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Court records show political pressure behind Fox News programming



Dominion Voting ballot-counting machines are shown at a Torrance County warehouse during election equipment testing with local candidates and partisan officers in Estancia, N.M., on Sept. 29, 2022.Andres Leighton/The Associated Press

In May, 2018, the top Republicans in the U.S. needed help. So they called on the founder of Fox News, Rupert Murdoch.

President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were trying to stop West Virginia Republicans from nominating Don Blankenship, who had been convicted of violating mine safety standards during a lethal accident in one of his coal mines, to challenge the state’s incumbent senator, Democrat Joe Manchin.

“Both Trump and McConnell are appealing for help to beat unelectable former mine owner who served time,” Mr. Murdoch wrote to executives at Fox News, according to court records released this week. “Anything during day helpful, but Sean [Hannity] and Laura [Ingraham] dumping on him hard might save the day.”

Mr. Murdoch’s prodding, revealed in court documents that are part of a defamation lawsuit by a voting systems company, is one example showing how Fox became actively involved in politics instead of simply reporting or offering opinions about it. The revelations pose a challenge to the credibility of the most watched cable news network in the U.S. at the outset of a new election season in which Mr. Trump is again a leading player, having declared his third run for the White House.


Mr. Blankenship, who ended up losing the primary, said in an interview Wednesday that he felt the change right away, with the network’s coverage taking a harsher turn in the final hours before the primary.

“They were very smart about elections – they did their dumping the day before the election, so I had no time to react,” said Mr. Blankenship, who filed a separate, unsuccessful libel suit against Fox.

On Wednesday, the network characterized Dominion Voting Systems’ lawsuit as a flagrant attack on the First Amendment and said the company had taken statements out of context. According to Fox, that included an acknowledgment by Mr. Murdoch that he shared with Jared Kushner, the head of Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign and the president’s son-in-law, an ad for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign that was to air on his network. Fox said the ad Mr. Murdoch forwarded to Mr. Kushner was already publicly available on YouTube and at least one television station.

“Dominion has been caught red handed again using more distortions and misinformation in their PR campaign to smear Fox News and trample on freedom of speech and freedom of the press,” Fox said in a statement.

Fox has long been seen as a power in GOP politics with its large conservative fan base. But thousands of pages of documents released this week in the libel suit filed by Dominion show how the network blurred the line between journalism and party politics. Dominion sued after it became the target of 2020 election conspiracy theories, often promoted on Fox’s airwaves.

Mr. Murdoch also told executives at Fox News to promote the benefits of Mr. Trump’s 2017 tax cut legislation and give extra attention to Republican Senate hopefuls, the documents show. He wanted the network “banging on” Mr. Biden’s low-profile presidential campaign during the height of the pandemic in 2020.

Nicole Hemmer, a Vanderbilt University history professor and author of the book Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s, said revelations in the lawsuit puncture Fox’s long argument that there is a dividing line between its news and opinion sides.

“The real revelation here is how much of a fiction that division is,” Ms. Hemmer said. “Some who know Fox have argued that for a while, but now we have real evidence.”

Ms. Hemmer cited text messages disclosed in the court documents from early November, 2020, sent by Fox’s chief political correspondent, Bret Baier, urging the network’s leaders to retract its correct election-night call that President Joe Biden won Arizona. Mr. Baier advocated for putting Arizona “back in his column,” referring to Mr. Trump.

In the days after the election, as Mr. Trump was making increasingly wild allegations that fraud cost him the White House, Rupert Murdoch’s son Lachlan Murdoch, who is executive chairman of Fox Corp., texted with Fox News chief executive officer Suzanne Scott in alarm about a Trump rally.

“News guys have to be careful how they cover this rally,” Lachlan Murdoch wrote, according to the legal documents. “So far some of the side comments are slightly anti, and they shouldn’t be. The narrative should be this huge celebration of the president. Etc.”

Some of Fox’s politicking – like star host Sean Hannity’s frequent conversations with Mr. Trump during his presidency – is well known. But court papers show how Rupert Murdoch, the boss, inserted himself in the action, too.

Mr. Murdoch e-mailed Ms. Scott in November, 2017, and urged her to promote Mr. Trump’s tax cut proposal, which had passed the House and was nearing a Senate vote.

“Once they pass this bill we must tell our viewers again and again what they will get,” Mr. Murdoch wrote in the e-mail, included in the court records. “Terrific, I understand, for all under $150k.”

After the first presidential debate in 2020, a “horrified” Mr. Murdoch told Mr. Kushner that Mr. Trump should be more restrained in the next debate. (Trump cancelled that event.)

“That was advice from a friend to a friend,” Mr. Murdoch said in his deposition. “It wasn’t advice from Fox Corporation or in my capacity at Fox.”

