Angelo Carusone on MSNBC: Rupert Murdoch giving confidential information about Biden's ads to Jared Kushner shows that Fox is a political operation

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Citation From the February 27, 2023, edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes

MICHAEL STEELE (GUEST HOST): Tonight, we have new explosive details from the private conversations of Fox News executives as they knowingly fed their audience lies about the 2020 election. Now, this comes from a new court filing in a defamation case against Fox brought by Dominion Voting Systems. Fox hosts and guests claimed over and over that their voting machines were part of a conspiracy to steal the election from Donald Trump. And today's filing reveals more evidence that the top brass at Fox allowed those kinds of lies to go on the air because it was good for business.

In one example, Fox Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch explained why they kept booking Mike Lindell, an election denier and the founder of a pillow company that is a big advertiser on Fox. Quote, "it is not red or blue, it is green." Fox chose Mike Lindell's money over the truth and democracy. I'm joined now by Angelo Carusone, president and CEO of Media Matters, and David Folkenflik, NPR news media correspondent and the author of Murdoch's World The Last of the Old Media Empires. Welcome to you both. David, let's start with you. What's what do you make what's your take of these new revelations in this filing?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK (NPR): Well, I think there are really two ways to think about this. One is to look hard about what this says about Fox News as a purveyor of information and opinion and as such an influencer of our political sphere, particularly in the Republican side and in the pro-Trump corner currently. But there's also the legal case here. What Dominion Voting Systems is arguing is that it was defamed and that it was badly damaged reputationally and financially by the claims propagated on a whole bunch of Fox shows that it was switching votes from Donald Trump to Joe Biden in November of 2020 as part of an intentional election fraud.

And what you see in their arguments is that this wasn't something done just by a rogue host by Lou Dobbs, who was forced out when another election tech company sued Fox in early 2021, or by Maria Bartiromo or Jeanine Pirro or by others, but that this, in fact, was part of a strategy done from the lowest ranks of Fox to the top echelons of Fox Corp, its parent company, to win back Trump voters enraged by the fact that Fox News, of all places, the place they turn to for support and sustenance, had been the first TV outlet to call Arizona for Joe Biden on election night.

And what you see in the new filings that I've been reading through all afternoon this evening in these myriad pages and presentations is the is documentation of the degree to which Rupert Murdoch, the founder of Fox Corp, his son Lachlan, the Executive Chairman Raj Shah, senior vice president at Fox Corp, who had previously been a Trump White House aide and other top corporate officials and News Corp executives were integrally involved in setting editorial direction, setting the tone, you know, questioning whether or not this emphasis was appropriate or that way was the right way to go, and that they were trying to, in the words of a lawyer for Dominion, that was affirmed by Rupert Murdoch in his testimony. They were trying to straddle this world in a sense where they were trying to tell the Trump voters what they wanted to hear and still somehow get them ultimately to align with the facts. And this was an easing, kind of a negotiation rather than just bluntly sharing it. If you have faith in.

STEELE: Right. And so David raises a number of interesting points that boil down for me, at least to one simple thing that Fox leadership was worried about losing its viewers, especially the further right, the further right networks like OAN and Newsmax. And shortly after the 2020 election, Fox CEO Suzanne Scott, Rupert Murdoch, and his son Lachlan had a long talk about the mounting viewer backlash to Fox, and Rupert confirmed that the decision was to allow these wild claims about election fraud on air. So this was certainly much more than just about Donald Trump. It was also about the business of Fox News.

ANGELO CARUSONE (MEDIA MATTERS CEO AND PRESIDENT): I mean, it was I mean, you sort of saw in real time what had happened, right, is that they made some a single call in Arizona that elicited an enormous amount of backlash.

And what you saw in the initial days after that internally, which came out in his filings, was that Fox leadership all the way up to and including Rupert Murdoch, were scrambling to sort of devise a strategy and a mechanism for how they were going to hold on to the remaining Fox viewers that they had, but then pulled back the ones that had left. But on the other end, on the outside, what you actually saw was a change in coverage. So there was about a two-day period where they weren't actually challenging the election results. And one of the things that this filing helped explain is what we saw, which is that all of a sudden, a couple of days after the election results were called, Fox News went from accepting the results to say and saying nothing to doing 700 segments, more than 700 segments explicitly attacking the election results from fomenting all these conspiracy theories, weaving in all this nonsense about dominion.

And part of that change in coverage that was so stark was actually not just coincidental or, you know, reflecting the news that they were seeing and sort of, you know, this wasn't what was happening out there. It was actually part of a clearly intentional strategy to engage and cultivate their Fox audience. And I think what it basically tells us is that, you know, a lot of this filing is that it by far and away what this filing says to me that it's worse for Fox at least a liability, that it's even worse for all of us.

STEELE: So, David, in an unexpected character, if you will, popped up a lot in this filing, and that's former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who's now on the corporation board of directors. So what was his role in this in all of this?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you saw him in December and January in particular, reaching out to the Murdochs and saying we have to share the facts with the public. And in fact, this is important. As a matter of principle and important as a matter of business policy, he said in his sworn statement, his deposition with Dominion's lawyers that he thought he had a fiduciary responsibility to Fox to try to lead the network, presumably through the Murdochs and others, to safe ground away from Trump. That that had been damaging to Fox's brand and also damaging to the public good. And, you know, he saw it as an inflection point. And you saw Viet Dinh, who was a top, is the chief legal officer for Fox Corp., but also a general sort of right-hand man for Lachlan Murdoch and a former assistant attorney general years before that, under the George W Bush administration.

As you well know, Michael, they were saying these are dangerous things to be playing with and that we really need to be making a break on this. And indeed, after January 6th, another Fox Corporation board member or director, if you will, Andy, said, you know, because Fox has directly and indirectly served as such amplification and sounding board for Donald Trump in a support for him, that Lachlan or Fox News have essentially a responsibility to come out very clearly against then President Trump and his lies about the election. And, you know, you really saw Rupert Murdoch in the scenes advising his side to say, well, you know, you've got to tell her we are navigating this real carefully because it's a tough thing to do without alienating our viewers.

STEELE: Angelo, we've got about less than 30 seconds left, but I want to ask you this one point, because it's important. I think, you know, the FOX hosts and that were on on on television repeating this big lie, they knew it was all B.S. They they but few of them, very few of them, you know, seem to be true believers in all of this, you know, except for someone like Lou Dobbs. They're still on the air. What do we make of that?

CARUSONE: Because the Fox News is a political operation. And I think some of the stuff that came out of this was not just about this case, but more broadly how Fox operates. I mean, Rupert Murdoch gave Joe Biden campaign ads to Jared Kushner, confidential ads before the election, giving insight into strategy and confidential information because it helped the Donald Trump campaign. I mean, they provided material to sort for political purposes all across the way. And it's because they function like a political operation. So they knew it. They didn't care because the ends justify the means and the money lines their pocketbook. Even Rupert Murdoch made a reference about that. So, you know, there's accountability for the reporters that tried. They all got punished or fired and even Rupert Murdoch mentioned it, but not people like, say, Maria Bartiromo or Sean Hannity. But there's the features, the bug.

STEELE: The features the bug. Angelo Carusone and David Folkenflik, thank you both very, very much.