If we conjure the spirit of Pollyanna, if we look on the bright side of life, we can probably convince ourselves that Fox News has suffered a guilty verdict in the court of public opinion.
By agreeing to pony up $780 million in damages to the Dominion balloting company, settling on the eve of a defamation trial, Fox basically admitted as never before that it’s a cesspool of lying liars, a festering cancer on the body politic.
That ain’t nothing. Fox has been massively rebuked for lying so relentlessly on the air about Dominion while knowing all along there was zero evidence for its crackpot belief the company had rigged its 2020 machines for Joe Biden.
Thanks to Dominion’s lawsuit, we know as never before how sausage gets made in the fake-news kitchen. We know the propaganda outlet’s business model is built on industrial-strength b.s. – feeding lies for fun and profit to its old white couch potatoes – and there’s nothing Fox can do to erase what has now been exposed.
The settlement, announced minutes before the start of trial, has to be the most disappointing denouement since the finale of Seinfeld. I was reminded of T. S. Eliot’s line about ending “not with a bang but a whimper.”
Rupert Murdoch paid off Dominion so that he wouldn’t have to testify under oath about the lies that were spewed on the air. Tucker Carlson, who knew he was toadying for Trump by lying about Dominion, won’t have to testify. Laura Ingraham, who was told by her producer that Dominion was innocent but aired the lies anyway, won’t have to testify. Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott, who emailed a colleague to say that fact-checking was “bad for business,” won’t have to testify.
Avoidance of trial saves Fox six or seven weeks of shame and humiliation. Meanwhile, none of the complicit Fox hosts will retract their lies on the air, or apologize for those lies, because the settlement doesn’t compel them to do so.
I’m not maligning Dominion for settling its strong case. A private company’s top priority is to protect its brand and do right by its shareholders – not to help cure America’s ills. It was a civil lawsuit, not a clarion call to patriotic duty. Nevertheless, we are left to ponder the biggest question of all:
Will Fox News’ hefty payout prompt it to change its behavior for the better?
That will happen on the same day that unicorns gambol down your street. Every time Fox gets caught acting scummy, it pays off the people it scummed and simply moves on. It’s just the cost of doing business.
When Fox’s parent company in Britain was outed in a phone-hacking scandal, no problem, it paid more than $100 million to the phone-hacking victims. When Fox News was outed for lying about a Washington murder victim named Seth Rich – it falsely claimed that he, not the Russians, had hacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016 – Fox simply paid seven figures to Rich’s grieving parents and moved on.
Ditto this time. Granted, the $780-million payout to Dominion is Fox’s biggest, but it’s still the proverbial drop in the bucket. Fox Corp.’s reported revenue, in the last three months of 2022 alone, was $4.6 billion, and rest assured the company will find a way to deduct the payout from its taxes anyway.
And let’s not forget Fox News’ viewers. They’re barely aware that Fox was being sued in the first place, because Fox kept them dumb and dumber by under-covering the case. And even if their favorite hosts were required to apologize for lying, would the folks at home suddenly have an epiphany and say, “Wow, Fox has lied to us, so now we’ll stop watching”? Not a chance.
They want to be lied to. That’s how they’ve been conditioned. They want to believe the 2020 election was stolen (or, as Trump writes, “stollen”). They want to believe that more guns will make us safer (tell that to the upstate New York girl who went to the wrong driveway). They want to believe that Blacks are scary (like the kid who rang the wrong doorbell). They want to believe that human-driven climate change is a myth (65 percent of Fox viewers give humans a pass). All told, they want to be cogs in the Fox machinery that monetizes grievance.
Granted, there are more court cases in the pipeline – starting with Smartmatic, another election tech company smeared by Fox – but will cosmic justice finally be rendered? You be the judge.
Copyright 2023 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at [email protected]