“What’s the difference?” asked Dominion’s lawyer, Justin A. Turner.

“You’ve been – keep asking me questions as head of Fox,” Mr. Murdoch said. “It’s a different role being a friend.”

Mr. Murdoch’s e-mail banter with Mr. Kushner led to the exchange of the Biden ad, according to court records. That exchange is now the subject of a complaint from the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America to the Federal Elections Commission, arguing Fox made an illegal contribution to the Trump campaign by giving it information about Mr. Biden’s advertisements. Fox said the sharing of public information can’t be considered a contribution.

Court records show that on Sept. 25, 2020, Mr. Murdoch e-mailed Mr. Kushner that “my people tell me” that Mr. Biden’s ads “are a lot better creatively than yours. Just passing it on.”

The same month, Mr. Murdoch wondered in an e-mail to Col Allan, the former editor of the Murdoch-owned New York Post, “how can anyone vote for Biden?” Mr. Allen responded that Mr. Biden’s “only hope is to stay in his basement and not face serious questions.”

“Just made sure Fox banging on about these issues,” Mr. Murdoch responded, according to court records. “If the audience talks the theme will spread.”

Another prominent politician Mr. Murdoch describes as a “friend” is Mr. McConnell, whose wife, Elaine Chao, then Mr. Trump’s transportation secretary, had served on the Fox board. Mr. Murdoch said he would speak to the Republican Senate leader “three or four times a year.”

In a special 2017 Republican Senate primary in Alabama, Mr. Murdoch said in his deposition, he told his top executives that he, like Mr. McConnell, opposed Roy Moore, a controversial former Alabama chief justice. Mr. Moore ultimately won the party’s nomination but lost the general election after he was credibly accused of sexual misconduct, including pursuing relationships with teenagers when he was in his 30s. Mr. Moore denied the allegations.

Mr. Murdoch, in the deposition, also cited his personal friendship with an unnamed Senate candidate in his suggestion to Ms. Scott that the network gives extra attention to Republicans in close Senate races.

Days before the 2020 election, after Fox business anchor Lou Dobbs was critical of Senator Lindsey Graham, Mr. Murdoch asked Ms. Scott to have Mr. Hannity pump up Mr. Graham, who was facing an extremely well-funded challenge from Democrat Jamie Harrison.

“You probably know about the Lou Dobbs outburst against Lindsay Graham,” Mr. Murdoch wrote on Oct. 27, misspelling the senator’s first name in the copy of the message in the court documents. “Could Sean say something supportive? We can’t lose the Senate if at all possible.”

Ms. Scott replied that Mr. Graham was on Mr. Hannity’s show the previous night “and he got a lot of time.” She added, “I addressed the Dobbs outburst.”


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Israel diplomats in Canada strike against Netanyahu overhaul




Israeli diplomats in Canada have joined a strike against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the country’s judiciary.

Israeli Embassy spokesman Eli Lipshitz confirmed that mission in Ottawa is closed in accordance with a decision by Israel’s largest trade union, Histadrut.

The consulates in Toronto and Montreal are also closed and on strike.


“In accordance with the decision of the labour union (in) Israel, that civil servants are unionized under, all missions abroad are currently on strike and are closed,” Lipshitz said in a statement.

Histadrut spokesman Yaniv Levy says missions are providing only emergency services.

Workers from across a range of fields went on strike Monday in a bid to ramp up pressure on Netanyahu to scrap the overhaul plan.

The planned overhaul has plunged Israel into one of its worst domestic crises.

Departing flights from the country’s main international airport have been grounded, universities have shut their doors and the main doctors’ union says its members will also walk off the job.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2023.

— With files from The Associated Press.


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How Trump’s indictment interlude has changed America’s political landscape



Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Waco Regional Airport, in Waco, Texas on March 25.CHRISTOPHER LEE/The New York Times News Service

One of the axioms that commentators in the United States live by is that a year is an eternity in American politics. In one of his trademark overhauls of the principles of politics, Donald Trump has shrunk eternity to a week.

As a result, the tumultuous week since the former president disclosed that a New York grand jury was preparing charges against him has been transformed from an operatic overture into an indictment interlude.

And in that interlude – one in which the themes have changed markedly – several of the principal elements of the political and legal dramas surrounding Mr. Trump have been altered.

New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg meets with his grand jury again Monday to examine Mr. Trump’s role in presenting a porn star with US$130,000 in hush money after an alleged sexual encounter.


By announcing earlier this month that he expected legal action against him to proceed to the next, consequential level, Mr. Trump set in motion two contradictory developments. He fortified his profile as a victim even as he baked in the assumption that a former occupant of the White House was about to be indicted. In a week’s time, the astonishing became the assumed.

