A Fox panel: The Five
A Fox panel: The Five

Fox “News” is a prod­uct of niche mar­ket­ing, of detri­ment to democ­ra­cy but immense­ly prof­itable. Its par­ent cor­po­ra­tion took in an esti­mat­ed $1.2 bil­lion last year. Now, how­ev­er, it must pay $787.5 mil­lion to Domin­ion Vot­ing Sys­tems in order to set­tle the moth­er of all defama­tion suits.

The set­tle­ment with Domin­ion, which sought $1.6 bil­lion after being defamed by Fox hosts, was the lead report for almost all news out­lets. The excep­tion was, of course, Fox view­ers, who were told almost noth­ing. The right wing net­work stuck with its usu­al sta­ples, demo­niz­ing trans­gen­der ath­letes and depict­ing cities with Demo­c­ra­t­ic may­ors as cen­ters of crime and violence.

The net­work was designed to attract view­ers unsat­is­fied with the report­ing of the mass media, and in the mar­ket for “news” mir­ror­ing their own views.

“We’re not here to pass our­selves off as intel­lec­tu­als: We’re here to give the pub­lic what they want,” own­er Rupert Mur­doch explained at launch.

What the view­ers got was a line­up of right-wing pun­dits, dark con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries, and ample dis­play of women’s legs. No pantsuits at Fox. The net­work served as cheer­leader for the inva­sion of Iraq, pro­mot­er of Repub­li­can politi­cians, and employ­er of los­ing Repub­li­can can­di­dates, while demo­niz­ing Pres­i­dent Obama.

When Barack and Michelle Oba­ma touched knuck­les upon win­ning the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, a Fox per­son­al­i­ty termed it a “ter­ror­ist fist bump.”

Typ­i­cal of Fox was ador­ing, copi­ous cov­er­age giv­en to two Repub­li­can can­di­dates in Wash­ing­ton, Sen­ate hope­ful Tiffany Smi­ley and ultra MAGA House can­di­date Joe Kent, in last fall’s elec­tion. Inter­view­ing Smi­ley in her race against Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray, host Sean Han­ni­ty declared: “We want that seat.”

The line became the cen­ter­piece of a Mur­ray reelec­tion commercial.

Fox spent four years shilling for Don­ald Trump. The for­mer occu­pant of the Oval Office boost­ed rat­ings for Han­ni­ty, a bor­ing par­ty line pundit.

Fox com­men­ta­tors have depict­ed Joe Biden as in the ear­ly stages of demen­tia and zeroed in on his vig­or­ous Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Pete Buttigieg.

Long gone is the network’s ini­tial tagline – “Fair and Bal­anced” – as well as fig­ures like Chris Wal­lace and Carl Cameron inter­est­ed in prac­tic­ing journalism.

What the Fox audi­ence want­ed, in the 2020 elec­tion, was four more years of Trump. The Amer­i­can peo­ple dis­agreed and gave Joe Biden a mar­gin of 2.9 mil­lion votes. Hav­ing spent years brand­ing his crit­ics as “losers”, Trump could not accept defeat. He claimed the elec­tion was stolen, foment­ing spe­cious claims and los­ing court cas­es before Trump-nom­i­nat­ed fed­er­al judges.

View­ers of Fox were infu­ri­at­ed when the net­work was first to fore­cast that Biden would car­ry Ari­zona. Top brass at Fox pri­vate­ly agreed that Joe Biden had secured an Elec­toral Col­lege major­i­ty and would become our forty-sixth pres­i­dent. But with Fox view­ers defect­ing to rivals on the right, such as News­max, the network’s pun­dits gave air time and cre­dence to elec­tion deniers and con­spir­a­cy the­o­rists, more famous­ly Rudy Giu­liani with hair dye stream­ing down his face.

The view­er base had to be fed what it want­ed to hear, that Trump real­ly won the elec­tion. The accu­sa­tions were absurd, includ­ing a claim that long-deceased Venezue­lan strong­man Hugo Chavez helped cre­ate Domin­ion, and that the com­pa­ny deployed a secret algo­rithm to take Trump’s votes and give them to Biden. Under fire from Fox, the com­pa­ny took a painful busi­ness hit, and its employ­ees endured a mul­ti­tude of threats.

In prepar­ing its case, Domin­ion dis­cov­ered and dis­closed what Fox brass were say­ing to each oth­er back­stage. “Just watched Giu­liani press con­fer­ence: stu­pid and dam­ag­ing,” Rupert Mur­doch said in one email. In anoth­er, “Ter­ri­ble stuff dam­ag­ing every­body I fear – Prob­a­bly hurt­ing us, too.”

In pri­vate, top-rat­ed host Tuck­er Carl­son was pro­fess­ing to hate Trump, and warn­ing of dam­age to the Fox News “brand.” “With Trump behind it, an alter­na­tive like News­max could be dev­as­tat­ing to us,” he said in an email.

On the air, how­ev­er, Carl­son con­tin­ued to hint at con­spir­a­cies. A notable crank, lawyer Sid­ney Pow­ell, field­ed a ques­tion from Fox host Maria Bar­tiro­mo: “Sid­ney, I want to ask you about these algo­rithms and Domin­ion soft­ware.” On Fox Busi­ness, host Lou Dobbs – a KING5 alum­nus – was spread­ing the rumors.

Domin­ion had a steep hill to climb in its defama­tion suit against Fox. Under terms of the Supreme Court’s sem­i­nal 1964 deci­sion in New York Times v. Sul­li­van, the com­pa­ny had to prove that alle­ga­tions on Fox were of “reck­less dis­re­gard of its fal­si­ty or whether it was true or false”” as well as the prod­uct of “actu­al malice.”

The plain­tiff did a remark­able job, and leaked much of its dam­ag­ing evi­dence before the sched­uled tri­al date this week. How much more is going to get aired, Fox exec­u­tives must have asked them­selves. The judge in Delaware ruled that Fox broad­casts were, in fact, false. Truth could not be used as a defense.

As well, the net­work faced the prospect of hav­ing Rupert Mur­doch, Tuck­er Carl­son and Lau­ra Ingra­ham on the wit­ness stand, explain­ing the con­tra­dic­tion between their pri­vate state­ments and pub­lic slan­ders. All that and under oath to tell the truth. The tri­al would have brought out con­flict between Fox’s prime time pun­dits and what’s left of the divi­sion that is sup­posed to be report­ing news.

The pric­etag for spar­ing the wit­ness stand, and escap­ing account­abil­i­ty, came to $787.50 mil­lion. “The truth mat­ters: Lies have con­se­quences,” Dominion’s lawyer Justin Nel­son said out­side the court­room. “Over two years ago, a tor­rent of lies swept Domin­ion and elec­tion offi­cials across Amer­i­ca into an alter­na­tive uni­verse of con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries, caus­ing griev­ous harm to Domin­ion and the country.”

Fox is not off the hook. Anoth­er firm smeared after the 2020 elec­tion, Smaart­mat­ic, is suing Fox News for $2.7 bil­lion, with a tri­al date pending.

Fox News is pay­ing for dam­ag­ing democ­ra­cy and poi­son­ing the body pol­i­tics. It’s the cost of pan­der­ing rather than telling the truth.

As Fox chief exec­u­tive Suzanne Scott said in an email, “I can’t keep defend­ing these reporters who don’t under­stand our view­ers and how to han­dle stories “

Rupert Mur­doch can hope for hap­pi­er days. The nine­ty-two year-old patri­arch of FNC is about to be mar­ried for the fifth time.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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