Fox News lies to its viewers for money.
That’s among the many revelations that emerged in the lead-up to what many expected would be a blockbuster trial between Dominion Voting Systems and Fox News over that “news” organization’s repeated defamatory falsehoods over the 2020 election.
Rather than apologize, or admit its wrongdoing to its viewers, the company agreed to pay out a record $787.5 million to settle the defamation case with Dominion. At the same time, Fox News issued a statement saying that it does not contest the findings of the court that many of the claims made by guests and its own hosts about the 2020 election were false.
The settlement provides a huge windfall for Dominion, a cash payout many times the valuation of the company and much more than the company likely would have ultimately received from Fox News, even if the jury had awarded far more. Fox News would have appealed, dragging the case out for years. And big jury damage awards are routinely sliced sharply at the appellate level.
The settlement certainly makes Dominion whole, but when are we, as Americans, made whole for what Fox News and others perpetrated on our democratic institutions? When do we, as Americans, get to hold Fox News accountable for the damages its lies did to our system of governance?
Polls show that majorities of Republicans still choose to believe that the 2020 election was stolen, and that’s in no small thanks to Fox, which continues to tout false election conspiracies to this day. That belief was, without question, responsible for the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and it has contributed to the descent of one of our two major parties down a rabbit hole of deceit and self-delusion.
Fox News has, for years, portrayed political propaganda as “fair and balanced,” feeding a steady diet of extremist opinion, racism, and outright lies to a huge audience that has come to see this twisted version of reality as their truth.
In the wake of the 2020 election, Fox News had the choice of fostering conspiracy theories that the organization knew to be false, or telling the truth that Joe Biden won the presidency fair and square. At first, the legitimate journalists at Fox News tried to do just that, regularly fact-checking false claims from the Trump team. Even some of big-name commentators, like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham, tried at first to ride the reality train, initially dismissing the conspiracy theories touted by Trump’s lackies.
But when viewers complained and Fox News’ ratings sunk as viewers, who had grown used to the steady diet of right-wing propaganda, switched to sites like Newsmax and One America Network where Trump’s lies still dominated coverage, Fox News shifted gears.
Actual journalists were put on a tight leash. Chris Stirewalt, the head of the election night team that accurately called Arizona for Biden was canned from Fox News within weeks and there was pressure to fire other legitimate journalists at the network.
As emails and texts released as part of the Dominion case revealed, Fox News’ big-name hosts privately used language like “ludicrous” or “nuts” to describe the conspiracy theories being touted by their own guests, but soon started playing believers while on the air. Texts from Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott got to the heart of the company’s concern in an early December 2020 email to a network vice-president, referring to one of its reporters who was trying to fact-check some of the Trump team’s many lies about the election.
“This has to stop now. This is bad for business… the audience is furious.” Fox News Senior Vice President Raj Shaw noted that the company was “under heavy fire from our customer base,” and was facing a “brand crisis” and “open revolt from viewers.” Sean Hannity got to the nub when he wrote “respecting this audience whether we agree or not is critical.”
Of course, “respecting” in Hannity’s mind meant giving the company’s audience the lies it craved, and still wants to hear. Fox News created a monster, and it now demands to be fed.
Those lies damaged the reputation of Dominion, as well as Smartmatic, another voting systems company that is seeking $2.7 billion in damages in its own defamation case against Fox News.
But the real damage— the potentially existential damage— has been done to America. By helping to convince millions of our fellow citizens that elections are frauds, Fox News has contributed to the disintegration of our body politic, elevated extremism, and raised the risk of civil conflict and violence. While Fox News likes to wrap itself in the flag, their actions have shown everyone the truth. They’ll sell America down the river for a buck.
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