AFTER THE BELL
The Fox News $787.5-million settlement with Dominion is a victory for a precious commodity – Truth
There are consequences in a democracy for a ‘news media’ outlet when it knowingly lies in the service of transparent propaganda and libels a company, organisation or individual in the process.
In 2006, my wife and I moved to Dallas, Texas, from Johannesburg. I was with Reuters at the time and a big plank of my new beat was to cover the Religious Right, a key support base for a Republican Party that was increasingly tilting rightward.
So, one of the things I did was tune in periodically to Fox News to gain some insight into the conservative US narrative. My wife was generally disinterested in my “homework”, but we both enjoyed watching The Daily Show and its spin-off, The Colbert Report. The latter hilariously featured Stephen Colbert playing a fictional right-wing anchorman that mocked Bill O’Reilly of Fox News.
One evening not too long after we rocked up in Dallas I came home to find my wife watching O’Reilly’s show on Fox News. She turned to me and said: “This guy is funny, but he’s not as funny as Colbert.”
When I pointed out that it was not meant to be satire like Colbert but was in fact the Fox News network, she was aghast, saying something along the lines of: “But what he’s saying is utterly ridiculous!”
That was indeed the case and Fox News has subsequently become even more ridiculous, a feat that I did not think was possible back in 2006 when Donald Trump was still just an obnoxious billionaire and reality TV show host.
Which brings me to the blockbuster out-of-court settlement last week between the cable “news” network and Dominion Voting Systems, which had been seeking a whopping $1.6-billion in damages for the malicious and outlandish lies that Fox knowingly spouted about the company and the 2020 US presidential election.
In the end, the parties reached an eleventh-hour agreement just before opening statements were set to begin that will see Fox pay $787.5-million to Dominion. The settlement saved Rupert Murdoch, the 92-year-old chief executive of Fox, and the network’s top stars such as Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro the embarrassment of testifying. While $787.5-million will hardly break the parent company of Fox News, it is an admission that it lied about the election.
What had already come out was embarrassing enough and demonstrated the utter contempt the network has for its viewers and the truth.
A breathtaking legal filing in February from Dominion, which produces electronic voting hardware and software, laid bare the depths of the depravity to which Fox News and its hosts had sunk. The filing, based on internal Fox communications, showed beyond reasonable doubt that the stars of Fox and its management knew that the unhinged claims about the election being “stolen” from Trump and Dominion’s role in the “steal” were a steaming pile of elephant dung.
And yet Fox, terrified about losing viewers it had ginned up for decades with its outrage and grievance, continued to air crackpot claims from the likes of lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, who maintained, straight-faced and without a shred of evidence, that Dominion had rigged its voting machines to prevent Trump’s second term.
Subsequent evidence that the judge forced Fox to cough up included the uncomfortable fact that its fact-checking and research division had looked into the conspiracy theories that Dominion had rigged the election and found them to be false. But that did not deter the network from airing such views.
It was as if Fox had become a grotesque parody of Colbert’s old persona, whose viewers were always in on the joke that he did not believe a word he said in that satirical role. But the consequences included the violent insurrection of 6 January at the US Capitol, and that was no joke.
Dominion claimed that this outrageous support of Trump’s election lies — which the network knew to be false — had damaged the company’s reputation, lost it contracts and left its employees vulnerable to harassment from Trump devotees.
While it would have been entertaining to have seen the trial proceed and watch Carlson squirm when confronted with irrefutable evidence that he sent a text to his producer on 6 January 2021 in which he referred to Trump as a “demonic force”, an exorcism of sorts has been performed.
There are consequences in a democracy for a “news media” outlet when it knowingly lies in the service of transparent propaganda and libels a company, organisation or individual in the process.
Fox News has been held to account for its lies — $787.5-million is not pocket change. This is a victory for a precious commodity: truth.
And it’s too bad that Dominion is a privately held company, because its share price would surely have soared last week. But Staple Street, the New York-based private equity group that in 2018 acquired a 76.2% stake in Dominion for a little over $38-million, just saw a windfall of cash flow to its investment that is 20 times the amount it paid. That’s a pretty hefty return on its investment.
Meanwhile, Fox News continues to spew nonsense, and Tucker Carlson can at times be as funny to watch as the old Colbert when he works himself up into a lather, with a contorted face that makes him appear as if he’s straining to have a bowel movement. But now we know that, like Colbert in his former persona, Carslon often doesn’t believe anything he says. The sad thing is that many Fox viewers are still not in on the joke. DM/BM