A former Fox News Capitol Hill reporter and producer has sued the network, claiming he was fired for challenging its on-air lies about the 2020 election.
Jason Donner alleges in the lawsuit that Fox News knew President Donald Trump’s claims that voter fraud was behind his 2020 loss were false but that following backlash from Trump and the network’s audience over its Election Day announcement that President Joe Biden had won Arizona, it “purged” journalists who spoke out against false election fraud claims.
“To win back viewership and pledge its loyalty to President Trump, Fox’s corporate leadership purged the news division and those reporters who spoke out against claims of election fraud,” says the suit, filed in Washington, D.C., Superior Court.
The wrongful termination and discrimination claim seeks undisclosed damages and expenses, as well as a judgment that would prohibit Fox News from discriminating or retaliating against Donner or other current or former Fox News employees. Though it was filed Sept. 27, the lawsuit did not come to light until Monday in a report by the Daily Beast.
“Mr. Donner’s lawsuit speaks for itself, and we have no further comment beyond that,” plaintiff’s lawyer Brendan J. Klaproth said by email.
Neither a Fox News spokesperson nor lawyers for the network responded to requests for comment.
The suit claims the network “immediately capitulated to Trump” after he denounced it. Post-election layoffs included the reporter who made the announcement on the air, Chris Stirewalt, and about 20 other journalists, the suit says.
The filing cites text messages between Lachlan Murdoch, a co-chair of Fox News’ parent company, News Corp., and the network’s CEO, Suzanne Scott, in which Scott is quoted as saying the network’s Arizona call “was damaging but we will highlight our stars and plant flags letting the viewers know we hear them and respect them.”
A News Corp. spokesperson did not immediately respond to an inquiry seeking comment from Murdoch or his representatives at the company.
According to the suit, Donner was reprimanded and prohibited from expressing “opinions” when, on Nov. 19, 2020, he posted on Twitter (now known as X) that Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani claimed voter fraud in Philadelphia but told a Pennsylvania court, “This is not a fraud case.”
Fox News became a “toxic environment” for journalists with allegiance to the truth, the suit says, and the toxicity reached a peak on Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to thwart the counting of the electoral votes certifying Biden’s victory.
Donner was working in the Senate’s Radio and Television Correspondents Gallery when the Capitol was breached, the claim says. As the Capitol began to be “attacked,” he said, he sought refuge inside the Fox News booth as the network reported that the rioters were “peaceful,” according to the suit.
Later, as violence continued, including gunshots, a Fox News reporter said of rioters on the air, according to the claim, “When you hear their voices, you can understand why they were severely disappointed.”
Donner called the Fox News control room, according to the filing, and said, “I don’t want to hear any of this f—–g s— on our air ever again because you’re gonna get us all killed.”
Despite increased scrutiny from Fox News executives, according to the suit, Donner was defiantly pro-fact, pushing back when executives directed reporters to cover stories based on pro-Trump opinion pieces published by newspapers and conservative websites, the filing says.
When prime time host Tucker Carlson prepared to air a special, “Patriot Purge,” that claimed the Jan. 6 incursion was orchestrated by Trump opponents, Donner worked on a piece debunking the conspiracy theory and other false claims in the special, the suit says.
“Patriot Purge was released despite the fact that Fox News knew it contained false information,” the suit says.
By spring 2022, Donner was in the crosshairs of managers, including his new supervisor, who “demanded” that he and colleagues “inaccurately report on the election and former President Trump.”
Donner went on medical leave shortly thereafter, according to the lawsuit. The filing further says that after he returned, he filed a written complaint to his supervisor and the network’s human resources department, taking issue with coverage that included false claims about the Capitol insurrection, as well as criticisms that he was reporting on topics “the network does not care about,” such as Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation process.
That resulted in an over two-hour-long Zoom meeting with HR in which Donner complained about the “false reporting” by Carlson, who has since left the network, and the “toxic environment” it bred there, the suit claims.
A request for comment sent to the Facebook page of Carlson’s new show was not immediately answered.
The next month, Donner took a sick day as he recovered from the effects of the Covid vaccine, resulting in his supervisor’s calling him the next day and yelling at him while questioning his work ethic, according to the lawsuit. He was fired the day after that, on Sept. 28, 2022, the suit says.
The suit cites information included in Dominion Voting Systems’ 2021 claim against Fox News, in which the voting machine maker said the broadcaster defamed it by airing claims that it was tied to the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, paid kickbacks to politicians and deployed machines that rigged the vote count against Trump.
Fox News settled that suit for $787.5 million. “We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false,” the network said in a statement after the April settlement.
Donner’s political discrimination claims — he says he was a lifelong Republican but voted Democratic in recent elections — are based on the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, which prohibits workplace bias based on political affiliation.