Raj Shah, a former Fox Corp. executive who urged the network to stave off far-right competitors by promoting Donald Trump’s election lies, has been chosen to lead the communications effort for Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA).
As a senior vice president at Fox, Shah reportedly “worked closely with Tucker Carlson’s team and was trusted by the prime-time hosts as a vigilant defender against critics.” Indeed, his duties reportedly included launching and overseeing an internal unit aimed at discrediting Media Matters and other Fox foils. In his new job, Shah will serve as Johnson’s chief spokesperson and “help run messaging for House Republicans,” Politico reported Tuesday.
Shah is one of numerous apparatchiks to use the revolving door between Republican politics and its top propaganda outlet, having joined Fox after serving as a GOP operative and doing a stint in the Trump White House
Four years later, he left Fox in disgrace.
Fox gave no explanation for Shah’s departure upon announcing it in June. But over the previous months, filings in Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against the company revealed his internal communications as part of a trove of Fox documents, and Fox paid out a record-breaking sum to settle the suit.
Dominion's lawsuit showed that Fox News served as a willing megaphone for Trumpian claims about a “rigged” election, despite its top executives and biggest stars knowing they were false. After Fox’s decision desk called Arizona for Joe Biden on Election Day, Trump lashed out, the audience revolted, and the people calling the shots at the network became terrified by the prospect of losing market share. Fox hosts strove to rebuild their faltering viewership by aiding Trump’s election subversion plot and — undeterred by the network brass — pushed outrageous falsehoods about Dominion.
Shah played a key role in Fox’s shift. As head of its “Brand Protection Unit,” he regularly warned other executives that the network was endangering its ratings by providing accurate information about the election, the Dominion filings show.
Two days after the election, responding to news that Fox would call the election for Biden if they determined he had won Pennsylvania, Shah told top lawyer Viet Dinh, “Even if this call is 100% right but relies on AZ before other nets call AZ, we’re going to get hit very hard by the right.”
He sent an apocalyptic “Brand Protection Unit Roundup” report the next day to Dinh, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott, and Lachlan Murdoch, which warned of “a high spike in negative conservative commentary about Fox News in response to election coverage and calls made by the Fox News Decision Desk.” The report stated, “Beyond the increase in volume is an intensity we have not seen since beginning this type of monitoring over a year ago, with several conservative accounts with large followings stating they would stop watching Fox News.”
After commissioning polling on Fox’s standing with its audience, he sent an email on November 11, 2020, stating that “more of our viewers have an unfavorable opinion rather than favorable opinion of Fox” and that he had urged Murdoch and Dinh to take “bold, clear and decisive action” to “regain the trust that we’re losing with our core audience.”
It’s unclear exactly what he recommended to Fox’s top executives, but other emails show him discouraging accurate coverage and encouraging the promotion of conspiratorial thinking around this time. He plugged the idea of “some sort of public mea culpa for the AZ call,” or “some programming that’s focused on hearing our viewers grievances about how we’ve handled the election,” called for a “digital blitz targeting far-right folks” to promote Fox prime-time hosts who were supportive of Trump’s election theft claims, and highlighted the “Brand Threat” posed by Fox “news side” personalities who criticized the Trump team’s falsehoods.
Two days later, he sent another “Brand Protection Unit Roundup” to Murdoch, Dinh, and Scott, stating there was “strong conservative and viewer backlash to Fox that we are working to track and mitigate.” He further explained that “[p]ositive impressions of Fox News among our viewers dropped precipitously after Election Day to the lowest levels we’ve ever seen.”
Shah highlighted the need for swift action to reverse losses among viewers convinced the 2020 election had been stolen even as he privately pooh-poohed those concerns. He acknowledged the day after the election that Biden’s lead in Arizona was insurmountable and described claims of “vote rigging to the tune of millions” as “so fucking insane.” He described Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, who repeatedly appeared on Fox, as “clearly full of it,” and said prime-time host Sean Hannity “is a little out there.” On January 3, 2021, he texted a friend, “The only clear cut evidence for voter fraud is the failed attempts from Trump.”
But Shah’s private concerns did not prevent him from encouraging propaganda. And in his new role, backing a speaker who was neck-deep in Trump’s election subversion plot, he’ll assuredly do the same if Trump takes another pass at trying to overturn an election.