We’re finally getting to see how utterly terrified Fox News heads and hosts were of Donald Trump. And it’s delightfully pathetic.
An unsealed brief as part of Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation suit showed Fox News bigwigs criticizing Donald Trump’s Big Lie, all while advancing his B.S. “stolen election” conspiracy theory on air (and simultaneously trying to punish a Fox News fact checker for reporting the truth).
This brief is a treasure trove for anyone who wants a look at the network’s dirty underbelly, and I must confess that I enjoy this salacious content as much as the next guy. But it’s not just the voyeur in me that enjoys peeking at the network’s tan lines.
As a conservative who was exiled to the margins during the Trump administration, and having endured years of gaslighting, it’s reassuring to my own sanity to discover that people at Fox News secretly agree with me about pretty much everything. Maybe you’ll feel the same.
Do you think Sidney Powell is “a complete nut”? So does Laura Ingraham. Do you think Rudy Giuliani is “full of shit?” So does a Lou Dobbs producer. Think the allegations of voter fraud are “Bullshit?” So does Bret Baier! Think “The North Koreans do a more nuanced show” than Lou Dobbs? So does the president of the network. Think Trump is a “demonic force”? So does Tucker!
It’s especially refreshing to learn that the only difference between some of my favorite Fox News hosts and yours truly is that I’m not afraid of Donald Trump, or his audience.
Maybe, like me, you’ve been wrestling with the cognitive dissonance of having your formerly favorite TV network tell you things that seem crazy or implausible. The good news for you is that you’re not crazy. They actually agree with you! Just not on TV.
Of course, that’s a huge difference, and it is one worth examining.
I’ve spent years complaining about liberal media bias, and there has been lots to complain about. Still, I can’t think of anything the “lamestream media” has done that comes close to knowingly lying about the results of a presidential election.
Everyone makes honest mistakes, but outlets have an obvious ethical responsibility to tell the truth—as they see it. This is a moral obligation, but is telling the truth also a legal imperative? Fox News seems to think the answer is no.
“There will be a lot of noise and confusion generated by Dominion and their opportunistic private equity owners, but the core of this case remains about freedom of the press and freedom of speech, which are fundamental rights afforded by the Constitution and protected by New York Times v. Sullivan,” Fox News said.
Want to hear something really ironic? Just last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hosted a video-streamed roundtable that was specifically about overturning (you guessed it!) New York Times v. Sullivan; which is to say, DeSantis wants to make it easier to sue (liberal-leaning) media outlets for libel without having to prove actual malice.
“When you’re knowingly putting out false information…” DeSantis said, “there needs to be an ability for people to defend themselves, not through government regulation or restriction but through being able to seek private right of action.”
Talk about inconvenient timing.
Does “free speech” guarantee Fox News the right to knowingly lie about Dominion Voting Systems—thereby destroying their business? It sure sounds like DeSantis (Harvard Law, ’05) doesn’t think so.
Of course, the damage done to Dominion’s reputation is just part of the story. The damage done to the social fabric of America is incalculable.
Imagine a car company that knows its cars are responsible for passenger deaths, yet its PR team keeps saying otherwise. Imagine a food product that is poisonous to its consumers, yet the manufacturer swears it’s healthy.
Actually, we don’t have to consider these hypotheticals. Look no further than the tobacco industry—which successfully lied for decades before being compelled to admit its product killed millions of people.
By spreading the Big Lie, Fox News knowingly propagated a conspiracy theory that was just as toxic, addictive, and dangerous to the body politic.
But make no mistake, the legal system is probably the only means to this end. The only thing that matters here is whether Dominion wins.
Moral outrage won’t work. Shaming won’t work. Boycotts won’t work. I can guarantee you that none of my Fox News-watching relatives are going to suddenly turn against that network for making them look like rubes—or for poisoning the rest of us. That is, if they ever even hear about this.
Our current media fragmentation means that nobody at Fox News cares about what anyone in the mainstream media thinks of them. And anyone who cares about this story has probably already tuned the network out, anyway.
Honestly, the only thing that might change the incentive structure of this perverse game is if individuals and companies use the legal system to make it clear that you have more to lose by knowingly lying than by telling the truth—even if it’s a hard pill for your audience to swallow.
Sometimes the truth hurts.