Confessions from Rupert Murdoch, regret-tinged e-mails from his underlings, expletive-laden texts from Fox stars. Dominion v. Fox News is putting Succession to shame. And as the case careens toward trial, the main character is not Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity. It’s Maria Bartiromo.

Bartiromo is named 95 times in the plaintiff’s recent legal brief and 69 times in Fox’s recent response, exceeding the mentions of her better-known colleagues. Dominion is alleging that Bartiromo was present at the creation of a malicious myth that warrants $1.6 billion in damages. Fox, citing the same TV segments, is arguing that Bartiromo did her job responsibly.

So what is her job, exactly? The 55-year-old business broadcaster broke barriers in her 20 years on CNBC—she was the first TV journalist to report from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange—but something changed after Bartiromo joined the Fox Business Network in 2014. While she still schmoozed with C.E.O.’s and shared stock updates with a small weekday-morning audience on Fox Business, both Mornings with Maria and her much bigger weekend talk show on Fox News, Sunday Morning Futures, became de facto Trump TV.

Donald Trump called into Bartiromo’s show Sunday Morning Futures on November 29, 2020—his first interview since losing the election.

When Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, Bartiromo was the very first Fox host to provide a platform for Dominion-related conspiracy theories. She was also the first television personality to interview Trump after the election—though “interview” is probably far too generous a word for what she did.

Even off the air, Bartiromo was an extension of Trump’s never-ending campaign. “The public wants to know he will fight this,” she texted Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows on November 29, more than three weeks after Trump lost. “They want to hear a path to victory. & he’s in control.” She acted like a campaign adviser. But Fox insists she is a journalist. Under oath during a deposition with Dominion’s lawyers, Bartiromo called herself a “newsperson” who “reports on the news.” This is an intriguing self-identification, given what she did in November of 2020.

Bartiromo hosted Sunday Morning Futures four times that month in the wake of Trump’s defeat, and each episode is relevant to the current legal battle. But before explaining why, let me note that I was also a Sunday-talk-show fixture at the time, anchoring Reliable Sources at 11 a.m. Eastern Time on CNN, one hour after Bartiromo’s show on Fox. Accordingly, Bartiromo and I had a friendly relationship, at least prior to 2016. When we bumped into each other at Anthony Scaramucci’s overflowing wine-tasting party in Davos this past January, we “helloed” each other and split off toward separate bars. Now I wish I had asked about her deposition.

It was on Bartiromo’s show that the formerly obscure voting-technology company Dominion was named for the first time on Fox. The date was November 8, 2020, one day after Fox and all the other networks projected that Joe Biden would be the next president. “I’m back with Sidney Powell, who is part of President Trump’s legal team in contesting this election,” Bartiromo said. “Sidney, we talked about the Dominion software. I know that there were voting irregularities. Tell me about that.” Powell alleged that “computer glitches” and “fraud” took place “where they were flipping votes in the computer system or adding votes that did not exist.”

Powell’s comments begged a follow-up. Bartiromo should have interrupted and said, “Who’s they?” “Where did this happen?” “What proof do you have?” But she didn’t. Powell kept going without any meaningful pushback. “They had this all planned, Maria,” Powell lied. Bartiromo called the charges “incredible,” sounding impressed more than shocked, and added, “Please come back soon.”

Every cable-news host, myself included, has been blindsided by a rogue guest on air—but that’s not what happened here. Bartiromo and Powell had corresponded the previous day, and Powell forwarded her a ludicrous e-mail titled “Election Fraud Info” from an unnamed “source.” The e-mail contained anti-Dominion conspiracy theories and crazy falsehoods; for instance, that Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia “was purposefully killed at the annual Bohemian Grove camp … during a weeklong human hunting expedition.”

That should have been enough to click the Delete button—under oath, Bartiromo called the e-mail “nonsense”—but according to Dominion’s suit, Bartiromo replied to Powell and said, “I just spoke to Eric [Trump] & told him you gave very imp[ortant] info.” Dominion notes that Bartiromo “never reported on the existence of this email,” which would have undercut the credibility of her guest. Nor did she reveal to her viewers that she was acting as a liaison between Powell and the Trump family.

Bartiromo should have interrupted and said, “Who’s they?” “Where did this happen?” “What proof do you have?” But she didn’t.

November 8, 2020, mattered because it was a fork in the road. Biden was the president-elect, but an alternative path was being presented to Trump fans. Some of the most trusted figures in conservative media, such as Bartiromo, were implying that the election wasn’t really over. As senior Fox News producer Abby Grossberg texted Bartiromo, in one of many incriminating messages that Dominion has presented as evidence, “To be honest, our audience doesn’t want to hear about a peaceful transition. They still have hope … ”

Bartiromo replied, “Yes, agree.”

