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Democratic leaders in Congress tell Rupert Murdoch to halt ‘grave propaganda’ around 2020 election

Chuck Schumer and Hakeem Jeffries urge top Fox News personalities to admit on-air ‘that they were wrong’

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 01 March 2023 17:46 GMT
Fox anchor says network is blocking him from reporting on Dominion texts

Bombshell legal filings in a defamation lawsuit against Fox News prompted Democratic leaders in Congress to send a letter to Rupert Murdoch and Fox leadership, urging the right-wing media mogul to direct the network’s top personalities to stop spreading false narratives surrounding the 2020 presidential election.

A letter from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries demanded that network hosts such as Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham “admit on the air that they were wrong to engage in such negligent behavior” by providing a platform for a baseless narrative that the election was compromised.

“Though you have acknowledged your regret in allowing this grave propaganda to take place, your network hosts continue to promote, spew, and perpetuate election conspiracy theories to this day,” they wrote in a letter to Mr Murdoch and his son and Fox Corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and Fox News Media president Jay Wallace.

A sworn deposition from Mr Murdoch in Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6bn defamation case against the network revealed that the Fox Corporation chair conceded that several top personalities at the network “endorsed” former President Donald Trump’s bogus claims that the election was stolen, claims that continue to animate and fuel Mr Trump and his allies as he mounts a 2024 campaign.

“I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it in hindsight,” Mr Murdoch said, according to court documents.

Another filing that compiles testimony and messages from Fox News employees revealed their private admissions that such claims that were, in their words, “nonsense” and “bull****”.

Despite the network’s top officials and widely watched anchors privately acknowledging that then-president Trump and his allies were lying, the network continued to bring proponents of those claims on air, while competing right-wing media networks that elevated such claims appeared to threaten Fox viewership, according to court documents.

“The leadership of your company was aware of the dangers of broadcasting these outlandish claims,” according to the letter from top Democrats. “By your own account, Donald Trump’s election lies were ‘damaging’ and ‘really crazy stuff.’ Despite that shocking admission, Fox News hosts have continued to peddle election denialism to the American people.”

Those claims and the apparent rejection of them behind closed doors “sets a dangerous precedent that ignores basic journalistic fact-checking principles and public accountability,” they wrote.

The Democratic leaders said the revelations are “even more alarming” in light of the news that Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is sharing “highly sensitive security camera footage” of the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, 2021 with Mr Carlson, an event that was fuelled by the same “stolen election” lies.

“As evidenced by the January 6 insurrection, spreading this false propaganda could not only embolden supporters of the Big Lie to engage in further acts of political violence, but also deeply and broadly weakens faith in our democracy and hurts our country in countless other ways,” the lawmakers wrote.

The network’s executives have “a clear choice” whether to continue “a pattern of lying to viewers and risking democracy” or tell the truth and sidestep a “damaging chapter” in the company’s history, they added.

Fox attorneys have claimed that on-air discussions were protected under the First Amendment and do not meet grounds for defamation. The “actual malice” bar for defamation in this case must show that the defendants acted with the knowledge that what they said was false or was treated with a reckless disregard for whether it was false or not.

“Dominion’s lawsuit has always been more about what will generate headlines than what can withstand legal and factual scrutiny, as illustrated by them now being forced to slash their fanciful damages demand by more than half a billion dollars after their own expert debunked its implausible claims,” according to a statement from Fox News to The Independent.

“Their summary judgment motion took an extreme, unsupported view of defamation law that would prevent journalists from basic reporting and their efforts to publicly smear Fox for covering and commenting on allegations by a sitting President of the United States should be recognized for what it is: a blatant violation of the First Amendment,” according to the statement.

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