A recent filing by Dominion Voting Systems in its ongoing lawsuit against Fox News reveals the extent to which the network knew it was pushing false claims to its viewers in the aftermath of the 2020 election by suggesting that Dominion’s machines were involved in voter fraud. Totalling 192 pages, the filing lays out a seemingly endless list of evidence showing how “literally dozens of people with editorial responsibility” — from producers to on-air personalities to executives to Fox Corp. Chairperson Rupert Murdoch himself — acted with, in Dominion’s view, “actual malice.”
Two days after the election, Fox News chief political anchor Bret Baier acknowledged privately, “There is NO evidence of fraud. None,” according to the new filing.
After seeing social media posts from his colleague Maria Bartiromo pushing baseless claims of fraud, Baier warned Fox News’ senior vice president and managing editor of the Washington, D.C., Bureau Bill Sammon about her post.
“We have to prevent this stuff...We need to fact check,” Baier told Sammon.
Bartiromo would go on to become one of the network’s biggest election fraud conspiracy theorists, pushing the falsehoods at least through the summer of 2021.
On November 6, 2020, one day after Baier’s warning, lawyer to then-President Donald Trump Sidney Powell appeared on Fox News’ Lou Dobbs Tonight to push a new conspiracy theory. Powell claimed that US government hardware – “Hammer” – and software – “Scorecard” – had been used to alter vote totals in key states.
After Powell’s appearance, a Fox News viewer emailed Baier. “Sydney Powell just broke the story on Dobbs,” the viewer wrote.
“What is this?” Baier then asked Fox President Jay Wallace, according to the filing. “Oh man.”
A September 2022 report about other emails sent by Bret Baier during this same period showed that he was part of the effort to try to subvert the Fox News decision desk’s election call. According to The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021, by reporters Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, Baier reached out to Wallace asking that the network’s call that Joe Biden won Arizona be rescinded, writing “The sooner we pull it—even if it gives us major egg [on our faces]—and we put it back in his column the better we are in my opinion.”
Fox News spread lies and falsehoods about the election both on its opinion shows as well as during its supposed “straight news” programs, the part of the network where Baier works as chief political anchor. As Media Matters previously reported, in the nine days after Fox News declared Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 election, the network’s so-called “straight news” programs cast doubt on the results or pushed conspiracy theories at least 208 times.
The filing is the latest development in the legal battle between Fox and Dominion Voting Systems, after the company filed a lawsuit against the network in March 2021. It is by far the biggest disclosure of evidence from Dominion’s lawyers so far in the case. Depositions of the Fox News stars began around August 2022.
Dominion is seeking to prove that Fox News knew it was broadcasting false information and that its stars were admitting the truth in private even as they continued to spread lies about voting irregularities on the air.
Some of Fox News’ biggest names repeated the lies about Dominion or otherwise smeared the company, including Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Maria Bartiromo, and Lou Dobbs. Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, and Sidney Powell also appeared on the network to spread falsehoods about Dominion. The network continued to push the lies even after high-ranking Fox executives and influential network hosts knew the information was false.
Among the myriad false accusations made on Fox were claims that Dominion machines altered vote counts, that the company gave “kickbacks” to elected officials, and that the voting machines were owned or controlled by foreign governments.