Dominion says it thus “became the connective thread in a prefabricated election fraud story that needed a villain.” Trump and his allies blasted the company in the days following Bartiromo’s broadcast. But Fox’s lawyers defend her interviews with Powell and Rudy Giuliani by saying that Trump’s challenge to the election result was unquestionably newsworthy. “Fox News hosts did not take the President and his lawyers at their word,” Fox’s most recent filing says. “Instead, they pressed the President’s lawyers (and the President himself) for evidence.”

Bartiromo sat back while Rudy Giuliani delivered a deeply misleading monologue.

“Pressed” is not the word I would use to describe Bartiromo’s approach. Sure, she asked Giuliani for evidence, but then sat back while he delivered a deeply misleading monologue. But don’t take my word for it: thanks to Dominion’s discovery process, we know that key figures inside Fox were also sharply critical of her. On November 5, when Bartiromo tweeted some voter-fraud make-believe, news anchor Bret Baier flagged it for an executive, saying, “We have to prevent this stuff. We need to fact check.”

That same day, Fox Business execs Lauren Petterson and Gary Schreier traded e-mails mocking Bartiromo’s misuse of social media. After the November 8 telecast, Tucker Carlson texted a colleague that “the software shit” Powell hyped “is absurd.” He worriedly speculated that “half our viewers have seen the Maria clip.” Schreier and Petterson were evidently e-mailing about the show, too; Schreier wrote that Bartiromo “has GOP conspiracy theorists in her ear and they use her for their message sometimes. I wish she had that awareness.”

The execs were aware, at least, but Dominion argues that they failed to intervene, even after Dominion e-mailed and called numerous Fox officials regarding the “enormous amount of misinformation” on the air. On November 15, Bartiromo had both Powell and Giuliani back on Sunday Morning Futures. The interviews were pre-taped, which means Fox had time to scrub out falsehoods but did not do so. Two days later I noticed something in the Nielsen ratings report: CNN won every hour on Sunday in the key 25- to 54-year-old demographic except for 10 a.m., when Bartiromo won. Fox’s fan base loved the hour full of voter-fraud fictions and Trump talking heads. It was, in Schreier’s words, “HUGE.” Trump helped by touting the show on Twitter.

But what “rated” for Fox, what comforted the audience and kept them coming back, also exposed the network to enormous legal liability. Dominion says it sent Fox a legal notice on November 20 “asking Fox to stop spreading lies.” On November 22, coincidentally or not, Bartiromo took a slightly different tack. She did not lead the show with anti-democratic B.S. Instead, she cautiously asked guest Alan Dershowitz about the Trump camp’s claims. “We have to see the evidence,” he said.

That’s why the November 29 edition of Sunday Morning Futures was so telling. Trump came out of hiding and called into Bartiromo’s show, which in ordinary times would qualify as a big scoop, since it was the president’s first interview since his election loss. Instead, it was a big sham. Bartiromo allowed him to lie and lie and lie under the guise of asking for “evidence.” She seemed to believe him, referring to conspiratorial “dumps” of votes, “big massive dumps” that benefited Democrats.

At one point she exclaimed to Trump, “This is disgusting, and we cannot allow America’s election to be corrupted.” According to Dominion, “discovery has revealed that Bartiromo in fact knew what Trump would say, and had even scripted comments like ‘the facts are on your side’ the night before.” Text messages obtained by the House’s January 6 committee showed Bartiromo telling Meadows about her questions ahead of time, and asking the chief of staff to “pls make sure he doesn’t go off on tangents. We want to know he is strong he is a fighter & he will win.”

One hour later, on Reliable Sources, I treated the interview as breaking news: a delusional president trying to cling to power with Bartiromo’s help. The subsequent ratings report reflected America’s polarity: The Bartiromo-Trump show was No. 1 on cable news that day and Reliable Sources was No. 2.

From where I sat, Bartiromo had done a disservice to democracy and reality. She had the president on the phone, and she let him deceive the viewers. Her viewers. But Fox’s lawyers have argued that Bartiromo asked questions and covered the controversy appropriately.

Bartiromo has covered Trump’s presidency—and post-presidency—more like a supporter than a journalist.

They have also advanced the idea that Bartiromo actually bought what Trump was selling. Included in Fox’s 164-page response to Dominion’s brief is a text message from Bartiromo dated November 20. “This was fraud,” she wrote. “No one can tell me differently.” And another from that same day: “They hate him & they wanted him out bc he [exposes] their corruption. I think he could win [this].”

Throughout the Trump years, one of the chief critiques of Fox went like this: The stars knew the truth, but they went along with the lie. Time and time again they knew Trump was full of it, but they pretended otherwise. And that has been proven true, in many cases, with many of the hosts.

But part of Fox’s defense against Dominion’s defamation claim is that Bartiromo actually believed the bullshit. “I cannot sit here and say I know what took place in the election 2020,” Bartiromo said in her deposition. “I still have not seen a comprehensive investigation as to what took place, and that is why there are still questions about this election.” She sounded more like Alex Jones than the hard-charging journalist I used to admire.

Brian Stelter is the Walter Shorenstein Media and Democracy Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. He is a former anchor of CNN’s Reliable Sources and a former media reporter for The New York Times