks following the election. Here’s a timeline of that fateful period, as court documents state. Some of these exchanges have been slightly compressed for clarity.
November 3, 2020
On Election Day, Fox News was in full swing. A draft internal memo written by Jeff Collins, the network’s advertising executive, describes the sales record the channel has just set.
election update news
• 11 of the 15 highest-grossing sessions in Fox News history occurred after the first presidential debate on Sept. 29
• Despite significantly lower commercial load, Election Day’s linear revenue hits Fox News’ all-time high…
• Fox News generates more political revenue than any other broadcast or cable network, according to Kantar.
“Lots…to think about”
But a few days later, when Mr. Biden was declared the president-elect by all the major news organizations, including Fox, viewership started to fall. Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch and Fox News Media CEO Suzanne S. Cotter and other company executives have noticed this.
In an email to Ms Scott, Mr Murdoch wrote:
Discredited by CNN! Guess our viewers don’t want to watch it. Hard enough for me!
They will be back. (Not for Chris Wallace!)
Laura Ingraham is very kind and gracious.
Anyway, football today!
Half an hour later, Ms. Scott forwarded the email to Fox News President Jay Wallace. She described her recent discussions with Mr Murdoch and his son, Fox CEO Lachlan, about how the network began to restructure after Trump:
Long talk with KRM and Lachlan (told them the first 72 hours will be the worst) they expect
-Major overhaul of polls (WSJ does the same, won’t work with NBC)
– Viewers don’t want to see too much of Mayor Pete and Coons et al in news hour.Need to watch out for bookings for the next 2 months – especially during press time
– Breaking news reporting and investigative departments need to get back into the game of being beaten by digital journalists in breaking news for the past year.
More on that tomorrow – you have a lot to think about this week.
November 10th and 11th
“This is what all our audiences care about”
A week after the election, there was a swift consensus within the network: It could not continue to lose audiences to Newsmax, a much smaller right-wing cable news rival.
Fox News host Dana Perino, a former spokesman for President George W. Bush, texted Republican strategist Colin Reed about the concerns brewing:
…but there is an angry question about Fox losing a large audience and many viewers – get this – newsmax! Our viewers are so pissed off about the election call (as if our calls would be different. It’s just ballots!)
Another host, Tucker Carlson, texted his producer, Alex Pfeiffer, to say viewers were upset that Mr. Carlson ignored voter fraud allegations during his broadcast that night. Anger – this is a topic that Newsmax has been emphasizing:
Alex Pfeiffer: If we get attacked on Twitter, you asked me to tell you, so I will. Many viewers tonight were disturbed that we did not report on election fraud.
Tucker Carlson: Yes.should have
Pfeiffer: Yeah, I don’t see why we don’t. Let’s say it’s some kind of decision not to.
Pfeiffer: But that’s what all of us viewers care about right now
Carlson: I just hate that shit.
Pfeiffer: yes it’s really bad
Pfeiffer: Did you see it? [Texts a tweet with an excerpt of a Washington Post article that quotes an anonymous Republican official who says Mr. Trump will eventually get tired of claiming he was cheated and leave office.]
Pfeiffer: It’s like birth theory 2.0. The grassroots movement that the Republican leadership thinks they can control and leave, but it won’t.