Angelo Carusone: “From Rupert Murdoch on down to the show producers, they knew what they were saying was not true, that it was actually a lie. And they did it anyway.”

Angelo Carusone speaks to Amy Goodman about recent revelations about Fox News

Video file

Citation From the March 6, 2023, edition of Democracy Now  

AMY GOODMAN (ANCHOR): I'm Amy Goodman. We end today's show looking at Fox News and its handling of the 2020 election. In recent weeks, there have been a number of bombshell revelations about the inner workings of the network that have come to light as part of a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox.

Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News, has admitted under oath that many hosts on his network endorsed Donald Trump's false claims about the 2020 election and that Trump's lawyers, like Rudy Giuliani, had used Fox to spread what he called really crazy stuff. Murdoch also admitted it was wrong for Fox to keep interviewing pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow. But Murdoch suggested it was done for financial, not political reasons. Murdoch said it's not red or blue, it's green. In court filings, Dominion also revealed Murdoch had given Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, confidential information about Biden's campaign ads, along with debate, strategy, and possible violation of election laws.

Meanwhile, The New York Times has revealed details of a major firestorm within Fox after the network projected on election night in 2020 that Joe Biden had beaten Donald Trump in the state of Arizona. While Fox made the accurate call, many executives regretted making the call because it hurt Fox's ratings among Trump supporters. At one meeting held November 15th, 2020, Suzanne Scott, the chief executive of Fox News Media, told others, quote, listen. It's one of the sad reality is if we hadn't called Arizona those three or four days following Election Day, our ratings would have been higher, she said.

We're joined now by Angelo Carusone. He is president of the watchdog group Media Matters, which recently sent a Federal Election Commission complaint against Fox News based on evidence from the Dominion lawsuit. Angelo, welcome to Democracy Now! Start off by talking about what your filing is about.

ANGELO CARUSONE (MEDIA MATTERS PRESIDENT AND CEO): It's basically asking the FEC to investigate the claims that came out of the Dominion filings and then to take the appropriate action. It's completely within the letter of the law says – that the campaign's act is pretty explicit here. It says that you can't give anything of value to a political candidate that's not, you know, tracked, that's not logged. And in this case, in similar circumstances, it's found that these kinds of private information that could be used for political purposes is a thing of value. And so it seems to me black and white. And so we wanted to make sure happened is that Fox doesn't, you know, sort of skate accountability because nobody went through and sort of nudged the FEC to take the action that it needed to take, which is to investigate and to into and to just basically apply the law here.

GOODMAN: So talk about what we know so far. I mean, people are leading very busy and stressed lives. It's hard to keep following up on this $1.6 billion lawsuit. Why don't you talk about the highlights of the remarkable email trail that has been released? What Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham knew at the time about the lies that were being told by Trump and his supporters and the kind of pressure they brought on any reporter who dared to question because it was damaging the Fox brand.

CARUSONE: Yeah, I think that to put it just sort of simply, they knew. They all knew. Rupert – all the way from Rupert Murdoch on down to the show producers, they knew what they were saying was not true, that it was actually a lie. And they did it anyway.

And, you know, just to take a step back and say what this means in practice, well, Fox went from sort of calling some election results to accepting the election results to around that mid-November time period, and the following two weeks after that, they did more than 600 segments in just that last two-week period alone, specifically attacking the election results, promoting the Dominion conspiracies. And so in their coverage, what they really helped do was build the scaffolding for the Big Lie, which became this sort of fuel for the January 6 insurrection. So that's what it meant in practice.

Behind the scenes, they really did know and they didn't just know. They were deriding the conspiracy theories. They were attacking the promoters of it. You know, as you sort of alluded to some of that in your intro, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell was one of the lawyers that was pushing it, and they called her a lunatic on the same day that they had her on the show, on their shows. They were texting each other, admonishing the ridiculousness of this, but they did it anyway. They had it on the air anyway.

And worse, Rupert Murdoch and Fox executives were penalizing other Fox personalities that were trying to either sort of soften the claims that that Fox News was pushing about Dominion and about the broader sort of election, as well as punishing them. I mean, some of them were explicitly punished. So they said that your coverage is too hard, it's too aggressive. You need to change that immediately, almost in real-time. I mean, before the show had aired, emails and messages were being sent from top executives to show producers telling on-air talent to get it together. So, I mean, they knew and that's how I would put it simply, is that they knew and they did it anyway.

And I feel like, you know, the trail of evidence here is so overwhelming that Fox is in some real legal trouble.

GOODMAN: And talk about what you mean by saying it's an illegal corporate campaign contribution.

CARUSONE: What you're not supposed to do is give anything of value. That's why we have to have, you know, all these FEC disclosures. When you give a political donation, it gets tracked. Right. In this case, if you give us if you try to get around that disclosure law, that donation law, by giving something that is the equivalent of money that you would need to spend money on, or that could be considered something of value for for a political campaign, you either not supposed to do it or it's supposed to be disclosed. And it's pretty clear. So it is an illegal campaign contribution.

And I think what's significant about this is not only that, it's clear in this one instance that Fox News sort of broke the law, but the part that I think struck me about all of these complaints together and all these filings was that it seemed so normal. Nothing about what they were saying to each other was considered extraordinary. So when you know, when Rupert Murdoch takes an ad and runs away with it to give it to a political campaign, nobody inside Fox seemed to think that that was weird. There's no communication saying, hey, should we be doing that is not going to be a concern. When there were instructions to change coverage to help Republicans, I mean, Rupert Murdoch was literally sending messages like that. Nobody said, wow, that's weird. Should we be doing this?

And I think my big takeaway is that I don't imagine this is the only instance of this and that, in fact, it feels like what we're seeing here is sort of a is a keyhole as to how Fox News treats every single other major issue in story. And that means they operate more like a partisan operation than a news network. And I think there's probably a lot more complaints that could be filed as these things start to unfold.

GOODMAN: Angelo, in light of all this, can you talk about the Republican House Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, giving exclusive access to all of the January 6 footage from the closed circuit TV footage all over the Capitol and beyond to Tucker Carlson of Fox.

CARUSONE: And I think that what it is two things, how we got there and what it means. How we got there is it's a reflection of the fact that the right-wing media with Fox as its crown jewel and the Republican Party are really fused together. They're not really two distinct entities that are operating in parallel. They really are one part of one big political conglomeration. And so this was actually a major concession that McCarthy had to make during his speaker fight. It's one of the things that far right. Some of the far-right Republicans who are echoing calls from the right-wing media were demanding, and he conceded to that. So the reason that it even happened is that the right-wing media have pushed a few of their big sort of Republican leaders to then make this an issue during the speaker fight, he conceded. So that's how we got here, is that it was sort of a creature of the right-wing media.

GOODMAN: And we have 30 seconds.

CARUSONE: What it means is that it's an official rewrite. It's an official rewrite of what happened on January 6th. And they're using Tucker Carlson as sort of the chief storyteller of that new version of what took place there. And I think we all know what it's going to be. It's going to be lies and conspiracies, that it was a false flag pushed by the Democrats and the news media.

GOODMAN: And the fact that this is the people's footage. I mean, this is the footage of the Capitol being handed to this private corporation.

CARUSONE: Yeah. And it's not being done in a transparent way. It feels much more transactional to me than transparent.

GOODMAN: Well, Angelo Carusone, we want to thank you so much for being with us, president of Media Matters, which recently sent a Federal Elections Commission complaint against Fox News based on evidence from the Dominion $1.6 billion lawsuit.