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Court records show political pressure behind Fox News programming

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Dominion vote-counting machines are displayed at a Torrance County warehouse while testing electoral equipment with local candidates and party officials in Estancia, New Mexico, Sept. 29, 2022.Andres Lytton/Associated Press

In May 2018, America’s top Republicans needed help. So they reached out to Rupert Murdoch, founder of Fox News.

President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have tried to stop West Virginia Republicans from nominating Don Blankenship, who was convicted of violating mining safety standards during a fatal coal mine accident, to challenge the incumbent Senator, Democrat Joe. handle.

“Both Trump and McConnell are asking for help to beat the disqualified former mine owner who is serving his sentence,” Murdoch wrote to Fox News executives, according to court records released this week. Anything useful during the day, but Sean [Hannity] And Laura [Ingraham] Dumping him hard could save the day.

Murdoch’s persistence, revealed in court documents that are part of a defamation lawsuit brought by the voting systems company, is an example of how Fox is actively involved in politics rather than simply reporting or offering opinions on it. These revelations raise questions about the credibility of the most watched news channel in the United States at the dawn of a new election season in which Mr. Trump is once again a major player, after announcing his third run for the White House.

Mr. Blankenship, who ended up losing the primary, said in an interview Wednesday that he immediately sensed the change as the network’s coverage took a harsher turn in the final hours before the primary.

“They were very smart about the election — they flooded it the day before the election, so I didn’t have time to respond,” said Blankenship, who filed a failed defamation lawsuit against Fox.

On Wednesday, the network called the lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems a flagrant attack on the First Amendment and said the company took the data out of context. According to Fox, this included an admission by Mr. Murdoch that he shared with Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign chairman and the president’s son-in-law, an ad for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign that was set to air. . . its network. Fox said the ad Mr. Murdoch sent to Kushner was already publicly available on YouTube and on at least one television channel.

“Dominion has been caught in the act once again using a new campaign of defamation and disinformation to discredit Fox News and trample on freedom of speech and the freedom of the press,” Fox said in a statement.

Fox has long been seen as a force in GOP politics with a large conservative fanbase. But thousands of pages of documents released this week as part of Dominion’s defamation lawsuit show how the network has blurred the line between journalism and partisan politics. Dominion sued after becoming the target of 2020 election conspiracy theories, which are often peddled on the Fox airwaves.

The documents showed that Mr. Murdoch also asked Fox News executives to tout the benefits of Mr. Trump’s 2017 tax cut and to pay special attention to Republican Senate candidates. He wanted the network to “squeeze” a quiet Biden presidential campaign at the height of the pandemic in 2020.

Nicole Hemmer is professor of history at Vanderbilt University and author of the book Supporters: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Reshaped American Politics in the 1990sHe said the disclosure in the lawsuit breaks Fox’s longstanding argument that there is a line between the news side and the opinion side.

“The real eye-opener here is how fantastical this dichotomy is,” said Ms. Hemmer. “Some of those who know Fox have argued this for a while, but now we have real proof.”

Ms. Hemmer cited text messages discovered in court documents from early November 2020, sent by Fox’s chief political correspondent Bret Baier, urging network executives to drop the legitimate call on election night that President Joe Biden won Arizona. Mr. Baer has called for Arizona to be put back “into its place,” a reference to Mr. Trump.

In the days after the election, as Mr. Trump claimed increasingly brutally that fraud had cost him the White House, Rupert Murdoch’s son, Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch, texted Fox News CEO Susan Scott warily. About Trump’s rally.

“Journalists should be careful how they cover this assembly,” Lachlan Murdoch wrote, according to the legal documents. However, some of the minor comments are a bit hostile, and they really shouldn’t be. The narrative should be this huge celebration of the president. etc »

Some of Fox’s political figures — such as star host Sean Hannity’s frequent conversations with Mr. Trump during his presidency — are well known. But court documents show how Rupert Murdoch, the chairman, also inserted himself into the company.

Murdoch emailed Scott in November 2017 urging him to promote Mr. Trump’s tax cut proposal, which had passed the House of Representatives and was set to vote in the Senate.

“Once this bill is passed, we have to tell our viewers over and over again what they are going to get,” Mr. Murdoch wrote in the email included in the court records. “Wonderful, as you understand, for less than $150,000.”

After the first presidential debate in 2020, a “horrified” Mr. Murdoch told Kushner that Mr. Trump should be more reserved in the next debate. (Trump canceled this event.)

“It was friend-to-friend advice,” Mr. Murdoch said in his testimony. “It was not advice from Fox Corporation or my ability at Fox.”

What’s the difference? Dominion Attorney Justin A. Tourneur.

“I was — he kept asking me questions as the head of Fox,” Murdoch said. “It’s a different role to be a friend.”

And Mr. Murdoch’s email banter with Kushner led to an exchange of Biden’s ad, according to court records. That exchange is now the subject of a complaint that liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America has filed with the Federal Election Commission, arguing that Fox made an illegal campaign contribution to Trump by giving him information on Mr. Biden. Fox said that sharing public information cannot be considered a contribution.

Court records show that on September 25, 2020, Mr. Murdoch sent an email to Mr. Kushner saying “My people tell me” that Mr. Biden’s ads are “much better than yours. Just pass it on.”

That same month, Mr. Murdoch asked in an email to Col. Allen, the former editor of the Murdoch-owned New York Post, “How can anyone vote for Biden?” Mr. Allen responded that “Mr. Biden’s only hope is to stay in his basement and not face serious questions.” “.

Mr. Murdoch responded, according to court records: “Just make sure Fox addresses these issues.” If it was public talk, the topic would spread. »

Another high-profile politician Murdoch describes as a “friend” is Mr. McConnell, whose wife, Elaine Chao, the Trump administration’s transportation secretary, served on the Fox board. Murdoch said he would speak to the Senate Republican leader “three or four times a year”.

During the 2017 Republican Senate special primary in Alabama, Murdoch testified that he told senior leaders that he, like McConnell, opposed Roy Moore, the controversial former chief justice. from Alabama. Moore eventually won the party’s nomination but lost the general election after being credibly accused of sexual misconduct, including having sex with two teenagers when he was in his 30s. Mr. Moore denied the allegations.

Mr. Murdoch, in the filing, also references his personal friendship with an unnamed Senate candidate in suggesting to Ms. Scott that the network pay special attention to Republicans in tight Senate races.

Days before the 2020 election, after Fox business anchor Lou Dobbs criticized Sen. Lindsey Graham, Murdoch asked Scott to persuade Hannity to pump Graham, who was facing a well-funded challenge from Democrat Jimmy Harrison.

“You are probably familiar with Lou Dobbs’ outburst against Lindsey Graham,” Murdoch wrote on Oct. 27, when the senator’s first name was misspelled in the speech’s transcript of court documents. “Can Xun say something positive? We can’t lose the Senate if that’s possible.”

Scott replies that Mr. Graham was on Mr. Hannity’s show last night “and has plenty of time”. “I had a Dobbs spree,” she added.

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