And in that brief time much of the American political landscape was transformed. Here are some of the effects of the indictment interlude:

The emergence of a new Republican litmus test

For months, Mr. Trump’s putative rivals for the party’s presidential nomination have performed an awkward rumba with the 45th president, their subtle side-to-side movements providing them with distance from him. Now the apparent imminent indictment has forced them into a gavotte, the 18th-century kissing dance that in its 21st-century version required Mr. Trump’s opponents to deplore Mr. Bragg’s legal tactics and to dismiss the notion of indicting him for actions after an alleged sexual incident as nakedly political and patently revengeful. All of these announced and probable candidates have conformed to this pressure.

The development of an uncomfortable consensus among Mr. Trump’s supporters and his opponents

The criticism from the Trump corner of conservatism over indicting Mr. Trump for the alleged payment to Stormy Daniels was unremarkable; his base marches in lockstep with him.

But the qualms among progressives were notable; the gathering concurrence in that corner of liberalism is that, in the spectrum of Trump crimes – debasing democracy, trying to overturn the 2020 election, inciting insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 – the Daniels episode is peripheral.

Moreover, the progressives argue, indicting Mr. Trump for a relatively insignificant action has the potential of removing the power of the legal action that may follow, growing out of investigations in Washington (Justice Department examinations of his harbouring of classified government documents) and Georgia (inquiries into his efforts to “find” sufficient votes to swing the state from Joe Biden’s column to his).

The changes in the architecture of the 2024 presidential election

For months the GOP nomination fight has taken the character of a Sunshine State struggle between Palm Beach (site of Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago retreat) and Tallahassee (site of the governor’s mansion where Ron DeSantis resides, in part because of the boost of the 2018 gubernatorial endorsement from Mr. Trump himself).

For weeks, Mr. Trump had taunted Mr. DeSantis, calling him an ingrate, assailing his character, labelling him “Ron DeSanctimonious.” The Florida Governor’s political potential – he led several public opinion polls – became a Trump preoccupation. Mr. DeSantis’s failure to engage Mr. Trump was seen for a time as prudent if not brilliant.

In recent days Mr. DeSantis bowed to party pressure and joined the criticism of the New York District Attorney. At the same time doubts about Mr. DeSantis’s restraint grew as Mr. Trump made discernible gains in the polls, consolidating his position as the Republican Party leader and nomination front-runner. The gap in the RealClearPolitics running average now is 15 percentage points.

Caveat: The Iowa caucuses, the first test in the GOP nomination fight, are more than nine months away. Many swings in political support are inevitable. At this point in the 2008 presidential race, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani had a commanding 24-percentage-point lead in the Republican race and senator Hillary Rodham Clinton had a 14-point lead in the Democratic race, according to the USAToday/Gallup poll. Neither became the nominee, and the distant second-place candidates (senators John McCain and Barack Obama) advanced to the autumn general election.

The even further solidification of Mr. Trump’s profile as a defiant warrior against conventional political comportment

Mr. Trump’s recent steps into once-forbidden rhetorical territory promoted the New York Post, the onetime Trump ally owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., to label him, in a tabloid front-page headline, as “deranged.”

Saturday night Mr. Trump told a raucous crowd in Waco, Tex., that “when they go after me, they’re going after you.” Earlier in the week he threatened “death and destruction” if he is indicted, an unsettling reprise of his remarks before the Capitol insurrection. He labelled Mr. Bragg, who is Black, as an “animal,” calling him a “degenerate psychopath.”

Responding to Republican congressional efforts to investigate his investigation Saturday, Mr. Bragg said, “We evaluate cases in our jurisdiction based on the facts, the law and the evidence.”


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The German Greens and the ills of green party politics



Earlier this month, the European Union was expected to vote on a law banning the sale of combustion-engine cars by 2035. But the legislation, which had been months in the making, was blocked by the German government which had initially supported it.

The about-face was yet another major disappointment for environmentalists coming from a government, which paradoxically includes a green party as a coalition partner.

While it was the liberal Free Democratic Party pushing for this position within the coalition in order to get a concession favouring the car industry (which it succeeded in doing), this development demonstrated yet again how the Greens are struggling to push through an adequate climate agenda in Germany.

Just several weeks earlier, the leadership of that same Green Party watched on as the German police brutally cleared climate protesters trying to prevent the razing of the village of Lützerath to make way for the expansion of a lignite coal mine.


Worse still, that leadership participated in striking a deal with the coal mine’s owner, energy company RWE, which happens to be Europe’s single largest carbon emitter. They claimed the deal was good for the climate, as supposedly it was going to accelerate phasing out coal and thus help meet Germany’s climate goals.

Studies, however, have shown that this is not the case; if Germany is to meet the 1.5C temperature increase limit set in the Paris Agreement, which the German government has signed and said it will abide by, then it must stop burning coal within the next two or three years, not 2030.

