Fox News is unlikely to face pushback from professional journalism groups after court documents revealed it lied to viewers
- Fox News employees didn't believe 2020 election fraud claims, per texts and emails produced in a lawsuit.
- Professional journalism groups had harsh words, but Fox News's standing likely won't be affected.
In court documents made public in the past month, Fox News hosts are seen saying one thing in private, and another in public.
Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity all said in text messages that Sidney Powell's allegations that Dominion Voting Systems manipulated the election results in the 2020 election were absurd.
On air, however, they each raised the possibility that the election was stolen. Asked in a deposition whether hosts including Maria Bartiromo and Lou Dobbs lied, Fox Corporation Chair Rupert Murdoch answered in the affirmative.
A number of professional organizations told Insider that Fox News fell well short of the standards expected in the profession.
"No responsible journalist or news organization would intentionally mislead their audience into believing that something is true when they know it isn't," Claire Regan, the national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, told Insider. "Journalism is about truth-telling, not spreading disinformation. A foundational principle of the SPJ Code of Ethics is to seek the truth and report it."
But the revelations likely won't have any impact on Fox's standing in professional groups, many of which are designed for advocacy and professional development rather than being member-based.
The court documents were produced in a lawsuit first filed by Dominion in March 2021. The election technology company alleges Fox News defamed it by allowing Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani — two conspiracy theorist lawyers hired by then-President Donald Trump — to spread lies about it on air without being sufficiently challenged. Powell and Giuliani falsely claimed Dominion's technology flipped votes from Trump to now-President Joe Biden, and that Trump was the true victor of the 2020 election.
Fox News and its parent company, Fox Corporation, have denied wrongdoing and say its employees fairly reported on explosive allegations about election fraud made by the sitting president.
A Fox News spokesperson told Insider that the company continues to invest in journalism and called Dominion's lawsuit an "unprecedented assault on the First Amendment."
"FOX News Media has increased its investment in journalism by more than 50%, further expanding our newsgathering footprint both domestically and abroad while providing state-of-the-art resources to enhance our coverage," the spokesperson said. "We are incredibly proud of our team of journalists who continue to deliver breaking news from around the world."
Fox News probably won't be expelled from journalism organizations
Bill McCarren, executive director of the National Press Club, called the revelations in the Dominion lawsuit "extremely disappointing."
"Journalism receives significant protections from the First Amendment and with those protections come profound responsibilities," McCarren told Insider. "It appears that some at Fox have not lived up to those responsibilities in this case."
The strongly worded statements don't affect how Fox News employees are treated within those professional journalism organizations. A representative for the Society of Professional Journalists — which welcomed "all journalists" to participate in professional development programs — said that Fox News wasn't an organizational member and that people named in the lawsuit weren't individual members. McCarren said people named in Dominion's lawsuit weren't members of the National Press Club, either, and that the disclosures in the litigation "do not affect the standing" of other members who work at Fox News.
"It is not our policy to comment on the expulsion of members in general," McCarren wrote in an email. "But, no members have been expelled from the Press Club due to discovery etc. in this suit."
Drew Berry, the executive director of the National Association of Black Journalists, told Insider that the vast majority of its members, many of whom work for local Fox affiliate stations, "do excellent journalism."
"Our members are not going to be punished by banishment from our organization for the actions of people over which they have no control," Berry told Insider. "We have a great deal of confidence that the overwhelming majority of our members who work for FOX do not cross ethical lines. To expel almost 80 FOX employees and members for the actions of someone at the top brass who is unethical would be a conviction of the wrong group."
Tamara Keith, president of the White House Correspondents' Association, declined to comment.
Evidence made public in Dominion's lawsuit shows how Fox employees — beyond just hosts of opinion shows — had priorities other than telling their viewers the truth.
In emails, Raj Shah, a Fox Corporation senior vice president, discussed shaping messaging strategies with Trump's team around election results. Fox News chief political correspondent Bret Baier said in an email to Fox News producers and executives that he was "uncomfortable" defending Biden's electoral victory in Arizona.
"It's hurting us. The sooner we pull it — even if it gives us major egg. And we put it back in his column. The better we are," Baier said in an apparent reference to Trump.
A former board member of the WHCA, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the group's inner workings, said the organization doesn't police the conduct of its members.
Questions beyond "do you cover the White House?" aren't relevant to determine membership when journalists re-apply every year, the former board member said.
"There are left-wing publications, right-wing publications, there are government-owned publications — there's Voice of America, foreign news organizations," the former board member said. " It's a pretty broad spectrum."
The rare exception for deploying consequences against members, the former board member said, is when they affect the safety of other members, such as when a reporter from One America News (which Dominion is also suing over conspiracy theories) was taken out of the WHCA rotation for refusing to abide by distancing measures at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
The mission of the WHCA, the former board member said, is to get its members as much access as possible to White House employees and events. Fox News has been helpful in the fight for transparency, they said.
"Fox has actually been a constructive member of the WHCA. We've had zero issues. They joined with us on the battles that we had in the Trump era," the former board member said. "When the Trump White House tried to boot Jim Acosta, for example, the WHCA took a united stand on that, and Fox was part of that."
Representatives for the Asian American Journalists Association and National Association of Hispanic Journalists didn't respond to Insider's requests for comment.
According to a survey conducted by the Maru Group and Variety, a fifth of Fox News viewers have less trust in the network following the disclosure of Murdoch's testimony and its hosts' text messages. 13% of Fox News viewers also no longer hold the false belief that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump following the disclosures, according to the survey.
Viewership levels and advertising on Fox News remain strong, according to Fox News, which ran a story this week bragging about its ratings against CNN's.
The trial between Dominion and Fox News is scheduled to begin on April 17.
Correction: March 20, 2023 — An earlier version of this story misstated Raj Shah's job at Fox Corporation. He's an executive vice president, not a board member. The story also misspelled the name of the National Press club's executive director. It's Bill McCarren. Additionally, the story incorrectly described a feature of the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Press Club. The organizations do have membership programs; representatives said people named in Dominion's lawsuit weren't members.
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