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New lawsuit sheds further light on Fox’s lies and distortions about the 2020 election and January 6 insurrection

Ex-Fox producer Jason Donner’s lawsuit adds to the network’s already proven track record of punishing staffers who didn’t toe the line

In a new lawsuit, former Fox News producer Jason Donner is claiming that Fox wrongfully fired him for his opposition to the network’s false stories about the 2020 election and the January 6 insurrection.

The lawsuit alleges that Fox’s stated reason in a human resources meeting for firing Donner — that he had not shown up for work, seemingly after calling in sick when recovering from a COVID-19 vaccine dose — was really a flimsy pretext for a political retaliation. Furthermore, the lawsuit claims that even this rationale was illegal, as it violated a D.C. law mandating that employers allow workers to use paid sick leave for such occasions.

Donner’s lawsuit must be placed in the context of other litigation the network has faced since the 2020 election. In April, Fox News agreed to a $787 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems after a judge ruled that the network had spread the lie that the company’s voting machines had been used to steal the 2020 presidential election. The network still faces another lawsuit from another voting systems company, Smartmatic, about which Fox also circulated conspiracy theories. In June, Fox reached a $12 million settlement with former network producer Abby Grossberg, who alleged both a sexist working environment and that the network had coached and intimidated her going into her deposition testimony over the network’s false 2020 election coverage.

In fact, the lawsuit frequently cites other cases of Fox malfeasance that have been well-documented in media coverage and other court proceedings.

  • Donner’s lawsuit reiterates the well-established points that Fox News knowingly pushed false claims about the 2020 election

  • The lawsuit lays out the history of Fox’s decision to elevate former President Donald Trump’s election lies and “purge” its news division of reporters and editors who spoke out against them. The complaint mentions that the network caved to right-wing backlash against then-political editor Chris Stirewalt for projecting a Joe Biden victory in Arizona on election night. The call was correct, but the network fired Stirewalt anyway.

    11. In short, Fox News faced a post-election drop in ratings due to its calling of Arizona for Joe Biden and the network's initial reluctance to back up President Trump's false claims of election fraud. See To win back viewership and pledge its loyalty to President Trump, Fox's corporate leadership purged the news division and those reporters who spoke out against claims of election fraud, such as Mr. Stirewalt.

    17. In the days after the 2020 election, Fox News' reporting became focused on the unsubstantiated stolen election conspiracy advanced by President Trump's supporters. Indeed, the “stolen election” claims published by Fox News were proven in a lawsuit to be false, based in part by the testimony and statements of Fox News' executives and reporters that acknowledged the claims to be untrue. US Dominion, Inc. v. Fox News Network LLC, 293 A.3d 1002, 1038 (Del. Super. Ct. 2023). Nonetheless, this did not change the fact that reporters were facing pressure from the top-down to push the “election fraud claims.”

  • Background: How and why Fox News pushed false election claims

    • After the Fox decision desk called the election for Biden, the network’s coverage continually undermined the results. An analysis by Media Matters found that in the two-week period after Fox News declared Joe Biden the president-elect, the network questioned the results of the election or pushed conspiracy theories about it at least 774 times. [Media Matters, 11/18/20, last updated 1/14/21]
    • Fox News knew it was pushing lies about Dominion. Reports from Fox’s internal workings make it clear that the network knew it was peddling falsehoods about Dominion voting machines, yet many of its personalities continued to overwhelmingly spew conspiracy theories on prime-time cable television. [Media Matters, 9/2/22]
    • Fox largely chose to ignore its own reporting as it focused on spreading the “Big Lie” and wild conspiracy theories about voting machines. Filings released in the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox News revealed how much the network knew it was pushing false claims to its viewers in the aftermath of the 2020 election. [Media Matters, 2/16/23]
    • Fox News lied about Dominion and the 2020 election to compete with far-right Newsmax. 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.” [Media Matters, 2/17/23]
    • The judge in the Dominion case ruled that Fox News pushed lies. The judge’s ruling established that Fox aired false statements, with the presumption that the defamation caused Dominion harm. The remaining issue for trial would have been whether Fox’s actions met the legal standard of “actual malice,” meaning that Fox knew the allegations made about Dominion were false or that Fox acted in reckless disregard for the truth. Fox settled before the trial date. [Media Matters, 3/31/23, 2/16/23]
  • Donner’s lawsuit claims Fox retaliated against him for his reports on the 2020 election

  • The complaint alleges that Donner was one of several Fox News reporters who were reprimanded for correctly debunking the Trump campaign’s false claims about massive election fraud, including then-Fox News White House correspondent Kristin Fisher, who said she was “muzzled” for fact-checking Trump’s election lies.

    Donner claims that he received similar treatment.

