Pants on Fire

Published: February 28, 2023

By Jim Lichtman
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Photo credit: my TV

Lying has become far too pervasive in American culture today.

When it’s done by politicians, it’s become normative.

When it’s done by the media, it’s reprehensible.

For 19 years, CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite was the gold standard of trust when it came to reporting the news of the day.

Today, some 24/7 cable news programs have become a hodgepodge of news, opinion, conspiracy theories, and whatever else is in the echo chamber of the moment. Some media personalities (let’s be clear, they’re not journalists) straddle the fence claiming the I’m-not-sure-but-it-could-be-true defense. When it’s mixed with the it’s-newsworthy rationale it’s left up to the viewer to decide, usually dependent on political ideology.

This brings me to Fox News.

Dominion Voting Systems is suing the Red-America/Red meat cable station and some of its cadre of personalities for spreading false information regarding the legitimacy of Dominion vote-counting machines used by many states around the country. The former president frequently trumpeted the lie to supporters and Fox that Dominion’s machines had been manipulated to ensure that Joe Biden won the election.

During the discovery phase of the lawsuit, emails and text messages between personalities and Fox executives demonstrate a distinct difference between what they said in front of the cameras and what they said behind the cameras.

Dominion alleges that Fox defamed them for pushing false theories that they knew were false to gain more attention from viewers. Fox attorneys characterize interviews with Trump White House attorney Sidney Powell and others who were spreading false conspiracies as “newsworthy.”

Others characterize it differently.

As reported by The New York Times, “On Nov. 12, in a text chain with Ms. [Laura] Ingraham and Mr. [Sean] Hannity, Mr. [Tucker] Carlson pointed to a tweet in which a Fox reporter, Jacqui Heinrich, fact-checked a tweet from Mr. Trump referring to Fox broadcasts and said there was no evidence of voter fraud from Dominion.

“‘Please get her fired,’ Mr. Carlson said. He added: ‘It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.’”

Attorneys for Fox state, “In its coverage, Fox News fulfilled its commitment to inform fully and comment fairly. Some hosts viewed the president’s claims skeptically; others viewed them hopefully; all recognized them as profoundly newsworthy.”

In the words of former conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, that’s a bunch of “legal argle-bargle.”

“Dominion said in its filing that not a single Fox witness had testified that he or she believed any of the allegations about Dominion,” The Times writes.

The story reveals how concern quickly turned to panic behind the scenes as text messages between many of Fox personalities show in their reactions to Sidney Powell spinning fraud conspiracies as fast as they were created.

Carlson to Ingraham:

[Trump lawyer] Sidney Powell is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy [Giuliani].

Ingraham to Carlson:

No serious lawyer could believe what they were saying.

At one point, Carlson takes Powell to the woodshed about her lies in one of his nightly broadcasts. “When we kept pressing, she got angry and told us to stop contacting her.”

“In the same monologue,” The Times writes, “Mr. Carlson also gave some credence to Ms. Powell’s claims, saying that ‘we don’t dismiss anything anymore’ and that he is ‘hopeful’ she will come forward with evidence.’”


I’m sure a good portion of Fox viewers were. I know I would be.

“The private messages,” The Times reports, “also showed that Ms. Powell was in direct communication with Ms. [Maria] Bartiromo and Mr. [Lou] Dobbs and that she revealed one of the sources for her outrageous claims. The court filings showed that Ms. Powell forwarded an email about voter fraud to Ms. Bartiromo from the source, a woman who claimed, among other things, that ‘the Wind tells me I’m a ghost.’

“If Ms. Bartiromo was deterred by the unusual email,” The Times writes, “it was not evident to Fox News viewers. Ms. Powell was interviewed on the show the next day.”

NPR reported this exchange between Powell and Bartiromo in front of the camera.

“Sidney, we talked about the Dominion software,” Bartiromo says. “I know that there were voting irregularities. Tell me about that.”

“That’s to put it mildly,” Powell begins. “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.”

Behind the camera:

“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.”

The crux of the defamation suit comes down to whether Fox personalities were reporting statements about alleged voter fraud or if they endorsed those claims.

Last night we got the answer from Fox owner Rupert Murdoch’s deposition in the case: “They endorsed,” referring to on-camera statements made by Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo.

Walter Cronkite once said, “The profession of journalism ought to be about telling people what they need to know – not what they want to know.”

And that’s the way it should be.


  1. Yes Jim, we don’t NEED media personalities, we need the truth.

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