Wednesday, April 19, 2023

What does Fox News' $787 million settlement of Dominion’s defamation case mean for the future of conservative-leaning news programing.

by Rod Williams, April 19, 2023- There was a time when I liked Fox News. I found it to be a breath of fresh air.  My perception was that most major media had a liberal bias, and reported only the 'news that fits' a liberal agenda. With Fox News I felt like I was getting the full story. I also felt like I was getting fair and balanced reporting from someone who shared my values. Even most good liberal reporters who tried to be balanced could not hide their contempt for the conservative point of view. 

At that time, Fox had some top-notch reporters and insightful commentators. Most of them are gone. Two of the most erudite and insightful commentators on Fox News were George Will and Charles Krauthammer. These men were brilliant and were in the tradition of William F. Buckly.  They did not belittle someone who held a different point of view.  They educated and persuaded.  

Fox also had Jonah Goldberg. Jonah Goldberg was serious and insightful and principled but also peppered his commentary with a little humor. I would have watched Goldberg if he was simply reading recipes. He made the complex or the boring interesting. Goldberg says his breaking point with Fox came when Tucker Carlson did a three-part series on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, which relied on fabrications and conspiracy theories to exonerate the Trump supporters who engaged in the attack. The series not only lied about the Jan. 6 Capitol attack but created a narrative that all of the forces of government were aligned for persecution of conservatives. (link)

Chris Wallace left Fox News, he said, after people at the news organization began to question matters of truth, like the Jan. 6 riot and whether the 2020 election was stolen. “I just no longer felt comfortable with the programming at Fox," (link)

Shep Smith left and said Fox became untenable as opinion shows on the network spread falsehoods that hosts knew were lies. “Opine all you like, but if you’re going to opine, begin with the truth and opine from there,” Smith said. “When people begin with a false premise and lead people astray, that’s injurious to society and it’s the antithesis of what we should be doing: Those of us who are so honored and grateful to have a platform of public influence have to use it for the public good.” (link)

Other good people who are no longer at Fox are Stephen Hayes, Bret Hume, Megyn Kelly, and a whole bunch of others.  What is left are mostly conspiracy theorist, and bombastic loud mouths whose sole purpose it seems is to keep people outraged. They routinely lie and exaggerate and create false impressions of what is really going on in the country. There is very little insightful appeal to rationality and little quality straight-up news reporting. The most-watched journalist in America and the star of Fox News is Tucker Carlson.  That says it all. 

The Dominion lawsuit revealed what goes on behind the curtain at Fox. Rupert Murdoch says Fox 'stars' 'endorsed' lies about 2020 and he chose not to stop them. (link)

How anyone can still trust Fox News is beyond my comprehension.  Fox News agreed to pay $787.5 million to Dominion in a settlement. You do not do that if you are able to present evidence that proves allegations against you are not true. It is actually quite hard to win a defamation case against a news organization. The First Amendment goes a long way to protect the press, even if they spread a lie. Simply getting the facts wrong does not qualify. Giving free rein to someone else to lie in a news story does not qualify. To win a defamation lawsuit against a news organization, one must prove the news organization acted with reckless disregard for the truth. This is the “actual malice” standard established in a 1964 Supreme Court case. 

One thing that came out of the lawsuit is that the host of Fox News shows do not even believe the things they are saying. They are cynical showmen. While they were reporting that the election was stolen, this is what they were really saying to each other:

Tucker Carlson said Powell was "lying" and called her a "fucking bitch." Laura Ingraham said in a group text with Carlson and Hannity that Powell was "a bit nuts." Hannity said he "did not believe it for one second" when he heard Powell's claims. (link)

So, where does this leave Fox News?  I don't know how deep the pockets are of Fox News, but there is another similar lawsuit pending from Smartmatic asking for $2.7 billion.   Smartmatic, another voting technology company, alleges Fox broadcast lies that “decimated” its business. Smartmatic alleges that Fox News knowingly made “over 100 false statements and implications” about the company. (link) I don't know how many hits like this Fox can take but it has to hurt. What would really hurt Fox News is if people stop watching.  I don't know that that will happen.  Maybe some will awake to the fact that Fox is not really news but propaganda and showmen selling snake oil, however much of the viewership of Fox News seems either totally bamboozled or simply does not care about the truth. 

What I would like to see happen, is that Fox change leadership at the organization, apologize for knowingly lying and deceiving people, fire Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and a few others, and bring back some departed talent like Chris Wallace and George Will and introduce some new talent that is responsible and principled. 

Is this likely to happen? No. Fox would not fire the most watched political commentator in America.  He would immediately be hired by a company like Newsmax or One America News and that organization would pick up Fox viewers. 

If Fox continues its current path but just careful enough to avoid more major lawsuits, then probably Fox will continue not much changed.  I expect, however, the truth does matter to some Fox viewers and Fox may lose its position as the most watched news channel in America. 

One thing that could come out of this is that one of the other major news organizations becomes more balanced and hires more talent that leans conservative. When George Will left Fox he was picked up by NBC.  Some other former Fox talent have found homes elsewhere.  Some News organization, maybe CNN, will realize that it may be advantageous to move toward the center and pick up the viewers who left Fox News. Alternatively, there may emerge a new conservative leaning news organization that resembles what Fox used to look like. I don't know how much, but I expect some good to come out of this.

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1 comment:

  1. Well said Sir. Sadly the mental defectives who comprise the Trump Cult and the anti reality mob that comprises groups like 'Moms for Liberty (sic)' and 'Tennessee Stands' and their ilk will not admit that they have been conned. Their level of denial, their sense of entitlement, and their leftist-like love of having grievances with anything that challenges their self serving assumptions won't allow them to admit they were taken in by their Orange god.

    They are impervious to knowledge, experience, and reason