    19. Plaintiff Jason Donner had a similar experience to Fisher. Donner attended the November 19, 2020 Giuliani press conference at the RNC. Donner tweeted:

    The tweet was retweeted by many high-profile D.C. journalists, such Manu Raju, John Dickerson, Maggie Haberman, and Kristin Fisher. Later that day, Donner's direct boss, Anita Siegfriedt, called Donner. Siegfriedt reprimanded Donner for the tweet, stating that Donner was not permitted to tweet his “opinions.” Donner pushed back that this was not an opinion, but facts based on what Giuliani stated at the press conference and what he stated in a court case. Siegfried stated that she would “let it go” but that Donner needed to be careful moving forward. This was unlike Siegfriedt as she always praised Donner's work and never took issue with Donner's reporting prior to this. It was clear to Donner that the reprimand from Siegfriedt came from upper management. From this point on, Donner had a target on his back with upper management.

  • Background: Fox News reprimanded other reporters for correctly reporting on Trump’s election lies

    • Tucker Carlson tried to get Fox reporter Jacqui Heinrich fired for correctly fact-checking Donald Trump’s false claims about Dominion. Fox host Sean Hannity also complained to Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott about Heinrich’s tweet. Heinrich had deleted the tweet by the next morning. [Media Matters, 2/16/23]
    • Fox prime-time hosts and executives attacked the network’s reporters who fact-checked Trumpworld’s 2020 election lies. On-air figures who were targeted for internal attacks included correspondents Kristin Fisher and Heinrich, as well as anchors Dana Perino and Neil Cavuto. [Media Matters, 2/21/23]
  • Donner’s lawsuit reveals he was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, told the network: “You're gonna get us all killed.”

  • On January 6, 2021, Donner was inside the U.S. Capitol when a pro-Trump mob attacked the building and attempted to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory.

    Donner claims that he called the Fox News control room from his shelter in a Capitol news booth to say that the network’s ongoing coverage of the riot, which falsely characterized the riot as a “peaceful” event, was endangering everyone in the building. “I don't want to hear any of this fucking shit on our air ever again because you're gonna get us all killed," Donner allegedly told them.

    Donner had also taken particular exception to an on-air comment by Fox anchor Martha MacCallum, who said of the rioters, “You can understand why they were severely disappointed,” because they had been told the election would be overturned. (MacCallum also speculated about “whether those ideas ever should have been elevated for them.”)

    21. On January 6, 2021, Donner was inside the U.S.Capitol in the Fox News booth above the Senate Radio-TV Gallery Studio to report on the certification of the election results by the joint session of Congress. Once the insurrectionists breached the Capitol, Donner and other reporters took refuge in the news booths. While the U.S. Capitol was starting to be attacked, Fox News reported that the insurrectionists were “peaceful.” Later that day, Martha MacCallum of Fox News stated during a live Fox News feed about these people, “When you hear their voices, you can understand why they were severely disappointed.” This statement was made near the same time shots were fired outside the House Floor, tear gas deployed in the Ohio Clock Corridor, and rioters were present in the Senate Chamber.

    22. When Donner heard Fox News' false reporting of the insurrection at the Capitol, he called the Fox News' control room and stated, "I'm your Capitol Hill Producer inside the Capitol where tear gas is going off on the second floor in the Ohio clock corridor, rioters are storming the building, reports of shots fired outside the House Chamber. I don't want to hear any of this fucking shit on our air ever again because you're gonna get us all killed.”

  • Background: Fox News “elevated” January 6 as a date to overturn the election, then falsely called the rioters “peaceful”

    • Fox News repeatedly told viewers the election was stolen, then justified efforts to overturn it by saying Republicans “feel” it was rigged. Fox News gave its viewers the false hope that the election would (or should) have been overturned in favor of Trump. [Media Matters, 1/5/21]
    • As Trump supporters attacked the Capitol, Fox anchor Bret Baier claimed, “It's not like it's a siege ... It seems like they are protesting.” [Media Matters, 1/6/21]
    • Fox anchor Martha MacCallum declared: “Obviously this is a huge victory for these protesters. They have disrupted the system in an enormous way.” MacCallum had just acknowledged that tear gas was being deployed in the Capitol Rotunda, and that then-Vice President Mike Pence had been evacuated from the House chamber. [Media Matters, 1/6/21]
    • As rioters stormed the Capitol, Fox News correspondent Griff Jenkins called demonstrations “peaceful.” “Everything we've seen so far has been nothing but peaceful. But they're definitely fired up,” Jenkins said. “The chant, by the way, I heard the most today was ‘Fight for Trump.’ And that's clearly what many of them feel they're doing here, protesting, rallying.” [Media Matters, 1/6/21]
    • Fox News correspondent Mike Tobin claimed: “Aside from the things that were broken getting into the Capitol in terms of doors, they say there is no vandalism.” [Media Matters, 1/6/21]
    • Audio released in 2023 revealed that Fox News anchor Maria Bartiromo followed Trump campaign directives to promote January 6. The Trump campaign told Bartiromo to push January 6, 2021, as the date to overturn the 2020 election. Then she did it. [Media Matters, 4/14/23]
    • Fox News hyped Trump’s fake electors scheme. Trump adviser Stephen Miller announced the plan on Fox & Friends the morning of December 14, 2020, when the Electoral College delegates across the country were voting to formalize Biden’s election win. Numerous Fox hosts then promoted the scheme, using it to boost the idea that the election would be overturned. [Media Matters, 8/1/23]
  • Donner’s lawsuit says Fox News knowingly broadcast further lies about January 6, which also created a hostile work environment for reporters

