In a perfect world, Fox News, after being legally exposed for lying to its viewers, would be required to honestly tell them. But no.
The legal settlement in which Fox News this week agreed to pay Dominion Voting Systems $787.5 million was a victory for profit-obsessed American capitalism, not journalistic truth.
The irony is that bald-faced lying for profit at the expense of truth is what landed Fox News in court in the first place. The top cable-news purveyor mercilessly and fraudulently denigrated Dominion over months following the 2020 presidential election, falsely claiming that Dominion’s voting machines helped Joe Biden win, supposedly “stealing” the presidency from Donald Trump.
Dominion sued Fox for defamation, seeking $1.6 billion in damages.
The upshot is, even before opening arguments were scheduled to begin on April 18, the judge, Eric M. Davis, ruled in a summary judgment that it was “crystal clear” virtually everything Fox reported about the alleged flaws in Dominion systems was false.
All the jury would have had to decide was the amount of damages to award the plaintiff, Dominion, not their guilt.
In other words, Fox lost the case before it was even tried.
By settling for a still-staggering three-quarters of a million dollars, Fox—keep in mind that it has about $4 billion in cash in hand and can easily afford to pay—avoided what it really feared: It didn’t have to parade its most famous anchor and administrative liars (Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott, et al.) on the witness stand, under oath, admitting that their pants were not only on fire but completely carbonized.
As well as Fox Corp.’s owner, Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who had already admitted in a deposition under oath that his top Fox opinionators and administrators had long broadcast and promoted lies about Dominion and the 2020 election that he at least strongly suspected at the time were false. He said he regretted not stopping them.
A public trial would have been the equivalent of every Fox News star and heavy hitter humiliated and locked in stocks in the public square.
And it would have—no ifs, ands, buts, or fancy excuses—communicated with a bullhorn to its aggrieved, right-wing viewers, many of whom see Trump as divine and Fox as infallible, that Fox has been lying to them from the get-go—and, more to the point, knew it.
The reason: the corporate bean counters were worried that if they told the truth their viewers would jump ship—and advertisers with them—for other, more radical purveyors of disinformation, misinformation and soulless mendacity (Newsmax, etc.).
Those viewers, despite Fox’s mammoth settlement with Dominion for purposefully lying to them, is still largely in the dark about the cable channel’s thrashing in court. After the settlement was announced, all Fox did was trot out staff apologist Howard Kurtz on-air to say as little as possible about it, bury a small story on its online site, and release this disingenuous statement to the media:
This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards. We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues.
Kurtz, Fox’s media analyst, was introduced by anchor Neil Cavuto after the settlement to give this snarky statement on-air:
I guess facing a jury has a way of concentrating minds in this situation, Neil. And, although much of the media was looking forward to six weeks of … frankly, a lot of people in the mainstream media are anti-Fox and rooting for Fox to lose. They’re now going to be deprived of that opportunity and the rest of us get to go home.
Nothing about the awarding of the largest defamation penalty in US media history. Nothing about years of broadcasting knowing falsehoods that damaged Dominion, inspired death threats and put people’s lives at risk. Nothing about the journalistic duty of providing Fox viewers—all Americans— with the unvarnished truth.
Fox viewers remain as misinformed as ever, and Fox News, still today, is broadcasting misinformation, disinformation and mendacity. The network’s feet haven’t been held to the fire but about a mile or two away. Money they have. Not integrity.
The only hope for an appropriate public comeuppance are six other related lawsuits pending against Fox, including a $2.6 billion suit by Smartmatic, a fellow voting services company to Dominion.
Although legal experts believe Smartmatic will settle with Fox before trial, it would be fitting if Smarmatic decided to go to trial and expose fully expose the sordid depths of Fox’s amoral criminality. All the innocent people harmed by Fox’s tidal wave of deception deserve it.
But that likely won’t happen.
Staple Street Capital, a New-York based private equity firm that owns Dominion, clearly made the decision to prioritize a big settlement over protecting democracy and public knowledge by a full disclosure at trial of Fox’s unconscionable sins against America and Americans.
Dominion CEO John Poulos has vigorously defended the huge settlement. But on Jake Tapper’s “The Lead” program on CNN Wednesday, he slipperily refused to answer why his company did not demand Fox’s full-throated admission to its viewers on-air that it purposely lied to them for many, many months. Poulos was also very vague about into whose pockets those settlement dollars would go.
The big payout, Poulos insists, equals full “accountability.” Yet, Fox viewers remain none the wiser about any of it, as Fox continues to hide the whole truth.
Let’s hope Smartmatic or other plaintiffs are more civic-minded, patriotic, and ethical, and insist on a jury trial.
In the meantime, unbridled capitalism wins and Fox has lamentably little incentive to fundamentally change its ways. It will probably only get better at parsing its behavior just enough to stay out of future legal trouble—while retaining the wealth-lavishing attention of its viewers.
A full trial would likely bring it to its knees, where it should be, seeking forgiveness that should never come.