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Q: Who's unsurprised by shocking Fox News revelations? A: Ex-Fox journalists

The logos for Fox programs are displayed on the News Corp. building on Jan. 25, 2023 in New York City.
Michael M. Santiago
/
Getty Images
The logos for Fox programs are displayed on the News Corp. building on Jan. 25, 2023 in New York City.

The $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit filed against Fox News over lies about the 2020 election has brought shocking revelations to light.

Among those who say they aren't shocked: former journalists at Fox News, who suggest that maybe the public now better understands what they saw from the inside.

"I was not particularly surprised," former Fox politics director Chris Stirewalt says.

"There's not one thing that surprised me or struck me," says former Fox commentator and guest host Julie Roginsky. "And I've read everything in those filings."

Private exchanges and sworn testimony secured by Dominion Voting System's legal team show that Fox News' producers, stars and executives put people on the air that they thought were "nuts" to spin bogus claims that the election-tech company cheated then-President Donald Trump of victory by switching votes to Joe Biden.

Former Fox chief political correspondent Carl Cameron says one element stood out.

"I'm surprised that there weren't more people who would speak out," Cameron says.

Cameron left Fox about seven months into the Trump administration — after 21 years at the network. He later said "right wing hosts drowned out straight journalism" at the channel.

'There was a time when the journalists had some control. That clearly has eroded'

"There was a time when the journalists had some control," Cameron says now. "And that clearly has eroded. And exactly when that started ... really doesn't matter. What it ended up with, is the organization has a serious legal problem. "

Each of them point in some ways to the 2016 departure of the late Roger Ailes — the celebrated, reviled and ultimately disgraced former Fox News chief.

"With the absence of Roger Ailes, the mentality that no one was going to be bigger than the network had disappeared," Roginsky says.

To be clear on Roginsky's feelings about Ailes, she was one of many women at Fox News who alleged he sexually harassed her. She sued Fox and Ailes and received an undisclosed settlement. Fox News says CEO Suzanne Scott has completely reshaped the network's culture since the Ailes era.

Despite all that, Roginsky says Ailes enforced an intense discipline at Fox that vanished, right as Trump won the nomination and headed to the White House. Over the Trump years, many journalists left Fox, including Cameron, anchor Shepard Smith and others.

'They were going to be led by the mob'

"The people who stayed — by the very nature of being allowed to stay — had to accept the notion that they were going to be led by the mob and the mob was being led by Donald Trump," Roginsky says.

Not every Fox alumnus agrees. Former primetime star Bill O'Reilly, whom the network forced out in 2017 after his own sexual harassment scandal, says the rest of the media makes too much of the story. The network will keep its core audience of older conservative viewers," he wrote recently. "They will stand by their men and women, having nowhere else to go."

No one stood in the crucible more squarely than Chris Stirewalt. He was Fox's political director in 2020, part of the Decision Desk team on election night that called the swing state of Arizona for Biden. Fox did so ahead of any other network, angering millions of Trump supporters who were Fox viewers.

Stirewalt and Washington Managing Editor Bill Sammon argued that the network needed to level with their viewers. The private exchanges that arose from the lawsuit show many of Fox's opinion hosts and executives instead decided to broadcast claims of fraud, knowing they were baseless, in an effort to woo back the Trump voters Fox had alienated.

"What you read in those filings are people losing their heads because of ratings numbers," Stirewalt says. "And one of the emails that was released was from Bill to me, where he talked about how weak ratings make good journalists do bad things. And that's a fact."

Two top political editors forced out after election

"It was particularly sad for an organization that had used to call itself 'the most powerful name in news' that it was such a fear-driven, such an anxious thing," Stirewalt says. He cites "the unwillingness to suffer the short-term cost for the long-term good, and, if I can be especially corny, the good of the Republic."

Before Biden even took office, Fox forced out Stirewalt and Sammon, along with a host of other journalists from the newsroom. (A top Fox News PR executive said "Chris Stirewalt's quest for relevancy knows no bounds.") Stirewalt is now the political director for the new cable station News Nation.

Fox executives turned over popular time slots that used to be reserved for news coverage to opinion shows at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. In late 2021, Fox political commentators Stephen Hayes and Jonah Goldberg and Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace all left the network. Each cited Fox primetime star Tucker Carlson's programs promoting groundless conspiracy theories about the January 2021 siege of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters.

Fox has called the exchanges made public in the legal saga cherry-picked and out of context. There are hundreds more to come in the days ahead. The case is slated for trial next month.

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

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.