  • Donner’s lawsuit also highlights Fox’s ongoing effort to recast the January 6 rioters as heroic figures and the insurrection as a government plot to entrap and discredit Trump supporters. The lawsuit especially singles out the parade of lies, distortions, and conspiracy theories promoted by former Fox prime-time host Tucker Carlson.

    Donner further reveals that he and Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin produced a story that sought to debunk the January 6 conspiracy theories spelled out in Carlson’s Fox Nation propaganda series, Patriot Purge. Yet even though their report preempted Carlson’s dangerous propaganda, Fox ran Patriot Purge anyway, knowing it contained false information.

    Donner also went so far as to file a complaint with human resources, alleging that the network’s open defense of the violent criminals who participated in the January 6 insurrection had created a hostile work environment for personnel like himself whose lives had been at risk that day: “My colleagues and I put our lives at risk covering the story and yet my employer continually allows these lawbreakers to continually be portrayed as victims.”

    27. In late October of 2021, Donner complained to D.C. Bureau Chief Bryan Boughton about Tucker Carlson's false statements regarding January 6th. Donner stated that the Fox Nation program, Patriot Purge, consisted of nothing but conspiracy theories proven to be false. Donner told Boughton that it was demoralizing that Fox News would allow Carlson to gaslight the country with false information, especially in light of the fact that Fox News reporters were present in the Capitol on January 6th, witnessed what happened at the Capitol, and were endangered by the insurrectionists. Boughton replied along the lines that people were upset, but there was “nothing they could do because Tucker had gotten bigger than the network and was out of control. The executives could not stop him.” During this meeting with Boughton, Donner also stated that he called the control room during the insurrection and told Boughton everything he told the control room on January 6th.

    28. On or about October 29, 2021, just prior to the release of Patriot Purge, Donner worked with Jennifer Griffin on a story debunking the false claims in Patriot Purge. Patriot Purge was released despite the fact that Fox News knew it contained false information.

    31. On May 24,2022,Donner complained to Fox News' HR department and to his direct supervisor NuNu Japaridze in writing. … Donner also complained about Fox News' false reporting on January 6th. Specifically, Donner wrote the following to HR and Japaridze:

  • Background: Fox News distorted the facts of January 6

    • The night of January 6, Fox host Laura Ingraham claimed the attackers weren't really Trump supporters. “I have never seen Trump rally attendees wearing helmets,” Ingraham said, further pointing out “those knee pads and the, you know, all of the pads on their elbows.” [Media Matters, 1/6/21]

    • The next morning, Fox host Pete Hegseth defended the insurrectionists, calling them people who “love freedom.” [Media Matters, 1/7/21]

    • One of Ingraham’s guests claimed, “There was no insurrection, there was no coup.” The guest was right-wing provocateur Dinesh D’Souza, who previously received a pardon from Trump for a campaign finance violation, and has since produced a documentary containing easily debunked claims of widespread voter fraud. [Media Matters, 2/23/21, 5/4/22]

    • Tucker Carlson took the lead in presenting Fox’s alternate reality of January 6. Among his lies, Carlson claimed that January 6 was not an insurrection, and that white supremacists and far-right groups such as the Proud Boys were not involved. Those claims were false. [Media Matters, 2/24/21]

    • Carlson then went on to claim that “the FBI was organizing the riots of January 6.” [Media Matters, 6/17/21]

    • Carlson’s series Patriot Purge pushed conspiracy theories that January 6 was a setup executed by antifa or other “troublemakers.” [Media Matters, 11/1/21]

    • Former Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace later cited the network’s January 6 denialism as a reason for why he quit the company. “I’m fine with opinion: conservative opinion, liberal opinion,” Wallace told The New York Times. “But when people start to question the truth — Who won the 2020 election? Was Jan. 6 an insurrection? — I found that unsustainable.” [Media Matters, 3/28/22]

    • Carlson described January 6 rioters as “passionately patriotic Americans” “who genuinely love America.” [Media Matters, 6/8/22]

    • Ingraham has continued to claim the January 6 rioters were instead just “old ladies walking through the halls of Congress taking selfies.” [Media Matters, 3/29/23]