Letter from an American - July 13, 2023

Yesterday, Trump supporter James Ray Epps, Sr., sued the Fox News Network for having “destroyed” the lives of Epps and his wife. The suit blames the network for lying to its viewers that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, a lie that inspired Epps to travel from his home in Arizona to Washington, D.C., to protest on January 6, 2021. 

In the aftermath of the riot, the suit says, “[h]aving promoted the lie that Joe Biden stole the election, having urged people to come to Washington, DC, and having helped light and then pour gasoline on a fire that resulted in an insurrection that interfered with the peaceful transition of power, Fox needed to mask its culpability. It also needed a narrative that did not alienate its viewers, who had grown distrustful of Fox because of its perceived lack of fealty to Trump.” And so, the suit says, the network—especially personality Tucker Carlson—turned on Epps, “promoting the lie that Epps was a federal agent who incited the attack on the Capitol” even after federal officials had cleared him.  

Epps is requesting compensatory and punitive damages, as well as court costs. 

In April the Fox Corporation settled a lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems for defamation after Fox News personalities falsely claimed the voting machine system had switched votes meant for Trump. Fox paid $787.5 million. Fox and several of its on-air personalities are still facing a $2.7 billion lawsuit from another voting company, Smartmatic, for their disinformation campaign involving that company. 

Both Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic are also suing MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, who used his fortune to promote the idea that the election was stolen. Lindell vowed, “I’ll spend everything I have to save the country I love.” Tuesday, James Bickerton of Newsweek reported that Lindell claims he has lost $100 million and is selling off equipment after major retailers stopped carrying his products. 

In Reliable Sources, CNN journalist Oliver Darcy reported today that three men associated with Rupert Murdoch in the early days of creating the Fox Corporation expressed their “deep disappointment for helping to give birth to Fox Broadcasting Company.” Preston Padden, Ken Solomon, and Bill Reyner wrote that they “never envisioned, and would not knowingly have enabled, the disinformation machine that, in our opinion, Fox has become.” 

In emails, Murdoch made it “very clear” to Padden “that he understood that the 2020 election had not been stolen,” but “Fox continued to perpetuate the ‘Big Lie’ and promote the Jan 6 ‘Stop the Steal’ rally in D.C.” The men claimed that others who worked with them to establish Fox “share our resentment that the reputation of the Fox brand we helped to build has been ruined by false news.” 

Padden told Darcy that he sees an “obvious connection between January 6 and Fox News.”

Despite the costs of their past false allegations, the Fox News Channel continues to be a conduit for Trump’s misinformation. As Judd Legum wrote today in Popular Information, some of the same figures who pushed the Big Lie are continuing to push the story that President Biden took money from China, despite the fact the “informant” who provided that story has now been indicted as a Chinese spy and is on the run from U.S. authorities.

“A responsible news organization would respond to the indictment of a key source with self-reflection and incorporate new facts into their reporting,” Legum writes. “But not Fox News. When facts arise that cut against their narrative, Fox News simply enlarges their conspiracy theory to accommodate them.” Democrats on the House Oversight Committee have called for an investigation into whether the Republicans on the committee have been duped by Chinese operatives.

The upcoming election is in the news not only because of the role of disinformation in our elections, but also because of voting challenges. Today, Sam Levine and Andrew Witherspoon of The Guardian reported that Florida Republicans are cracking down on voter registration groups that focus on people of color, levying more than $100,000 in fines since September 2022 on 26 groups for errors like submitting an application to the wrong county. Voter registrations have dropped compared to 2019, the most recent year preceding a presidential election. 

A study by Doug Bock Clark today in ProPublica showed that about 89,000 of close to 100,000 challenges to voter registrations in Georgia were filed by just six right-wing activists. Most of the rest of the challenges came from just twelve more people. Those making the challenges were helped by right-wing organizations, and they appeared to target those believed to vote for Democrats. 

House Republicans traveled to Georgia on Monday to reveal what they call the “most conservative election integrity bill to be seriously considered in the House in over 20 years.” Four of the five Republicans on the House Administration Committee pushing the bill voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Committee markup on the bill began today. 

Also today, in New York, the appellate division of the state Supreme Court has ordered the state to draw new congressional maps. In 2022 an independent redistricting commission deadlocked, and the state legislature, controlled by Democrats, drew districts that were so favorable to their party that Republican challenges won and the courts turned to a neutral expert to draw the districts. The resulting lines created highly competitive districts in which a number of Republicans won. 

Now the court says that map was temporary and the commission should take another crack at redistricting. If it deadlocks again, Kate Riga of Talking Points Memo explained, the Democrat-dominated legislature can draw its own map and, so long as it stays within the court’s rules, might enable Democrats to pick up additional seats in New York to offset Republican gerrymanders elsewhere. 

A rare bellwether for the election came from Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in a Washington Post op-ed on July 10, arguing that the Supreme Court is not, in fact, radical; it is, just as always, “a politically unpredictable center.” McConnell claims the Democrats want the court to “advance their party’s priorities” while instead it “weighs each case on its merits.”  

Washington Post legal columnist Ruth Marcus sees McConnell’s attempt to minimize his own transformation of a center-right Supreme Court into a hard-right body as a sign that he recognizes the extremism of the court might well cost him the chance to regain the position of Senate majority leader. It was McConnell, after all, who blocked President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court in March 2016, arguing against all precedent that an appointment in March was too close to the 2016 presidential election. That stonewalling gave Trump the opportunity to nominate Neil Gorsuch. Then, in 2020, McConnell rushed through the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett in late October when voting in the presidential election was already underway. 

“Two seats that should have gone to Democratic presidents were instead handed to Trump,” Marcus notes. “Thank you, Senator McConnell.” She continued: “And the new justices delivered. Abortion rights, gone. Affirmative action, gone. Gun rights, dramatically expanded. The administrative state, deconstruction underway. Religious liberties, triumphant; separation of church and state, not so much. Does this sound ‘ideologically unpredictable’ to you?”

Marcus notes that these decisions, particularly the overturning of abortion rights, are unpopular, perhaps sparking McConnell’s eagerness to downplay the significance of his remaking of the court. Indeed, in Iowa, the first state to hold a Republican caucus, the state legislature just rushed through a ban on abortions after six weeks, before most people know they’re pregnant. 

In Iowa, more than 60% of adults say abortion should be legal, while just 35% say it should be illegal. Nationally, an AP/NORC poll conducted in late June showed that only about 23% of Americans support a full ban on abortions. 

Today, in a move that should significantly expand access to contraception, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved over-the-counter birth control pills for the first time. Seventeen FDA advisors from different scientific disciplines voted unanimously in May to expand access, saying that this type of pill, which contains the hormone progestin, has been used safely in the U.S. for 50 years and that its 93% success rate offers the significant public health benefit of preventing unintended pregnancies. The pills are expected to become available sometime in 2024.


















By Heather Cox Richardson

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