UTNetwork“We’re All Embarrassed”: Inside Fox News as Dominion Revelations Rattle the Network
UTNetwork“We’re All Embarrassed”: Inside Fox News as Dominion Revelations Rattle the Network

“We’re All Embarrassed”: Inside Fox News as Dominion Revelations Rattle the Network

Some employees at Fox admit to feeling self-conscious about the scandal—“We’re all embarrassed” was a quote I heard more than once—even if they don’t feel personally responsible for the mess. After all, many correspondents, editors, and producers had no direct involvement with the anti-Dominion TV segments that did so much damage. However, employees are buzzing inside 1211 Avenue of the Americas over who did screw up and who’s going down for it. Fox Corp. reportedly put out word that Scott is safe for now, but that did nothing to squelch the speculation that Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch are setting her up to take the fall. Gaming out the possibilities is probably just a time waster when it comes to the 91-year-old media magnate. “Rupert works in mysterious ways,” one of his employees said with a hint of admiration.

Internal chatter also revolves around the relative chances of a settlement before the mid-April trial. Some staffers wonder if Fox tried to strike a deal but was spurned by Dominion. Others are holding out hope for a dramatic settlement, days or hours before opening arguments. No one I spoke to expect Fox will come out of a trial as a stronger brand.

“The emails, texts, and deposition testimony speak for themselves,” Dominion said in a statement Tuesday. “We welcome all the scrutiny of our evidence because it all leads to the same place—Fox knowingly spread lies causing enormous damage to an American company.”

The legal filings have reignited questions about a leadership vacuum at Fox News and sister channel Fox Business, where hosts pushed voter fraud conspiracy theories for weeks on end. Fox stalwarts often bring up founding CEO Roger Ailes in this context. “If Roger were still here, this would never have happened,” one said.

Ailes cofounded the network with Murdoch in 1996 and tightly controlled its programming until a sexual harassment scandal took him down two decades later. The theory goes like this: Ailes, who died in 2017, would have pulled his people back from the conspiracy theory abyss, or at least coached them to do it more carefully. Greta Van Susteren, a prime-time Fox anchor during the Ailes years, recently advanced a similar view about Ailes. While tweeting about Dominion’s revelation that Hannity and Carlson were furious when a Fox reporter tweeted a fact-check of Trump, Van Susteren wrote, “I worked at Fox for 14 1/2 years and I can’t imagine Roger Ailes, with his now known deep flaws, would have permitted this.” When I raised this with a Scott ally, they shot back: “Roger was too busy harassing women to lead anything.”

The “what ifs” are tantalizing but besides the point. Scott has a hugely profitable business to run and hosts like Carlson have to keep viewers from changing the channel. So while Fox is dissected all across the media universe, the network is doing what it does best: telling a counternarrative.

On February 16, just hours after the first devastating Dominion filings were released, Carlson winked to 2020 election deniers right at the outset of his show. To borrow a phrase from the filing, a phrase used by Fox execs when the MAGA base did not want to believe Trump lost, Carlson was showing how to “respect” the audience. He didn’t mention Dominion; he didn’t have to in order to continue casting doubt on what was clearly a free and fair election. “How,” Carlson asked, “did senile hermit Joe Biden get 15 million more votes than his former boss, rock star crowd-surfer Barack Obama? Results like that would seem to defy the laws of known physics and qualify instead as a miracle. Was the 2020 election a miracle? Honestly, we don’t know and don’t expect to get an answer to that tonight.”

Carlson continued with the counternarrative this week by whitewashing the deadly January 6 attack, suggesting that pro-Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol to stop the certification of Biden’s victory were “sightseers,” rather than “insurrectionists.” Such a radical reframing of events drew scorn even from some Republican senators. To put January 6 “in the same category as a permitted peaceful protest is just a lie,” said North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer. Or, as North Carolina’s Thom Tillis summed up Carlson’s narrative: “I think it’s bullshit.” Fox’s evening news anchor Bret Baier evidently felt compelled to say on air Tuesday night, “To be clear, no one here at Fox News condones any of the violence that happened on January 6.” In light of all the 2020 texts, showing Carlson twig about the news side, one can’t help but wonder what he might have texted about Baier.