How a civil war erupted at Fox News after the 2020 election
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
A civil war broke out at Fox News around the 2020 presidential election when the network's journalists called the key state of Arizona for Joe Biden. One of the network's stars accused them of wrecking the network. And that is just the beginning. NPR's David Folkenflik has been going through a new round of documents from a $1.6 billion defamation suit against Fox News.
David, let's start with the stars turning on the journalists making the election calls. What was that about?
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, one of the most striking things was this group text between the three top primetime stars - Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson - and they are angry. They're angry at Arnon Mishkin and the so-called decision desk that called and projected Arizona for Joe Biden on election night 2020. It was the first TV network to do so, and it enraged millions of Trump fans who are Fox viewers. Laura Ingraham said about Arnon Mishkin, he always made my skin crawl.
There was anger at reporters who were doing their best to fact-check fraudulent claims of election cheating and election fraud, that somehow Donald Trump had been done out of the election. And there was anger and contempt for others, such as Chris Wallace, at the network who were trying to keep the reporting and coverage to the straight and narrow and for executives they say weren't backing them up.
MARTÍNEZ: So how did the journalists who were reporting the facts at Fox News - how did they respond?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, the amazing thing is they had exactly the opposite response. Kristin Fisher was a White House reporter at the time for Fox News. She wrote, I'm being punished for doing my job. Literally, that's it. She and a colleague were commiserating that guest spots hosting shows, which are, you know, much coveted by reporters who want, perhaps, promotions at Fox - that they were taken away. And they said that they were losing a lot of airtime on key shows simply because they were trying to fact-check what the then-president and his allies were saying on the air. One producer told his colleagues he was quitting because he couldn't justify working for Fox when he spoke to his young daughter. In his mind, he just said Fox wasn't willing to do the right thing anymore.
MARTÍNEZ: So what does this animosity between colleagues reveal about Fox News? I mean, I just said it - it has the word news in its name.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, what was really amazing in some ways was the way in which the executives, talking amongst themselves, people responsible for defining what Fox is and making sure it lives up to its promises - they were essentially taking the side of their stars. They were doing it, it seems, both as talent management, but also because they were really upset, themselves, that the reporters were showing what they felt was contempt for their audience. And so news in the distant and the far and the rearview mirror, for Fox, is a priority behind, first and foremost, building back the affinity of those millions of viewers who peeled away from Fox after the call of Arizona for Joe Biden, and then after, as a lot of this stuff shows, doing their best to kind of put their thumb on the scale for Republican candidates.
MARTÍNEZ: And all this is coming out as exhibits - are being used as evidence in a court case. Tell us about that case.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, this is a $1.6 billion defamation case. Among those claims of election fraud were those about a voting tech company named Dominion Voting Services - that it was fraudulently switching votes from Trump to Biden. That, of course, didn't happen. It's suing for $1.6 billion in apology. It's a big deal for Fox, which - why the network is ignoring the story and trying to make news of its own, talking about January 6.
MARTÍNEZ: And I saw Capitol Police chief and the Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell both push back against more false claims being broadcast on Fox News. Tell us about that.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, Tucker Carlson has been promoting the idea that footage given to him by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, an ally of Donald Trump, shows that, actually, the rioters, the people trying to block the certification of the vote for Joe Biden on January 6, 2021, were actually amiable tourists just wandering peacefully. The memo obtained by NPR - the police chief says these videos were cherry-picked. And he stands by the Capitol Police officers depicted in the videos who Carlson suggested were just wandering through it and trespassing. McConnell called it a real mistake. Other senators had words we don't typically broadcast on NPR.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's David Folkenflik.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
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