The FCC might be coming for Fox Corp. — and former network star Bill Kristol is here for it

Written by Anna Buss, produced by Joshua Farnham

A close-up view of Fox News logo. Photo by ymgerman/Shutterstock

Following a defamation case brought by Dominion Voting Systems (DVS) against Fox News — which reached a settlement earlier this year of more than $787.5 million over false 2020 election claims — Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corporation is in hot water again. 

Here’s what’s happening: On July 3, the non-partisan organization Media and Democracy Project (MAD) filed a formal petition asking the Federal Communications Commission to deny Fox the renewal of its license to operate Fox 29, one of its affiliates in Philadelphia. 

The way it works, according to Bill Kristol, a veteran political analyst, former Fox News contributor, and editor-at-large of The Bulwark, is that stations need to apply for their license every eight years. One of the categories under consideration — established for a century — is “the fitness of the proprietors of the station in terms of their character and reliability and so forth,” he explains. 

The MAD petition says Fox Corp. doesn’t measure up to those qualifications to hold the affiliate license. 

As proof, it cites the defamation lawsuit, which exposed how several of Fox News’ stars knowingly peddled phony conspiracy theories that claimed DVS equipment switched votes from former President Donald Trump to current President Joe Biden. It also provides transcripts of Murdoch’s deposition, in which he testified that he believed the 2020 election was fair and had not been stolen from Trump.

Kristol says that over the years, the FCC has been pretty tolerant around relicensing and hasn’t stopped anyone from running a TV station. Similar petitions have failed in the past, but times have changed.

“That's why this case, we think, is different,” he says. “Certainly different enough that they should have a hearing and get people to testify.”

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Fox has since clapped back, telling the FCC that the station in question didn’t air the fabricated DVS content cited in the petition. It also raised First Amendment concerns that could arise with federal action.

Regardless, the FCC petition throws a gauntlet at Fox Corp. for spreading misinformation. And Kristol believes the FCC plays a role in holding other news outlets accountable in the 2024 presidential election.

“Maybe it puts these other affiliates on notice that they shouldn't blindly carry Fox News coverage in November 2024, or even before that — and that they should be careful about what they're putting on the air for their broadcast stations, which they will be held accountable [to] if they simply become vehicles for Fox News,” he explains. “I think it puts everyone else on notice that the FCC is going to take this a little more seriously, and puts a little pressure on the Murdochs and others to think hard about the implications of Dominion.”

Kristol, who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, was a regular guest and panelist on shows such as Fox News Sunday along with fellow journalists Stephen Hayes, Charles Krauthammer, Mara Liasson, and Juan Williams from 2000 to 2012. 

He says that in hindsight, he feels somewhat responsible for the network’s rise, but he doesn’t regret anything he said on the channel during his tenure. 

“I'm not minimizing my role,” he says. “I feel sort of bad that I was a little part of its rise to prominence, and also, giving it respectability — if I can put it that way. But I also think 95% of the panels I was on were fine, and I don't regret what I said, or listening to someone else say something. We didn't go down conspiracy rabbit holes.” 

He left the network in 2013 after an “uncomfortable” request from the former Chairman and CEO of Fox News and Fox Television Stations Roger Ailes.

“[He] asked me to do something. This was not really political. It had to do with some person he didn't like, and it was supposed to, in a way, make him unpopular in Washington, and I refused to do that,” he says. “So we parted ways.”

Today, Kristol acknowledges that he should have “looked a little more into the rock.”

“After 2012 — after the Obama re-election, and then the sort of radicalization of the right, and then obviously after 2015 and ‘16 with Trump — it really went off the rails, [though] it was never quite fair and balanced,” he says. “But it was one thing to be a little bit unbalanced. It’s something [else] to really embrace conspiracy theories and bigotry, and then just flat out lies.”

Former Fox executive Preston Padden filed a declaration in support of the petition. He’s one of three former Fox executives who went public in July, expressing their regret for helping Murdoch launch a fourth broadcast network in the 1990s. None of them were involved with Fox News, but they felt their work had indirectly contributed to the success of what they call “a disinformation machine.” 

Kristol has joined the effort to get the FCC to hold a hearing and revoke Fox 29’s license in Philadelphia. He filed an independent letter with the agency in support of MAD’s petition.

“It is an attempt to force some consideration of this, given that they've applied for the renewal again,” he says. “That was the trigger. Not us sitting around looking for an excuse to do something.”




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Joshua Farnham