Fox News, a favorite of US conservatives, is in turmoil as behind-the-scenes revelations about the 2020 presidential election and a $1 billion-plus lawsuit loom on the horizon.
The network, on which it is difficult to assess the repercussions of these developments at present, has turned into rich material for the American media and the democratic camp.
Each week brings a new batch of private messages, text messages and e-mails from VIPs in the network, published as part of defamation lawsuits brought against them by Dominion Voting Systems, a manufacturer of electronic voting machines.
The show’s star host, Tucker Carlson, who is fiercely Republican, wrote to his team members on January 4, 2021, two days before thousands of Donald Trump supporters stormed the Capitol: “We are getting so close that we can ignore Trump almost every evening. I wait for that.” Eagerly”. “I hate him so much,” he added.
The documents revealed that in November 2020, within the favorite network of American conservatives, only a few, including its owner Robert Murdock, believed in the idea of ”stealing” the elections by Democrats, especially through electronic voting.
But that was only in private sessions as the network saw a flourishing of conspiracy theories on its screens on shows starring Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham.
These discrepancies are at the heart of Dominion Football Systems’ lawsuit, which wants to find the network guilty of defamation and seek damages of $1.6 billion in a civil trial that should begin in mid-April in Delaware.
“This is an unprecedented attack on the First Amendment” of the US constitution, which protects press freedom, Fox News told AFP.
She added that giving the floor to the Trump camp when he challenged the vote was legitimate and “necessary to search for the truth” in order to allow all parties to express their views. The network also accuses the company of “selecting statements and taking them out of context”.
Regardless of the legal outcome, the revelation of this information “shaken Fox very badly,” said Marc Feldstein, a professor of mass media at the University of Maryland.
“For a long time we have been watching what looks like a play and we can see by watching Fox that it is full of lies,” he added, noting that “what we did not know was to what extent this was deliberate and organized.”
But the university professor seems conservative about the impact of this on viewers of Fox News, which attracted in 2022, and for the seventh year in a row, the largest number of American followers via cable, outperforming its competitors, “CNN” and “MSNBC”.
“They go to an audience that already believes such things,” Mark Fidelstein said, noting that “these lies they broadcast because their audience wants to hear it.”
The network, launched in 1996, faced several crises, such as sexual harassment scandals involving its president, Roger Ailes, who died in 2017, and one of its distinguished anchors, Bill O’Reilly, who was fired in the same year.
Even with a harsh ruling, Feldstein said, “Fox News is like a cash cow. They’ll absorb the loss and carry on with their programming.”
However, a judgment to pay damages in excess of $1 billion will have a significant financial impact on Fox News’ parent company, the Fox Corporation Group, which generated $14 billion in sales in fiscal 2022 (July 2021-June 2022).
Another company, Smartmatic, is suing Fox News in a similar case.
Pending hearings, Fox News continues its course. During the current week, Tucker Carlson devoted his program to seeking to reduce the seriousness of the violence of Donald Trump supporters during the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and showed pictures that he said were exclusive to support his statements.
Democratic President Joe Biden criticized the channel, stressing that 140 policemen were injured at the time.
What is remarkable is that the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, also condemned what he considered a “mistake.”
“Irrespective of the lawsuit, the most likely consequences, if Fox suffers any of it, will come from advertisers who deem the brand untrustworthy and viewers who ultimately decide to abandon it,” said Kyle Pope, editor-in-chief of the Columbia Journalism View.
Journalist Howard Curtis, a columnist on media life on Fox News, expressed his regret at the end of February that he was unable to address the “Dominion” issue on air at the request of the channel’s management.