A harsh verdict on Fox News post-Dominion — even from GOP
On the eve of agreeing to pay Dominion Voting Systems $787.5 million for repeatedly airing false claims about Dominion’s role in a supposedly “stolen” 2020 election, Fox News took out full-page newspaper ads reassuring everyone that people still trusted Fox’s journalism.
“Trusted Now,” the ads said, citing polling, “More Than Ever.”
The way the ads framed the data they relied on was misleading, but regardless, surveys from shortly before and after the settlement paint a decidedly different picture, and it’s much less rosy: Americans do not trust Fox to be truthful and judge Fox pretty harshly for the Dominion episode.
In a new poll from the Economist and YouGov, Americans say, 51 percent to 21 percent, that Fox hosts said things about the 2020 election that they knew to be untrue. Remarkably, even Fox’s base of Republican-leaning Americans takes a dim view: Nearly as many Republicans said Fox hosts effectively lied (31 percent) as dispute that assertion (34 percent). The near-even split was similar among supporters of Donald Trump: 30-35.
The poll also shows Fox ranking last for “accurate” coverage of the 2020 election. Only 12 percent overall said Fox’s 2020 coverage was “almost always accurate,” which was less than the percentages for CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC and CBS. And less than half (49 percent) said Fox’s coverage was at least “mostly accurate.” This was again lower than all six broadcast outlets tested, which ranged between 56 percent and 58 percent. (This poll, as it happens, comes from the same organization whose findings Fox touted in its newspaper ads.)
The result aligns with other polling showing that, despite Fox’s claims to high viewer trust, the network actually ranks toward the bottom when you ask Americans of all stripes for an up-or-down vote.
Given that, it’s worth asking how much this has to do with Dominion, and whether it’s true that even many Republicans are alienated by Fox’s decision to proactively broadcast the claims against Dominion. A strong majority of Republicans, after all, falsely believe the 2020 election was stolen. So maybe some are taking issue not with the Dominion claims, but with Fox having said President Biden won the election?
It’s possible that played a part. But other polling reinforces the idea that many Republicans know how ridiculous the Dominion and voting-machine claims were and are judging Fox accordingly.
Another YouGov poll, from just after the settlement, asked this in a slightly different way: Did Fox knowingly broadcast false claims about Dominion specifically? And the split was similar, with 31 percent of Republicans saying it did, compared to 39 percent saying it didn’t. Overall, the split was 46-27 against Fox.
A Quinnipiac University poll from a month before also showed this split. When the situation was described to them — including the fact that Rupert Murdoch acknowledged Fox had aired false claims — 41 percent of Republicans agreed that Fox should be held accountable, while 47 percent said it shouldn’t. Americans overall said that Fox should be held accountable, 65 percent to 26 percent. (This question didn’t get into whether Fox knew better.)
It seems clear that Americans by sizable margins know that what Fox did was bad, and even 3 or 4 in 10 Republicans agree that Fox erred significantly, with only slightly more disagreeing with that premise. It’s possible that the claims went too far even for many election-truthers in the party, given how utterly bizarre some of them were (think: Hugo Chávez, Cuba and China) and how Fox has seemingly tacitly acknowledged fault by agreeing to such a massive settlement.
Whether this has long-term impact is another matter.
What the Dominion lawsuit reinforced is how much Fox’s journalism is dictated by its business model. It caters extensively to conservative-leaning Americans and Trump supporters — in this case, to a fault — which seemingly comes at a cost with the broader public. That may be why Fox ranked toward the bottom in trust, even before this situation blew up.
Fox’s true base isn’t all Republicans; it’s mostly a subset within the conservative movement — a subset that differs somewhat from all Republicans. For instance, in a recent poll of daily Fox News viewers, 52 percent said that Tucker Carlson’s dismissal was a bad thing, but just 21 percent of less-frequent Fox viewers said the same. And the Quinnipiac poll showed that Trump supporters were less likely than supporters of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to call for accountability for Fox.
That gets at how the most loyal Fox viewers are probably the ones most interested in the kind of conspiratorial coverage that Carlson provided — and that Fox served up after the 2020 election. They’re the viewers Fox took care to tell what they wanted to hear. And while perhaps some of them have come to believe that involved Fox lying to them, it’s just as likely most of them never will and/or might not really even consider it. (The post-settlement YouGov poll showed just 29 percent of Republicans said they had heard “a lot” about the situation.)
But for a network so focused on appealing to Trump supporters who were quite willing to believe the election was stolen despite any real evidence, having even that group offer such a split verdict on your handling of those claims is a pretty stunning indictment.