Donald Trump, the former US president, takes part in a Fox News town-hall event in Iowa on Thursday – a prime-time test for the beleaguered network after its legal battle with an election systems company.
Trump, frontrunner for Republican presidential nomination in 2024, continues to push lies about widespread voter fraud costing him the last election against Joe Biden. In April, Fox News agreed to pay Dominion Voting Systems $787m to avert a trial in the company’s lawsuit over its promotion of the debunked claims.
The case had already embarrassed Fox News over several months and raised the possibility that the network founder, Rupert Murdoch, and stars such as Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity would have to testify publicly. Fox News still faces a defamation lawsuit from another voting technology company, Smartmatic.
Notably, Thursday night’s town hall with Trump in the Des Moines suburb of Clive will be pre-taped, giving Fox News the option of editing out egregious lies about the 2020 election in general or Dominion and Smartmatic in particular before its broadcast at 9pm.
The choice might have been informed by CNN’s fateful decision last month to go live with a Trump town hall from New Hampshire. The ex-president repeated a fusillade of bogus election claims and insulted writer E Jean Carroll a day after being found liable for sexual abuse and defamation against her; Carroll now intends to go back to court to seek additional damages.
Fox News’s version will be hosted by Hannity, a longtime Trump sympathiser who interviewed him in March. Carlson, by contrast, was fired by the network soon after the Dominion case wound up and since lost 32% in average total prime-time viewers, according to Nielsen, much to the benefit of rightwing rival Newsmax.
Trump is making his second trip to Iowa since officially launching his 2024 campaign. At a restaurant in Urbandale earlier on Thursday, he boasted about his polling lead over the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, insisting that “there’s no way we lose Iowa” and “we’d have to do some really bad things to lose at this point”.
DeSantis, aiming to recover from a glitchy campaign launch, was touring New Hampshire. In Laconia, he took a dig at former reality TV star Trump by remarking that “leadership is not about entertainment”. Former vice-president Mike Pence and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie are expected to join the race next week.
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