Fox producers thought Jeanine Pirro was “nuts.” Then the network promoted her to its top-rated show.
Fox News executives canceled Jeanine Pirro’s November 7, 2020, show because they did not trust her to cover then-President Donald Trump’s lies that the 2020 election had been rigged against him. Those executives were correct to be cautious – the flagrantly irresponsible coverage she produced on the topic when she returned to the airwaves a week later added to her lengthy record of falsehoods and conspiracy theories.
What happened next shows how little regard Fox has for ensuring that its viewers get accurate information from the network.
Pirro received no apparent repercussions for promoting Trumpian election lies, even as the Fox brass chastised and even fired Fox “news side” employees for critically and accurately reporting on them. In fact, just 14 months later, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott announced Pirro’s ascension from her little-watched Saturday night program to The Five, the weekday afternoon Fox panel show that currently enjoys the highest ratings in cable news.
Dominion Voting Systems revealed the Fox executives’ rationale for not letting Pirro air her November 7, 2020, program – alongside a host of damning comments about her faculties from her colleagues – in a recently released filing in its $1.6 billion lawsuit against the right-wing network.
The filing states that David Clark, Fox’s senior vice president of Weekend News and Programming, and Meade Cooper, its executive vice president of Primetime Programming, made the call to keep Pirro off the air that night. “Her guests are all going to say the election is being stolen and if she pushes back at all it will just be token,” the filing says Clark told Cooper.
“Despite directly supervising the show, Clark did not believe Jeanine Pirro was actually a ‘credible source of news,’ even as he understood that ‘viewers rely on’ Pirro ‘to be a credible source,’” the filing explains.
Others at Fox offered harsher descriptions of Pirro’s credibility, the filing details. “They took her off cuz she was being crazy. Optics are bad. But she is crazy,” according to Justin Wells, Fox host Tucker Carlson’s executive producer. Jerry Andrews, Pirro’s own executive producer, likewise described her as “nuts.”
But Fox’s willingness to keep Pirro's show, Justice with Judge Jeanine, off the air quickly waned amid rising fears that the network was losing market share to competitors that Trump and his supporters perceived as more supportive of election lies. On November 8, 2020, top Fox executives Rupert Murdoch, Lachlan Murdoch, and Suzanne Scott met to discuss the “mounting viewer backlash to Fox,” and embarked on a strategy that involved platforming election liars, a second Dominion filing recounts.
Pirro returned to her show on November 14, 2020. But first, Andrews and Clark briefed her on a “Setting the Record Straight” document Dominion had provided Fox which debunked various false claims about the company.
“On November 13, Andrews forwarded Pirro Dominion’s November 13 STRS email providing information about Dominion’s ownership and the public sources that had debunked election fraud claims,” the filing states. “The next day, both Clark and Andrews reiterated to Pirro that Dominion categorically denied the claims against it, and Andrews warned that she ‘should be VERY careful w this’ given the public information undermining [kooky Trump lawyer Sidney] Powell’s allegations.”
Of course, the person Andrews said was “nuts” and Clark acknowledged was not a “credible source of news” could not pull this off. She lashed out at Dominion in her opening monologue, claiming that its system “has been tagged as one allegedly capable of flipping votes.” As Clark had predicted in canceling the previous week’s show, she hosted a series of guests that raised doubts about the legitimacy of the election while she nodded along.
Those guests included Powell, the Trump lawyer numerous Fox hosts privately agreed was not credible. Powell used the program to promote a series of lies about Dominion in order to allege that the company is “one huge, huge criminal conspiracy that should be investigated by military intelligence for its national security implications.” Pirro replied, “Yes, and hopefully, the Department of Justice but who knows anymore.”
Fox was undeterred, keeping Pirro on the air to push similar election conspiracy theories in subsequent shows. Her broadcasts on November 14 and 21, 2020, were ultimately cited in Dominion’s defamation suit against the network.
And yet, Pirro was rewarded rather than punished. Instead of yammering into the void on Saturday nights, Pirro has had access to a weekday audience of more than three million people since her January 2022 promotion.
Her commentary on The Five is, in the words of her colleagues, “nuts” and “crazy.” She has argued that “we can blame the death of Black Americans on the Black Lives Matter movement”; said that President Joe Biden “should have to have some kind of cognitive test and the 25th Amendment should kick in”; alleged that public schools are part of a “new world order” conspiracy to “bring in the children into part of the government”; called New York City Mayor Eric Adams a “pussy”; claimed that Chicago has been “destroyed” and America “invaded” by immigrants; and smeared progressive philanthropist George Soros for supposedly orchestrating “the destruction of law and order in America, which is creating chaos and anarchy.”
Fox’s treatment of Pirro is indicative of its broader handling of its staff, with personalities like Laura Ingraham and Jesse Watters rising through the ranks in spite of – or perhaps because of – their lack of credibility. As one senior Fox executive told CNN in 2017, “No one ever gets fired from Fox for publishing a story that isn't true."