February 16, 2023 (Thursday)
A legal filing today in the case of Dominion Voting Systems against the Fox News Corporation provides a window into the role of disinformation and money in the movement to deny that President Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election.
Dominion Voting Systems is suing FNC for defamation after FNC personalities repeatedly claimed that the company’s voting machines had corrupted the final tallies in the 2020 election. The filing today shows that those same personalities didn’t believe what they were telling their viewers, and suggests that they made those groundless accusations because they worried their viewers were abandoning them to go to channels that told them what they wanted to hear: that Trump had won the election.
The quotes in the filing are eye-popping:
On November 10, 2020, Trump advisor Steven Bannon wrote to FNC personality Maria Bartiromo: “71 million voters will never accept Biden. This process is to destroy his presidency before it even starts; IF it even starts…. We either close on Trumps [sic] victory or del[e]gitimize Biden…. THE PLAN.”
FNC’s internal fact checks on November 13 and November 20 called accusations of irregularities in the voting “Incorrect” and said there was “not evidence of widespread fraud.”
On November 15, Laura Ingraham wrote to Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity: “Sidney Powell is a bit nuts. Sorry, but she is.”
On November 16, Carlson wrote to his producer, Alex Pfeiffer, “Sidney Powell is lying.”
On November 19, FNC chair Rupert Murdoch wrote: “Really crazy stuff.”
Hannity later testified: “[T]hat whole narrative that Sidney was pushing. I did not believe it for one second.”
Fox Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt later testified, “[N]o reasonable person would have thought that,” when asked if it was true that Dominion rigged the election.
The filing claims that FNC peddled a false narrative of election fraud to its viewers because its pro-Trump audience had jumped ship after the network had been the first to call Arizona for Biden, and its ratings were plummeting as Trump loyalists jumped to Newsmax. “I’ve never seen a reaction like this, to any media company,” Carlson wrote to Suzanne Scott, chief executive officer of Fox News, on November 9. “Kills me to watch it.” On November 12, Hannity told Carlson and Ingraham, “In one week and one debate they destroyed a brand that took 25 years to build and the damage is incalculable.”
They went to “war footing” to “protect the brand.” For example, when FNC reporter Jacqui Heinrich accurately fact checked a Trump tweet, correcting him by saying that “top election infrastructure officials” said that “[t]here is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised,” Carlson told Hannity: “Please get her fired. Seriously…. What the f*ck? I’m actually shocked…. It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”
Heinrich deleted her tweet.
The filing says that not a single witness from FNC testified they believed any of the allegations they were making about Dominion. An FNC spokesperson today said, “Dominion has mischaracterized the record, cherry-picked quotes stripped of key context and spilled considerable ink on facts that are irrelevant under black-letter principles of defamation law.”
Today, part of the report of the special purpose grand jury investigating possible criminal interference in the 2020 election in Georgia was released under court order. It explained that 26 Fulton County, Georgia, residents, three of whom were alternates, made up the grand jury, and 16 of them made up a quorum, enabling the jury to conduct business. Beginning on June 1, 2022, the grand jury heard testimony from or involving 75 witnesses, almost all of it in person and under oath. It also heard testimony from investigators and got digital and physical media.
The grand jury found “by a unanimous vote that no widespread fraud took place in the Georgia 2020 presidential election.” It also reported that “[a] majority of the Grand Jury believes that perjury may have been committed by one or more witnesses testifying before it,” and it asked the district attorney to “seek appropriate indictments for such crimes where the evidence is compelling.”
Also today, in the wake of the inauspicious first hearing of the House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government on February 9, a bipartisan group of 28 former officials who were part of the Church Committee wrote an open letter to Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH). Republicans have claimed Jordan’s new subcommittee is a modern version of the 1975–1976 committee, chaired by Senator Frank Church (D-ID), that discovered illegal wiretapping of U.S. citizens, CIA operations to assassinate foreign leaders, drug testing on government personnel, discrediting of civil rights and anti-war activists, and so on.
The letter’s authors reminded Jordan that while the chair of the committee had been a Democrat, its work had been carefully bipartisan, and its members investigated both Republican and Democratic administrations. They had rigorously reported facts in context, “resisting political temptations to assemble misleading mosaics from isolated tidbits.” They had also protected ongoing intelligence and law enforcement operations.
The committee’s 2,700 pages of exhaustive research were also bipartisan and resulted in the creation of Senate and House intelligence committees to provide congressional oversight of intelligence, as well as the establishment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The former staffers of the Church Committee advised Jordan to follow the model he claimed, remaining objective, grounding the committee’s findings in relevant evidence and applicable laws.” They urged the subcommittee to “consider in good faith whether [Trump attorney general William] Barr and [John] Durham,” whom Barr appointed to discredit the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian operatives, “themselves may have strayed into such weaponization.”
The Church Committee staffers warned Jordan that if he wanted to claim the mantle of that committee, he would need to move forward with the “same spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship.”