The adage “Anyone who loves the law or sausages should never watch either one being made” might well be updated by replacing “sausages” with “Fox News.”
That’s the yield of all that emerged in the lead-up to the now settled Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit against the conservative news organization.
I have nothing against the company. In fact, a number of articles I wrote were published by Fox News Opinion; I’ve appeared on the Fox New York affiliate, and I had a positive interaction with a Fox reporter who took seriously Agudath Israel’s concerns about a report that did a disservice to the Orthodox community—and who substantially amended it.
But even the most ardent Fox fan cannot avoid facing what the organization’s decision to pay $787.5 million to the voting machine company means.
Defamation cases are steep uphill battles for plaintiffs. Dominion would have had to show that the broadcasters who had repeatedly claimed that Dominion’s voting machines had been used to tilt the 2020 presidential election either knew their claims were false or acted with “reckless disregard” in promoting them.
By choosing to settle, the network exhibited the cleverness of the animal its name evokes.
It thereby avoided the prospect of its anchors, executives and founder, Rupert Murdoch, having to testify under oath. And, considering some of the Fox internal emails and texts Dominion had already obtained, that would have been a public relations disaster.
Showing a face considerably different from the relentlessly election fraud-pushing one he publicly presented nightly, then-Fox star Tucker Carlson texted a colleague that “Trump and Lin [Wood, a lawyer for the former president] and [erstwhile Trump lawyer Sidney] Powell have so discredited their own case, and the rest of us to some extent, that it’s infuriating.”
On another occasion, he texted a producer that “Sidney Powell is lying,” followed by an obscene insult. To another, he wrote that “I’ve got a high tolerance for crazy as you know but she was too much.”
The on-air Mr. Carlson was a fervent supporter of Donald Trump. Off-air, the boisterous host wrote another colleague that “we are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can’t wait.” And after the January 6 assault on the Capitol, he texted his producer that “Trump has two weeks left. Once he’s out, he becomes incalculably less powerful, even in the minds of his supporters. He’s a demonic force, a destroyer.”
For his part, Mr. Murdoch, writing to a friend, characterized former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani as “increasingly mad.”
Mr. Murdoch also wrote a friend that “Trump insisting on the election being stolen and convincing 25 percent of Americans was a huge disservice to the country.”
Fox host Laura Ingraham texted that Mr. Giuliani is “such an idiot.” Another host, Sean Hannity, texted: “Rudy is acting like an insane person.”
Also revealed by discovered emails and texts was that Fox executives were upset that viewers and readers were opting for other newsmongers that were more relentlessly pushing election fraud conspiracy theories. The execs suggested that Fox hosts show “respect” for an audience that, as one producer put it, “doesn’t want to hear about a peaceful transition” and wants to “still have hope” that substantial fraud, for which there never was any evidence, might still come to light.
News organizations are supposed to inform, not kowtow. Fox now stands revealed to have cared only about keeping an audience, even by telling it untruths.
In its statement after the settlement was announced, Fox acknowledged that “certain claims about Dominion” it had promoted had been false. And that it hopes “our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably…allows the country to move forward from these issues.” And it contended that the settlement “reflects FOX’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.” (Irony sometimes hides in plain sight.)
Lesson #1 from all this is simple: Even when a news organization takes stands that we know are right, as Fox has done regarding a number of important societal issues, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t manipulating us in other areas. Just as liberal media can’t be fully trusted, neither can conservative ones.
Lesson #2: Don’t text or email anything you wouldn’t want the world to see.
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