Legal filings released in February and March in relation to a Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit against Fox News show that the network's recently promoted senior executive Tom Lowell acknowledged Fox News let lies about Dominion go unchallenged on the air following the 2020 election.
Lowell, who also served as Fox’s corporate representative in the Dominion suit and is named as one of the executives that acted with reckless disregard for the truth, was promoted to his new position of senior executive vice president this month. He has also been made managing editor of Fox Business in addition to Fox News and will now oversee “all editorial.”
In March 2021, Dominion Voting Systems filed a $1.6 billion defamation suit against Fox News for repeatedly spreading false claims about its voting machines helping Democratic nominee Joe Biden win the 2020 presidential election. To prove defamation, the company must show that Fox acted with “actual malice,” meaning that Fox knew the allegations made about Dominion were false or that Fox acted in reckless disregard for the truth. Lowell is one of the Fox executives named in the lawsuit as having acted with actual malice. The voting machine company Smartmatic filed a similar $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News in February 2021, which also alleges that Fox spread false claims about election fraud.
Filings from the Dominion lawsuit have shown that Fox executives allowed the network to lie to viewers about the 2020 election, prioritizing ratings over accuracy out of fear that the network was losing viewers to its right-wing competitor Newsmax. As managing editor of news at Fox, a position he held since 2016, Lowell was apparently aware of the lies being told about Dominion on the air. According to a Dominion brief made public February 16 calling for summary judgment in its favor, “Lowell testified that in the few months following the election various Fox addressees received over 3,600 such communications from Dominion correcting false allegations and also were circulated widely within Fox.”
In the lead-up to the 2020 election, Lowell also pushed the Fox “Brain Room,” its fact-checking and research unit, to find evidence of Trump’s baseless voter fraud claims. In December 2020, as Fox figures spread lies on the air, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott announced that Lowell was promoted to executive vice president at Fox News.
Here are examples of Lowell’s emails from the Dominion filings that show he was involved in (or aware of) discussions about Fox’s strategy related to the Dominion and Smartmatic lawsuits and that also indicate his programming decisions may have been driven by his worry that the network was losing ratings to its competitors:
- During Lowell’s deposition as Fox’s corporate representative, he reportedly admitted that Fox had been put on notice thousands of times to stop spreading false claims about Dominion. As laid out in the filing (emphasis original), “Fox admits Sidney Powell and her team never provided Fox with any evidence. … Dominion, by contrast, made over 3,600 separate communications to Fox with at least a dozen separate and widely-circulated fact check emails—each pointing to verifiable third-party information debunking the claims.” (Sidney Powell, a Trump-affiliated attorney, was allowed to repeatedly spread misinformation about voter fraud and Dominion voting systems on Fox’s airwaves, even though Fox hosts and producers knew she was unreliable.)
- On December 11, 2020, Fox’s Brain Room Director Mary Schlageter sent an email to other Fox employees detailing a request from Lowell to pull evidence of the instances where Fox pushed back on false claims related to Dominion and Smartmatic, citing a potential legal dispute between Smartmatic. In the email, Lowell acknowledged that “sometimes, we didn’t” challenge on-air lies about Dominion and Smartmatic and noted that instances of when Fox did challenge such lies “won’t be on shows like Dobbs, Hannity, etc.,” referring to programs hosted by Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs.
- Lowell reportedly admitted in his deposition as Fox’s corporate representative that Powell never provided the “reams” of proof she claimed to have on the air.
- In a December 2, 2020, email, Fox President Jay Wallace copied Lowell on an email to Scott about Fox correspondent Eric Shawn fact-checking a Hannity guest during his report on MacCallum’s show. In the email chain, Wallace seemingly asked Scott whether Shawn’s on-air fact-checking was a “unilateral request” by MacCallum’s show.
- Lowell acknowledged that Fox reporting has not demonstrated evidence of massive voter fraud. The filing stated, quoting Lowell, “As Fox itself has conceded in binding corporate representative testimony, the reporting Fox has ‘done up until now has shown no credible evidence of massive election fraud.’”
- Lowell’s emails show that he also discussed the Smartmatic lawsuit with other executives. On December 18, 2020, Lowell sent an email to Meade Cooper, executive vice president of programming, with the subject line “pls call me when you can,” with the body reading “Re; this threatened Smartmatic suit?” The same day, Lowell sent a similar email to Fox Business Network President Lauren Petterson with the subject line of “call me when you can” and wrote “re: this Smartmatic Suit?” in the body.
- On December 4, 2020, Lowell sent an email to Scott detailing the length of time viewers were tuning in to Fox compared to CNN, MSNBC, and Newsmax, pointing out that during daytime programming CNN and MSNBC moved ahead of Fox in the immediate aftermath of the election. Lowell also raised a flag that Newsmax’s “P2+Length of Tune” — average minutes viewed per turning event among people ages 2 and up — is “skyrocketing in this comparison and higher than any of the other cable news competitors this week.”
- On December 18, 2020, Scott copied Lowell in a forwarded email from Vice President of Programming Ron Mitchell, in which he detailed Fox ratings compared to CNN, MSNBC, and Newsmax. In the email, Mitchell stressed, “The headline here is that Newsmax seems to be rapidly becoming a bigger problem in hours other than just 7pm.” At the time, anchor Martha MacCallum helmed the 7 p.m. ET slot and was subsequently demoted to midday programming.
- On November 10, 2020, Lowell was copied on an email chain between Scott, Petterson, and Vice President and Editor-in-Chief Porter Berry, in which Petterson claimed Newsmax has a strategy to “target and steal our viewers.”
- On December 19, 2020, Scott sent an email, writing, “Please let me know if we book [former Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo and/or Mike Lindell. They would both get ratings.” Lowell replied that they had tried to book Lindell but “could not get Lindell on Sunday morning show,” to which Cooper said, “I’ll let you know if we have any luck in Primetime.” Notably, Scott’s email from the day before shows that she had just personally sent Lindell, a prominent election denialist, a gift to woo him back to Fox after Lindell criticized the network on Newsmax.