A recently disclosed filing in the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox News reveals how nervous Fox News hosts and executives were about Newsmax taking their audience away in the aftermath of the 2020 election.
The filing is the latest development in Dominion Voting Systems’ yearslong defamation lawsuit against Fox News, originally launched in March 2021. In order to win its lawsuit, Dominion needs to show that Fox News intentionally lied to its audience about the company’s voting machines rigging elections, or recklessly disregarded the truth. Facing competition for right-wing media audiences after rival networks such as Newsmax began pushing the idea that Dominion Voting Systems was partly responsible for rigging the 2020 election in favor of President-elect Joe Biden, Fox News executives became panicked. As the filing argues, “Fox executives made an explicit decision to push narratives to entice their audience back.”
While both networks peddle many of the same right-wing talking points, there has been some friction between them. After Newsmax was removed from DirectTV, host Eric Bolling took a shot at Fox News for not defending the network: “It's not about just us. By the way. Where are you, Fox? How about you, Fox? I mean, you stand up for us. We did it for OAN.” The filing may reveal why Fox has remained silent: Fox’s executives were paranoid about competition from Newsmax.
Here are excerpts from the filing showing that Fox News knowingly pushed lies about Dominion and the 2020 election, at least in part, to lure right-wing audiences away from Newsmax:
Fox’s mentions of Newsmax in the Dominion filing
- Fox prime-time host Tucker Carlson: “We’re playing with fire, for real....an alternative like Newsmax could be devastating to us.” The filing shows that when Fox News called the election for Biden on November 7, 2020, the network was immediately faced with backlash from its viewers — a continuing reaction from when Fox became one of the first outlets to call Arizona for Biden on election night. When Fox made the call for Biden’s presidential victory a few days later, Carlson texted his producer: “Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience? We’re playing with fire, for real....an alternative like Newsmax could be devastating to us.”
- Fox executive David Clark: Newsmax hosts “seemed to invest truly in conspiracy theories versus fact.” According to the filing, Clark testified that Newsmax was not a credible news organization, saying, “Their hosts were extremely one sided, ignored the facts, they did not seem to care about telling the truth, they seemed to invest truly in conspiracy theories versus fact.”
- Fox executives acknowledged Newsmax was going after their viewers, saying that the network is “just whacking us,” that it is an “alternative universe” which “can’t be ignored,” and that “we are on war footing.” On November 10, 2020, Fox executives showed concern about Newsmax stealing Fox viewers, including those of Your World with Neil Cavuto. Fox executive Porter Berry said, “Just pulled up [Newsmax’s] show and they’re hitting Cavuto…They are just whacking us. Smart on their part.” Fox Business President Lauren Petterson added, “They definitely have a strategy across all shows to try to target and steal our viewers.” Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and Fox News President Jay Wallace texted about viewership numbers, with Wallace stating that “the Newsmax surge is a bit troubling—truly is an alternative universe when you watch, but it can’t be ignored,” to which Scott agreed. Wallace then said that he is “trying to get everyone to comprehend we are on war footing.”
- Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch: “These people should be watched, if skeptically.” According to the filing, Murdoch urged Fox News’ CEO to keep tabs on Newsmax as the month progressed after the 2020 election:
Meanwhile, Fox continued to broadcast its lies about Dominion as it nervously eyed Newsmax. In a November 16 email, Rupert Murdoch told Scott to read a Wall Street Journal piece about Newsmax, telling her: “These people should be watched, if skeptically. [Donald] Trump will concede eventually and we should concentrate on Georgia, helping any way we can. We don’t want to antagonize Trump further, but Giuliani taken with a large grain of salt. Everything at stake here.”
- Fox Senior Vice President Ron Mitchell: “This type of conspiratorial reporting might be exactly what the disgruntled FNC viewer is looking for.” The filing reports that Mitchell sent a memo to Scott and Wallace on November 18, 2020, questioning Newsmax’s “lack of any meaningful editorial guidance,” writing that the absence of such guidance “may be a positive for them at least in the short term.” Mitchell then referenced then-Newsmax host Grant Stinchfield’s show from the previous night, writing, “The show sourced websites like Gateway Pundit while talking about voter fraud. This type of conspiratorial reporting might be exactly what the disgruntled FNC [Fox News Channel] viewer is looking for.”
- Mitchell actively began tracking Newsmax’s programming and guests. According to the filing, Mitchell “was admittedly worried about Fox losing viewers to Newsmax, and even began tracking the guests booked and topics covered on Newsmax.” The filing also claimed that Mitchell “had an analysis done that showed Fox viewers were switching the channel specifically to watch Sidney Powell as a guest.” Fox prime-time host Sean Hannity “brought Powell on mere days” later.
- Gary Schreier, senior vice president of Fox Business programming, on Newsmax: “They’re not a news organization.” According to the filing, Fox News executives Jerry Boyer and Gary Schreier emailed around November 10, 2020, about Newsmax’s election coverage, with Boyer asking, “What about truth and integrity? Do they actually believe the election was stolen?” Schreier replied, “They’re not a news organization….[W]e have to follow journalistic rules…they do not have to and they simply do not.”
- Schreier on a Newsmax show getting over 1 million viewers: “I see it. Jesus.” According to the filing, executives “knew that Fox needed to appease its Trump-supporting viewers to keep them tuning in.” As an example, the filing mentions Petterson’s November 12, 2020, comment to Schreier that Newsmax’s 7 p.m. host had “delivered over 1 million total viewers,” to which Schreier responded, “I see it. Jesus.”
- “Fox had a strong motive to welcome him [Mike Lindell] on air and avoid rebutting his baseless claims.” According to the filing, when right-wing pillow maven and major Fox News ad buyer Mike Lindell “made negative comments about Fox on Newsmax, Fox’s executives exchanged worried emails about alienating him and sent him a gift along with a handwritten note from Suzanne Scott. … Fox had a strong motive to welcome him on air and avoid rebutting his baseless claims.”