Fox News is a highly influential conservative cable news channel founded and owned by Rupert Murdoch, who serves as chair of Fox Corporation and executive chairman of News Corporation. Widely considered a quasi-arm of the Republican Party, it is the most prominent mainstream media platform for disseminating far-right viewpoints.
Many observers consider Fox News as having been critical to Trump’s political rise and win of the White House in 2016. Not only did the network create a massive right-wing viewership over decades, it also gave Trump a significant, ever-fawning platform during his first presidential campaign. Since then, the network has played an unparalleled role in promoting the former president’s Big Lie about the 2020 election, as well as sowing disinformation about the Jan. 6th insurrection.
During Trump’s presidency, Fox News host Sean Hannity played an exceedingly close (albeit informal) advisory role to the White House, and the network regularly aired the president’s commentaries while he was in office. According to the Washington Post, White House advisers referred to Hannity as the “shadow chief of staff.” Pointing to the network’s unprecedented fealty to Trump and his administration, historian Nicole Hemmer has called Fox “the closest we’ve come to having state TV” and a right-wing “radicalization model.”
In the months leading up to the 2020 election, Fox continually aired Trump’s unfounded claims that Democrats were trying to rig the election by promoting the use of mail-in ballots. Immediately after Election Day, Fox hosts and guests unfailingly regurgitated allegations of voter fraud and claims that voting machines operated by Dominion Voting Systems had skewed the results. In March 2021, Dominion filed a defamation lawsuit against the network, and on April 18, 2023, the two parties agreed to a $787.5 million settlement the day the trial was about to begin.
In promoting the Big Lie, Fox News laid the groundwork for legitimizing the claims of Trump supporters who vowed to “stop the steal” by besieging the Capitol. Since the insurrection, the network has continued to downplay the deadly violence and damage to democracy, and Trump has thanked the network for defending the rioters from accusations of criminal misconduct.
However, as part of the pretrial findings released in the Dominion case, it became clear that Fox’s promotion of the Big Lie and applause for the insurrection stood in stark contrast to what its hosts and executives privately believed. Text messages and testimony made available in March 2023 revealed that primetime hosts Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Hannity never believed Trump’s claims and only promoted the Big Lie in order to appease their audience and protect the network’s ratings.
In a message to his staff just days before the insurrection, Carlson wrote of Trump, “I hate him passionately,” and said that he looked forward to no longer needing to cover him as president. Despite leading the network while it promoted the Big Lie and knowingly profiting from it, Murdoch has privately called Trump’s claims “really crazy stuff” and swore under oath that he believes that the 2020 presidential election was free and fair.
Fox is also being sued by Smartmatic, another manufacturer of voting machines, which is seeking approximately $2.7 billion in defamation damages. Fox contends that it won’t settle this case and intends vigorously defend itself. After the Dominion settlement was announced, a lawyer for Smartmatic said, “Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign. Smartmatic will expose the rest.”
January 6, 2021
- As Trump supporters were attacking the Capitol, prominent Fox hosts such as Hannity, Ingraham, and Brian Kilmeade privately pleaded with the president to call off the protesters, according to the final report of the the House Select Committee investigating the attack.
- Just hours after the insurrection, Ingraham promoted the false theory that members of antifa were responsible for the violence.
- Fox News was the only major news outlet in the U.S. that did not broadcast the House Select Committee’s hearings on the insurrection, which found, among other things, that Trump “purposely disseminated false allegations of fraud” designed to provoke his supporters to take action on Jan. 6.
- In a 2021 series called Patriot Purge, Carlson promoted the idea that the insurrection was a “false flag” operation meant to demonize the political Right.
- In February 2023, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) exclusively shared 41,000 hours of Capitol security footage from Jan. 6, 2021 with Carlson, who then selectively edited the footage to air a false version of events showing none of the mob’s aggression and violence that day.
- In March 2023—despite clear and public evidence that Carlson never believed the Big Lie—the host continued to insist that Americans have been duped about what actually happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
- After Carlson aired the edited footage, certain Senate Republicans publicly condemned Fox News for shamelessly subverting the truth, calling the host’s version of the narrative “just a lie.” Other senators and House Republicans, on the other hand, supported Carlson’s perversion of the violent attack on the Capitol—one that viewers around the world had witnessed through the many cameras on site recording the events as they unfolded.
The Big Lie
- Fox personalities such as politics editor Chris Stirewalt testified before the House Select Committee investigating the attack on the Capitol, revealing dissension within the news outlet over how to cover the election and later, the insurrection. Stirewalt was fired in mid-January 2021 for his role in calling Arizona for Biden on Election Night, a prediction that angered viewers.
- Media watchdog Media Matters estimates that in just two weeks following the 2020 election, Fox News cast doubt on election integrity nearly 800 times. Fox News hosts repeatedly accused Dominion Voting Systems of “rigging” the election and “flipping” votes from Trump to Biden.
- However, in private text messages from November 2020, Carlson stated that Trump’s claims of a stolen election were “shockingly reckless” and “absurd.” This sentiment was echoed by other Fox News hosts and executives.
- By November 12, 2020, pushing voter fraud was a major part of Fox’s agenda: When Fox reporter Jacqui Heinrich fact-checked a Tweet by Trump and clarified that the president’s claims of voter fraud were baseless, Carlson texted his co-hosts: “Please get her fired.” He added that her fact-checking was “measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down.”
- In February 2023, Dominion Voting Systems publicly released a copy of its heavily-redacted, $1.6-billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News in Delaware state court, claiming that Fox had knowingly spread false claims that Dominion had manipulated its own voting machines to undermine the true results of the election. Documents from the deposition reveal that Fox News hosts and executives did not believe the disparate claims of election fraud yet they repeatedly promoted those claims on air.
- According to internal emails and text messages released in March 2023 as part of Dominion’s defamation lawsuit, after Fox News saw a drop in ratings/viewership following the correct call that Trump had lost Arizona, Fox hosts Carlson, Hannity, and Ingraham wielded their star power to push Fox to cast doubt on the integrity of the election.