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Compare the election-fraud claims Fox News aired with what its stars knew

A security guard looks out of the News Corp. headquarters in New York on April 19, 2017.
Mary Altaffer
A security guard looks out of the News Corp. headquarters in New York on April 19, 2017.

Election officials and major news channels reported there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election — to the fury of then-President Donald Trump.

In the weeks following the election, Trump and his lawyers demanded recounts, refusing to accept his loss and claiming the election was stolen. That message spread far and wide thanks to right-wing news outlets, including the longtime cable-news leader Fox News.

Fox News hosts repeatedly singled out the election-tech company Dominion Voting Systems for "rigging" the election and "flipping" votes from Trump to Democratic nominee Joe Biden without evidence to back up the claims. Yet internal communications and private messages show the network's talent and executives agreed that claims were "ludicrous" and "bs."

Dominion is now suing the network for defamation and seeking $1.6 billion. Fox News stars and executives' disdain for the claims of fraud and the people who peddled them on air is clear in court documents filed by Dominion, which became public this week.

Below is a comparison of some of the claims Fox News allowed on its top-rated shows and what was said behind the scenes, according to those legal documents.

Fox, in its defense, says Dominion has cherry-picked quotes and taken them out of context. It argues that the company is trying to punish it for covering the news of fraud allegations put forth by the then-sitting president.

Nov. 8, 2020: Trump ally and lawyer Sidney Powell blasts Dominion to Fox News host Maria Bartiromo

What Fox News aired:

BARTIROMO: "Sidney, we talked about the Dominion software. I know that there were voting irregularities. Tell me about that."

POWELL: "That's to put it mildly. The computer glitches could not and should not have happened at all. That is where the fraud took place, where they were flipping votes in the computer system or adding votes that did not exist."

What Fox News knew:

The source of Powell's election fraud claim was "nonsense," Bartiromo told lawyers under oath.

The day before Powell appeared on the show, she sent Bartiromo and other Fox News hosts an email entitled "Election Fraud Info" from a source — a self-described "wackadoodle" — alleging that Dominion was the "one common thread" among "voting irregularities in a number of states."

Bartiromo later admitted that email was "not evidence" of claims of election fraud.

Nov. 12, 2020: Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani furthers the plot on Lou Dobbs Tonight

What Fox News aired:

DOBBS: "How important do you believe are the concerns being expressed in a number of states about the ability of these [Dominion Voting Systems] machines not to be hacked?"

GIULIANI: "The machines can be hacked. There's no question about that. Their machines can be hacked. But it's far worse than that, Lou. Dominion is a company that is owned by another company called Smartmatic ... It was formed really by three Venezuelans who were very close to the dictator Chavez of Venezuela and it was formed in order to fix elections."

What Fox News knew:

On that day, Dominion sent Fox News emails entitled "Setting the Record Straight" with links to information debunking the claims its shows had aired about the company. It stated that it had no ties to the voting-tech company Smartmatic, or Venezuela. It included a link to federal election authorities' statementthat the 2020 election had been the most secure in American history.

Under oath, Dobbs admitted he had seen that statement on Nov. 12. A senior producer, also under oath, said the show's producers had discussed the statement.

Nov. 14, 2020: Fox News' Jeanine Pirro lets Powell discuss the baseless Venezuela conspiracy

What Fox News aired:

POWELL: "The money creating [Dominion] came out of Venezuela and Cuba...It is one huge, huge criminal conspiracy that should be investigated by military intelligence."

PIRRO: "Yes, and hopefully the Department of Justice, but who knows anymore."

What Fox News knew:

Earlier this same day, a Fox executive warned host Jeanine Pirro that she "should be VERY careful w" allegations relating to Dominion's ownership and election fraud.

Pirro's show did not air in the days after the election. Fox executives had arranged that because they knew her election coverage was "irresponsible," according to Dominion's legal brief. At the time, however, the network had said it bumped the show in favor of ongoing election coverage.

Nov. 30, 2020: Fox star Sean Hannity hosts a "F'ing lunatic"

What Fox News aired:

HANNITY: "Let me ask you...I've gone over everything I've been able to find out. Nobody liked Dominion Voting Systems. Nobody. ... Why would we use a system that everybody agreed sucked or had problems is beyond me. And I asked you today, you said to me there were people watching an Internet connection in real time, but they can't speak publicly and haven't signed affidavits to that. Why?"

POWELL (claiming that some witnesses of fraud can't come forward because they lack government protections): "That's something that the government really needs to give them if they want to get to the truth of all the matters with which we're gathering more evidence every day."

What Fox News knew:

At this point, Hannity believed that it was "obvious" Powell's allegations were false, according to the legal brief. In the weeks after the election and leading up to this broadcast, Hannity's team monitored for evidence to support Powell's claims but saw none.

In a text, Hannity called Powell a "F'ing lunatic."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mary Yang
Mary Yang is an intern on the Business Desk where she covers technology, media, labor and the economy. She comes to NPR from Foreign Policy where she covered the beginning of Russia's war in Ukraine and built a beat on Southeast Asia, Asia and the Pacific Islands.
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