Last summer, the Greens also worked to open liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals with contract terms of at least 15 years. The party leadership justified their actions with the “gas shortage” following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but many of us environmentalists wondered why we need such long-term gas contracts that run way past the period necessary to expand renewable energy production to meet demand.

Looking at the policies the Green Party is supporting these days, one may think that it lost its ways and succumbed to realpolitik when it came to power at the federal level in 2021. But these “Einzelfälle” (isolated cases) – as the party leadership likes to frame them – of striking deals and making compromises on the climate agenda are not isolated at all.

Even before the Green Party joined Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government, we were used to their leadership taking decisions that directly clashed with the party’s own political platform.

In the summer of 2020, for example, I was among the hundreds of protesters who protested the clearing of part of a 250-year-old forest in the German state of Hesse to make way for a highway.

Although the Green Party was not involved in the decision to build the road, as part of the Hesse state government, it could have blocked the project on account of violations of the German and EU water law. But it chose not to.

The Green Party’s minister of transport in Hesse, Tarek Al-Wazir, justified the decision to go forward with the construction by saying that it was taken democratically and was not the party’s responsibility.

Indeed, there is quite a track record of “isolated cases” in the Green Party’s recent history.

It is, therefore, hardly surprising that even with a green party in power, Germany is nowhere near fulfilling its plan to reduce emissions in order to meet the 1.5-degree target. According to Wolfgang Lucht, a sustainability science professor at Humboldt University, Germany is currently planning to emit about twice more CO2 than it could afford to within its Paris Agreement commitments.

The disappointment and frustration that many climate activists are feeling are hard to describe. Perhaps it suffices to say that after Lützerath, offices of the Green Party were attacked, occupied and decorated with “traitors” graffiti.

Many climate activists like myself believe that the top leadership of the party have grown too pragmatic and lost sight of their original goals of promoting climate justice. Indeed, it is difficult to see how green party politics in their current form can lead the way in ending Germany’s and the world’s dependence on fossil fuels and take the radical climate action needed to avert a climate apocalypse.

The question many of us are asking is whether we should give up on green politics, stop voting for the party and focus our energy on the climate movement, which is unrestrained by narrow partisan interests and corporate pressure. Some members of the Greens already have made that choice by leaving the party.

But, as emotions run high, it is important to think strategically. If we give up on the Green Party, wouldn’t we lose an important tool – one of just a few at our disposal – to affect change at the political level? And wouldn’t that play into the hands of the “enemy” – the big corporate polluters?

It is clear that green parties are unlikely to follow the same radical agenda as the climate movement. They face harsh dilemmas when in power, as they navigate the complexities of policymaking and balance the demands of their voters with the realities of governing in a coalition.

But that does not mean that we should give up and stop pressuring them to live up to their electoral promises. And it does not mean that we should close our eyes to the fact that many within the party itself disprove of striking deals with big corporations and succumbing to pressure from various lobbies.

Young members of the party, called the “Green Youth”, have been speaking up and criticising the leadership for their controversial decisions. They seem quite eager to change the course the party has taken and have been conspicuously present at climate protests, including at Lützerath.

“We wouldn’t be Green Youth if we didn’t put pressure within the party and in parliaments – that’s why we’re taking to the streets”, Luna Afra Evans, the Berlin spokeswoman for the youth branch of the Greens, said in an interview in January, as the organisation mobilised its members to go protest in Lützerath. She called the deal with RWE “a rotten compromise” and said that a “significant part of the Green Party does not support it”.

There has been open dissent even within the higher ranks of the party. MP Kathrin Henneberger, who ran for office on a platform of saving Lützerath, was the only member of the party to abstain during the vote on the resolution to demolish the village.

“Since Lützerath, debates have been conducted differently. Many have recognised that when the climate movement draws a red line, this must also be taken seriously. Nor must we allow the interests of fossil fuel companies like RWE to prevail,” she told me in a private exchange.

As much as we are disappointed and frustrated with the Green Party, we should not give up on it. We need to recognise that there is potential for radical change from within the party’s own ranks and encourage it. We also need to continue scrutinising the party’s policies and hold them to account whenever they veer away from their own declared environmental goals.

Indeed, if the climate movement, strong as it has been in Germany, continues to build pressure from the outside and from within the party, there is a good chance that we can prevent other “isolated incidents” from happening.

As we battle the formidable enemy that corporate polluters are, we must learn from them. As the noose around their fossil fuel profits tightens, they have employed every tactic, every opportunity to fight back; and they have definitely not given up on trying to influence global and national politics.

We, too, should be strategic in our fight. While I absolutely understand the frustration and have felt it myself many times over the past years, I believe that we still have a long way to go before we achieve real climate action. And until then, we will need to work strategically with all the allies we can get, even if they are sometimes swayed by realpolitik.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.


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