It would have been glorious. Can’t you just imagine the theater? Picture the big mouths of the Fox empire on the witness stand, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Rupert Murdoch and the lessor lights being cross examined. Answering questions from lawyers for Dominion Voting Systems. Knowing that the judge had already determined that the Fox personalities had lied about Dominion. Knowing that emails they and other Fox employees wrote, released to the public in various pre-trial motions, showed that the Fox operation was anything but a traditional news organization with a goal of informing the public as to the truth of events. Rather, the evidence demonstrated that the self-named “Fox News Channel” is a sham, pursuing ratings and the loyalty of its right-wing audience at the expense of all else.
We’ve seen plenty. But we will be denied seeing the next act of this long running drama. Dominion Voting Systems filed a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News for pushing false accusations that the voting company had rigged the 2020 election. The trial was set to last six weeks. But just after the swearing in of the 12-person jury in the Wilmington, Delaware courtroom, before the lawyers could make their opening statements, Judge Eric Davis announced a settlement had been reached.
Lawyers for Dominion say the settlement calls for Fox to pay them $787.5 million. Following the announcement of the settlement, Dominion’s CEO John Poulos talked to reporters outside the courthouse, “The truth matters. Lies have consequences,” he said. And added that “Fox has admitted to telling lies about Dominion”.
The settlement amounts to about one-third of Fox’s net income in 2021. About one-quarter of its cash on hand.
Dominion has also sued Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell for making false accusations of election fraud that defamed the company after the 2020 election. Both of those lawsuits are ongoing.
Three quarters of a billion dollars is a lot of money for many people. But not to Fox. One might hope the settlement sends a message to the company about truthfulness, integrity, and the significant role journalists should play in our society. But I don’t think for a minute Fox will get that message. I think the powers that are inside Fox will just take this outcome, expensive though it might be, and use it to calculate the cost of business going forward. If lies will be profitable in the future, then lie they will.
Fox didn’t face the cameras in Delaware. It did issue a statement:
“We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems. We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false. 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.”Fox News Release
The acknowledgement that the court found it made false statements strikes me as well short of an admission. And it’s certainly not an apology. The statement about “FOX’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards” is enough to make one choke. In reading the statement, CNN’s Jake Tapper almost did, saying, it’s “Difficult to say with a straight face.”
Without a trial, we’ll never see Murdock, Carlson, and Hannity, and Laura Ingraham, Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro and their producers and writers confronted with emails they wrote which conflict with statements they were making on the air. That could be considered the actual malice Dominion would most likely have to prove at trial.
And it appears none of these highly paid superstar liars will have to say one word on air to the people in the audience they deceived. That audience, not the brightest by any means, will be none for the wiser. Six hours after the settlement was announced, the story was prominently featured on most web sites. Even Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal. It was buried at the bottom on the Fox page.
A trial would have shown the public, at least those interested in paying attention, how badly they had been deceived. Perhaps it is dreaming on my part, but I hoped a trial would change the minds of a few of the many people who believe what they hear on Fox. That opportunity is now lost. And we shall be the poorer for it.