Saunders: Fox hosts’ texts show dangers of audience pandering

In playing to former President Trump’s MAGA base, Fox felt obliged to report what they wanted to hear.

By Debra J. Saunders /

What happens when a news network believes that its viewers want anchors and reporters to lie rather than report the truth?

The answer can be gleaned in communications between Fox News stars and suits released last week by Dominion Voting Systems as part of its $1.6 billion defamation suit against the network for its coverage of the 2020 election count.

After Fox became the first network to call Arizona for Joe Biden — correctly — a slice of the network’s viewer base started changing channels elsewhere, say, to Newsmax or OAN.

Fox big shots took notice. “The audience feels like we crapped on (them) and we have damaged their trust and belief in us,” Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott noted in an email.

“We can fix this but we cannot smirk at our viewers any longer,” she added.

The document put me back in the days following the 2020 election when Trump voters insisted that the election was stolen.

In the days after the election, they had no proof; they argued there had not been enough time to collect the necessary information.

Two years later, they still don’t have proof, and they don’t care.

Trump’s die-hard fans apparently want to believe that fraud occurred; that countless election workers and elected officials cheated their own constituents in order to rob Trump of his victory.

Why? Because Trump, a serial liar, said so.

Fox’s statement in response to Dominion: “There will be a lot of noise and confusion generated by Dominion and their opportunistic private equity owners, but the core of this case remains about freedom of the press and freedom of speech, which are fundamental rights afforded by the Constitution and protected by New York Times v. Sullivan. Dominion has mischaracterized the record, cherry-picked quotes stripped of key context and spilled considerable ink on facts that are irrelevant under black-letter principles of defamation law.”

This column isn’t about the legal issues, but the very real dilemma that confronted conservative media after Trump lied about his election loss.

Even as they worked to not alienate regular viewers, Tucker Carlson recognized Trump’s election loss, and Sean Hannity became wary of whacky Trump election lawyer Sidney Powell.

Carlson publicly challenged Powell to produce evidence of election fraud, which, he made clear, she failed to do.

But his hands aren’t clean. Carlson urged Hannity to get White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich fired after she tweeted, “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

“We worked really hard to build what we have. Those (expletives) are destroying our credibility. It enrages me,” Carlson wrote to producer Alex Pfeiffer on election night.

Pfeiffer noted that “many on ‘our side’ are being reckless demagogues right now.”

America saw news-gone-wrong with Russiagate as mainstream media collectively ditched their standards for a bogus smear. Here you see a network fractured between those who wanted to report the unvarnished truth and those who wanted to sugarcoat it.

As I read what Fox news hounds were telling each other, the word that kept coming to mind: hostages.

The emboldened Trump base has let it be known that truth is less important than purity. Tell them what they want to hear. Or else.

Debra J. Saunders is a fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership. Contact her at

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