On Friday, CNN reported on a newly unearthed set of text messages between former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and multiple Fox News hosts, exchanged during the two-and-a-half months between Election Day 2020 and President Joe Biden’s inauguration in January 2021. The texts further reveal the extent to which Fox was integral to Trump’s plot to illegally hold onto power after losing the election. The texts also prove yet again that Fox operates day-to-day as a propaganda arm for the Republican Party, not as a news organization.
Supposed “news” side anchor Maria Bartiromo gave Trump her questions and messaging guidance in advance of an interview
CNN reported that Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo gave Meadows the questions in advance of her interview with President Donald Trump on the November 29, 2020, edition of her weekend show on Fox News, Sunday Morning Futures. The texts reveal that Bartiromo also provided Trump with explicit messaging guidance and instructions on how to respond to her softball questions, which she intended to help him better make his case that the election outcome was illegitimate. The segment was Trump’s first TV interview since the election, and it aired roughly three weeks after all the major media outlets, including Fox News, had projected Biden as the winner.
Bartiromo texted Meadows that morning, hours before the interview with Trump, to claim that “the public wants to know he will fight this,” and that people “want to hear a path to victory” and that “he's in control.” (The entire premise of Bartiromo’s line of questioning was false, because a majority of “the public” had just voted for Biden.)
She then laid out the first question she would ask: “1Q You've said MANY TIMES THIS ELECTION IS RIGGED... And the facts are on your side. Let's start there. What are the facts? Characterize what took place here. Then I will drill down on the fraud including the statistical impossibilities of Biden magic (federalist).” (Based on Bartiromo’s word choice, it is possible that she was referring to a piece from a week earlier in the right-wing site The Federalist, titled “5 More Ways Joe Biden Magically Outperformed Election Norms.”)
Surely enough, the interview began exactly with that question: “Mr. President, you have said many times that this election was rigged, that there was much fraud, and the facts are on your side. Let's start there. Please go through the facts, characterize what took place.”
Throughout the rest of the interview, Bartiromo provided Trump with a platform to air a litany of lies about the election results, going on for 45 minutes, including his outlandish claims about voting machines being used to change the results. Dominion Voting Systems is currently suing Fox News for $1.6 billion for the network’s role in Trump’s defamation campaign against the voting machine company. Another voting technology firm, Smartmatic, is suing Fox News for $2.7 billion and has also named Bartiromo as a defendant for her role in promoting conspiracy theories that the company played a role in altering the election result.
Separately, ABC News’ chief Washington correspondent, Jonathan Karl, reported last year that Bartiromo had called then-Attorney General Bill Barr in mid-November 2020, complaining to him that the Justice Department had not taken action against supposed voter fraud. “She called me up and she was screaming,” Barr told Karl. “I yelled back at her. She’s lost it.” Fox News denied the reports of Bartiromo’s unprofessional conduct — though this wasn’t exactly convincing, because Bartiromo had publicly stated her hopes for Barr to intervene and help reverse the election results.
Sean Hannity was “at war with” Chris Wallace and Fox’s supposed news side
Another Fox News host who is heavily implicated in the latest texts is Sean Hannity, who was already known to have functioned as Trump’s “shadow” chief of staff and as a constant sounding board for the disgraced former president. Previously released texts had shown that Hannity tried to work on damage control after the failed coup attempt on January 6, and that he had urged the White House to have Trump call off his supporters from attacking the Capitol. (In public, Hannity claimed the attackers were left-wing infiltrators.) Other texts show that Hannity took instructions from Meadows on coordinating get-out-the-vote messaging on Election Day in 2020. The latest revelations demonstrate the extent of Hannity’s efforts to keep Fox News from straying away from the administration’s illegal efforts to cling to power.
On December 6, 2020, Meadows sent Hannity a link to an article in The Hill, highlighting a segment from that morning’s edition of Fox News Sunday in which the show’s then-host Chris Wallace pointedly interrupted Trump’s former secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, after Azar had referred to Joe Biden as “Vice President Biden.”
In texts to Hannity, Meadows castigated Wallace and Fox, writing, “Doing this to try and get ratings will not work in the long run and I am doubtful it is even a short term winning strategy.”
“I've been at war with them all week,” Hannity replied.
Meadows later asked on December 11, 2020, for Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott’s direct phone number — noting that he wished to avoid making a call to the network’s main switchboard. Hannity asked the next day whether Meadows had gotten through to Fox executives, again declaring, “I’ve been at war with them.” (As it turned out, Meadows had not yet called Scott, as he had been too busy working on the Trump administration’s lame-duck pardons.)
Keep in mind that the major news networks had all projected Biden as the winner a month before, on November 7 — and yes, that included Fox. The network, however, undermined its own decision desk’s projections by attempting to subvert the election results nearly 600 times in just the two weeks after the election call.
To the degree that tension existed between the opinion and alleged “straight news” sides at Fox, that conflict has since been resolved by Chris Wallace’s decision a year later to quit the network. Wallace said recently that he had been fine with opinion content on the channel, but he had reached his limit. “When people start to question the truth — Who won the 2020 election? Was Jan. 6 an insurrection? — I found that unsustainable.”
Sean Hannity wrote one cheesy Trump campaign ad — and he may have written yet another one that never aired
This latest batch of text messages also reveals that Hannity lied last year about the extent of his connections to the Trump campaign — seemingly confirming a story that Hannity had previously described as being “full of shit.”
Last year, Wall Street Journal senior White House reporter Mike Bender published a book about the 2020 election and its aftermath, titled Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost. The book revealed that Hannity had actually written a Trump campaign ad, which insiders even referred to as “the Hannity ad” and “the one Hannity wrote.” The specific ad in question was an attack spot that seemed to deploy every anti-Biden talking point at once, referring to him as a “47-year swamp creature” who had “accomplished nothing,” and tying him to the so-called “radical, socialist Green New Deal.” Trump’s campaign staff reportedly ridiculed it.
“Inside the campaign, the spot was mocked mercilessly, mostly because of the dramatic, over-the-top language and a message that seemed to value quantity over quality,” Bender wrote. The campaign came up with a solution to the problem, by running the ad only during Hannity’s own show on Fox News: “If Trump and Hannity watched the spot on television – and were satisfied enough to stop asking about the commercial – that seemed to be the best result of the ad. The cost of that investment: $1.5m.”
Hannity, however, denied the story in very strong terms. “The world knows that Sean Hannity supports Donald Trump,” he told Bender. “But my involvement specifically in the campaign — no. I was not involved that much. Anybody who said that is full of shit.”
On December 8, 2020, however, as Hannity and Meadows commiserated via text, Hannity bemoaned that the campaign had not done more on the topic of election fraud during the campaign — including regarding an ad he had written for them.
“I was screaming about no ads from Labor Day on,” he wrote. “I made my own they never ran it. I'm not pointing fingers. I'm frustrated.” It is possible here that Hannity may have been referring to yet another campaign ad that he wrote, but which still went unaired.
Hannity’s vulgar denial to Bender of the earlier campaign ad not only reveals that he is a liar, but there’s more. In this instance, he also lied to a news reporter at The Wall Street Journal, the most prominent of the Murdoch media empire’s journalistic front operations and a perpetual doormat for the opinion side. The fact that he would lie to one of his colleagues from another Murdoch publication clearly demonstrates the sense of leverage Hannity has over anyone who thinks they really can report news while working at a Murdoch outlet.