Fox’s settlement of the defamation case brought by Dominion Voting Systems comes as a great disappointment to anyone interested in truthful, accurate and fair journalism.
For those who stand against demagoguery and ignorance — the stock-in-trade in the journalistic Potemkin village that is Fox News — the chance to see Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Maria Bartiromo (among others) squirm on the courtroom stand would have been a great consolation. Having them admit their dishonesty and hypocrisy under the aggressive questioning of the brilliant Dominion legal team would have gone far to correct the public record for those who still cling to Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election.
As of this writing, full terms of the settlement have not been disclosed. Certainly, the $787.5 million that Fox reportedly will pay will be welcomed by Dominion, which asked for $1.6 billion. But here are a few suggestions that would have been helpful to everyone else:
- have each host say on the air that they lied and misrepresented the truth about that election.
- have them say that they routinely did so to pander to their audiences’ demands, chasing ratings, no matter how irrational those demands were.
- have them say that they, in fact, repudiate Donald J. Trump and all he stands for and that they hope he is convicted of the various crimes for which he stands accused.
- have them urge the man to never run again and say they will speak only ill of him in any future commentaries, on the air or off.
Ideally, the hosts would make these statements while wearing signs around their necks that say “I am a liar.” And they would do so during each show for a month. Such repetition – perhaps matching the repetition of their untruths – may be required for the message to sink in with the Fox audience.
In addition, Fox owner Rupert Murdoch would publicly apologize for his refusal to rein in the dishonest impulses of his staff and he should commit to turn Fox News into a genuine news source after this month of public shaming. The new Fox would be recast into a true fair and balanced entity, not a mouthpiece for the partisan biases of any political party or racist right-wing group in the United States.
The new Fox would be staffed by decent, fair-minded journalists and commentators. They would reject support of dictators far and wide, domestic and foreign. And, in the new Fox, commentary would be the least of its offerings. Instead, straight reporting would fill the airwaves for all but an hour or so a night — with none of the aforementioned commentators on board.
Does any of this seem unreasonable, in light of the potent influence that Fox had in the rise of Trump and his continuing support? Is it unreasonable to demand such contrition for the outlet’s role in leading up to the potential overthrow of the government on that infamous Jan. 6, its spreading of untruth at the behest and in the service of Trump, its feeding of misinformation to the mob and to the broader electorate among its viewers?
Such terms, of course, would be impossible. Indeed, Fox’s statement about the settlement conspicuously avoided any detailed admissions, other than to say “We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.” Then, Fox added the gaslighting and ludicrous sentence: “This settlement reflects FOX’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.”
For those who believed the election falsehoods, it will be all too easy to dismiss the Dominion settlement as a bow to pressure from the Deep State. They likely will gin up some conspiracy theory to buttress such beliefs.
Fox owed Dominion an enormous amount for its perfidy. But it owes far more to the American public, to the preservation of democracy at home and abroad, and to our system of government. The outlet is responsible for a host of woes that it had the opportunity to correct with at least some form of public contrition. It failed in even that.