Angelo Carusone on MSNBC: As Dominion trial starts, Fox is “still deeply captive to the part of the audience that has so much allegiance to Trump”

Attorney Christopher Mattei: “Behind the scenes emails seem to show is that even as Fox was spreading disinformation about the legitimacy of the election, its own on-air news personalities did not believe that the stories they were spreading were true.”

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Citation From the April 15, 2023, edition of American Voices with Alicia Menendez

ALICIA MENENDEZ (HOST): Heading to trial next week, Dominion's defamation lawsuit against Fox News. The jury in the case will be seated Monday. Fox has agreed to have several of its hosts testify during the trial, including prime-time star, Tucker Carlson. Fox owner Rupert Murdoch may also take the stand. Judge ruling Murdoch and his son Lachlan have been subpoenaed as live witnesses. All this as Fox faces yet another lawsuit for repeating the Big Lie. A Fox investor alleges the network's election misinformation harms shareholders, writing in the filing quote, "Fox was more concerned about short-term ratings and market share than the long-term damages of its failure to tell the truth." Fox has not commented on the investor's lawsuit. Fox News denies it acted with actual malice in the Dominion case.

Joining me now, attorney Chris Maddy, he was the lead attorney for the Sandy Hook families in one of the defamation cases against Alex Jones. Also with us, Angelo Carusone, President and CEO of Media Matters.

Chris, thanks so much for being with us. New York Times calls the Dominion case, quote, "the libel law equivalent of the Super Bowl." What is the standard of proof in a libel lawsuit? And why is this one just so high stakes?

CHRISTOPHER MATTEI (GUEST): Well, it's a huge case. It's very difficult to prove defamation or libel against a media organization. What Dominion's going to have to prove is that Fox News acted with actual malice, that is they spread information they knew to be false, or they spread information with reckless disregard as to whether it was false or true. And these cases are very difficult to prove because as Fox has claimed throughout this case, it indicates that it was simply covering a topic of public interest, but what behind the scenes emails seem to show is that even as Fox was spreading disinformation about the legitimacy of the election, its own on-air news personalities did not believe that the stories they were spreading were true. And so the evidence in this case is exactly the type of evidence that could set a precedent in holding media organizations responsible for spreading what Dominion Ccaims was propaganda and disinformation.

MENENDEZ: Right, implications that spread beyond Fox News. I want to ask you both the same question. Chris, I am going to start with you but then Angelo I'm going to pop over to you. Which is how significant is it that Rupert Murdoch and other executives can be forced to testify in person?

MATTEI: It is extremely significant because of some of Dominion's best evidence involves communications involving those individuals. And so, Dominion's lawyers are going to have a chance to cross-examination in front of a judge and a jury confronting these witnesses like Rupert Murdoch and other high-level executives with their own communications that these folks never thought would see the light of day. And to see their reaction on the stand as they're confronted with those communications, is going to be very telling, and probably one of the high points and most dramatic points of the trial.


ANGELO CARUSONE (MEDIA MATTERS PRESIDENT AND CEO): Yeah, I mean, I think it's obviously significant legally. It's also – based on what we know Murdoch has already said, I mean, he messed up pretty big in his deposition. And now part of it is that there's little that you – there's little you can polish here, but in his deposition, He basically conceded one of Fox News's most significant defenses because he sort of threw out this idea that they were just neutrally covering a major story. He said – he fully acknowledged during his deposition – that his hosts were actively promoting the very lies that Fox News' defense up until that point said that they were not promoting, that they were just sort of covering other people saying these lies. And he basically said no, my hosts were doing it. And then he went a step further and said that Fox News was uniquely positioned to correct these lies and didn't do anything about it. And then the third is that there's so many emails and communications where Rupert Murdoch is being informed both by his own people, as well as by his board member, Paul Ryan, saying as a fiduciary, I have to let you know, what we're doing here is really dangerous, we need to do something different, and he disregarded all of those when he went by not sort of shifting the network's coverage, while simultaneously engineering the network's coverage to focus on and address other stories, other topics that we're aligned with his ideological interest. So he is a pretty important fulcrum here.

MENENDEZ: Chris, one of the reasons I wanna talk to you specifically is because you questioned Alex Jones, a high-profile defendant in his defamation case. In your experience, in your opinion, what might the strategy be from Dominion's lawyers when they get Fox News' high-profile hosts, their executives on the stand.

MATTEI: Well, I think it's probably fair to say that Alex Jones is a little bit of a unique personality on the stand and to cross-examine. They're probably going to be dealing with somewhat more sophisticated individuals. But the motives in the case against Alex Jones are exactly the same as the motives that Fox News is going to have to deal with, and that is that they had a profit motive to spread these lies. The emails and the communications indicate that after they called the election in Arizona, they fast started losing audience, and that caused a panic within Fox News. They were losing ratings. They were losing their core audience. And that's when the narrative shifted for Fox News where they decided to choose their audience and the profits that that audience brings rather than publishing the truth about the election. And so just as Alex Jones had a profit motive for spreading false lies about Sandy Hook because it generated his audience, so did Fox News, and that cross-examination is going to be very compelling because the jury is going to be wondering why would they spread lies about something that everybody knew and the answer is money.

MENENDEZ: Angelo, amid all of this, you've got Fox News airing an hour-long interview with former President Trump. Do not worry to my viewers, I am not going to show you that interview, not even a clip of it. As the Washington Post put it, Trump was simply allowed to prattle on at will. As someone who watches Fox News on the regular and thinks about it as a business, Angelo. What does that tell you?

CARUSONE: I mean, two things. One, it was like the good old days when you were watching it for Fox News where they would basically give Trump the floor for twenty, thirty minutes without even asking the question. I mean, Tucker Carlson basically said, like, 10 words in the first twelve, fifteen minutes of the interview. He just let Trump talk. In fact, one of the only things Tucker said was to reinforce the idea that the election was stolen. He said some people say Joe Biden won the election. That was the introduction to the only question he asked Trump during that time period. So I mean I mean, part of it is that they're they have to, and it sort of demonstrates the fine balancing act that that they're sort of walking here, which is that they have to give a wink and a nod to their audience and cater them to some extent. It's, to me, very striking because just last month, it was the first month ever where another sort of Trump rival actually had slightly more coverage than Trump on Fox News. That has not happened for years. Ron DeSantis finally tipped Trump one time, one month – it has not happened in years that somebody else has gotten more coverage, And boom. They're right back now. And so to me what it tells is that this is gonna be part of their fine balancing act. They're squeezed between a rock and a hard place, but the thing that is very, very clear is that they're gonna continue to attack the elections. They're just not gonna use the word Dominion, but they're gonna continue to reinforce the Big Lie. And to an extent, they're gonna still – they're still deeply captive to the part of the audience that has so much allegiance to Trump, so much so that they will give him basically a full hour uninterrupted during prime time from a host who has repeatedly said that he hated Donald Trump and didn't think he was very smart and couldn't wait to stop talking about him.

MENENDEZ: Angelo, as always, I appreciate you're connecting the dots. Chris, your first time with us, please come back. Thank you both.