The dust is settling from the Dominion Voting Systems summary judgment bombshell. What we knew all along and only too well, that Fox News knew it was lying about the stolen election in 2022 and was choosing to do it because it was good for ratings, was proven in a Dominion brief which referenced a tranche of private communications between Fox News executives and on-air talent after the election.
A conscious decision was made by Fox News to misrepresent the truth. In any other era, one would assume that Fox News would lose its lawsuit with Dominion, because if these communications don’t prove up knowingly making a falsehood and acting with actual malice, (which is the high bar set for defamation lawsuits) then what does? But in this day and age, we assume, cynically perhaps, that Fox News will probably get away with it. This does seem to be a time in history where lashing out at our most basic institutions goes unpunished, why not this as well?
Veteran newsman Dan Rather reacted via Steady, his substack newsletter, to the revelation that Fox News higher ups, Murdoch included, knew that there was no truth to the false election claims. But their own particular brand of elitism, their own smirking condescension towards their own viewers, dictated that they go along with Donald Trump and promulgate his myth. Extra, extra, they did it for money.
This is blockbuster news. It’s also completely predictable. These people are not stupid, and they are not completely disconnected from what the rest of us see. They read the same newspapers, even if they pretend not to. They hobnob in the New York media scene. Their kids often go to elite private schools. They just know that their business models — and their millions — depend on presenting a very different set of “facts” (as in, non-facts) to their viewers.
We now can read the words that the likes of Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham never meant us to see. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, they were mocking Trump’s purveyors of the Big Lie, such as Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, in their private communications.
That’s the beauty of this, or its abject ugliness, take your pick. Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham all believe the same facts that you and I do about the outcome of the 2020 election — but they don’t care. Because there is something far more important besides democracy and the peaceful transfer of power to be considered here, and that is the price of Fox News stock, which pays their grotesquely inflated salaries.
They are performers, they are millionaires, they’re culture war icons. They live lives of wealth and privilege based upon their ability to lie and they don’t want to rock the comfy boat they’re in. So of course they got on the air and lied some more about the outcome of the 2020 election. That got the ratings out of the basement and the stock ticker going the right direction.
Fox is the country’s “most watched cable news network” except it’s not a news network at all. Rather continues.
What Fox News is alleged to have done (and the evidence is pretty damning), deserves to be front-page news. And we might be getting only a glimpse of what’s to come. Much of the released filing was redacted. And Fox News sure hopes it remains hidden.
What does emerge, however, is that Fox News was worried in the aftermath of the election — and for good reason. Their viewers seemed to be more loyal to Trump than to Fox, and the network risked losing audience share to the even nuttier corners of the right-wing media alternative universe (like Newsmax and OAN) if they didn’t echo Trumpworld’s fevered waves of disinformation and outright lies. That when faced with the choice of protecting American democracy or their own bottom line they chose the latter should also surprise no one.
But it should not be normalized or accepted. […]
News organizations worthy of the name believe the stories they distribute. Their reporters believe what they report. Their writers believe what they write. And their anchors believe what they say on the air.
These Fox News personalities and the corporation that pays them were not trying to do any of this. Their programs became echo chambers for egregiousness. They knew truth, and they knew fiction. And they deliberately peddled falsehoods.
It was a calculated business decision. And that means that whatever business Fox News is in, it isn’t the news business.
So where do we go from here? Is Fox News going to remain in business, doing exactly what it has always done — lie for profit — and nothing will change? Will Dominion force them out of business altogether? (Unlikely.) Will some kind of a compromise be reached, where Fox News has to pay Dominion a lot of money and tout itself as something other than a cable news network? Say a cable news entertainment network?
There is something inherently wrong with a propaganda channel, which has been caught openly lying, being able to continue in business labeling itself as a news network. That has been the case these 26 years that Fox News has been on the airwaves and it was certainly foreseeable that its antics would lead to a showdown like this.
The moment of truth is upon us. What will we do? This is beyond slap on the wrist time, this pertains to the preservation of our republic. Is that republic so decayed that lying to the masses for profit will be sanctioned, even if it results in violence? Is the culture war a feature, not a bug, of life in America?
I don’t know. But I do believe that when this Dominion v. Fox News suit is finally adjudicated, we will have some answers, at least, and know where we are going.
I hope that this lawsuit represents some kind of a bottom hitting and regrouping. Prior to Fox News and before that, prior to the abrogation of the Fairness Doctrine by Ronald Reagan, (which gave birth to Rush Limbaugh and right-wing radio) there was a clear cut line between fact and opinion. We may have had different opinions, but that was not a problem. Democracy thrives on open debate.
The problem comes when we don’t agree on basic facts. That’s where we are now. You can’t run anything like that, not a family, not a business, most definitely not a country of 330 million people. We can’t have 1/3 or 40% or whatever the guestimated figure is, of the population of this country believing in QAnon prophecy, that Joe Biden isn’t really in the White House, he’s faking governance from a nearby movie studio, for instance. We can’t have the leading epidemiologist in the world, Anthony Fauci, demonized by not only culture warriors but extremist members of Congress.
Perhaps the simplest way this question can be phrased is: will we grow up as a country and overcome this episode in our history, or will we forget all of our values in the pursuit of bread and circus and go the way of the Roman empire?
Information is power. Don’t forget what George Orwell said, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” It is that basic.