On the 18th of April 2023, it was announced that Fox News and its parent company, Fox Corp had reached an out-of-court settlement with Dominion Voting Systems. It meant that the long-anticipated court battle for which news media from all over the world had gathered to relay a blow-by-blow account of high-profile slugfest had been averted, literally at the last minute. The settlement required that Fox pay to Dominion, the plaintiff, the sum of $787,500,000.
Though this amount was about half of what the plaintiff had prayed the court to award to it in damages, it amounted to about thirty times the annual revenue of Dominion Voting Systems, and a significant part of the annual profit of Fox Corp.
Justin Nelson, lawyer for the plaintiff was succinct in his summary of what had transpired; ‘The amount represents vindication and accountability…Lies have consequences.’ The CEO of Dominion, John Poulos added: ‘Fox has admitted to telling lies about Dominion that caused enormous damage to my company…Truthful reporting in the media is essential to our democracy.’
Murdoch, through Fox, enabled the glib voices of Carlson and Hannity to feed lies to Americans daily, knowing that they were telling lies
The statement released by Fox, in the aftermath of what was effectively a capitulation and an admission of guilt, was uncharacteristically mealy-mouthed, but conveyed no remorse, or intention to change.
‘We acknowledge the court’s ruling finding certain claims about Dominion to be false…This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards…’
How exactly paying a settlement of more than three quarters of a billion dollars for telling lies to the public using the medium of the most widely watched television network in the USA reflects ‘commitment to the highest journalistic standards’ is not explained in any detail.
The story of Fox and Dominion Voting Systems summarises, in its essence, what is advertised as a political problem, but which is really a moral problem, that has been afflicting America for several years now. Fox News, owned by Fox Corp, an organisation founded by Australian- American Rupert Murdoch, is viewed in more households within America than any other News network. Its drawing power does not travel beyond America though, and CNN, its alter ego, has faraway a larger viewing audience universally. The preoccupation of ‘middle America’ with Fox News is evidence that with News, with Guns, and with some other aspects of a quaint national character which often presents a mystery to outsiders, America is an insular entity, and a world onto itself.
Fox, and its owners, the Murdoch family, did a lot to facilitate the emergence of Donald Trump as President of the USA in 2017.
The relationship between President Donald Trump and Fox News was a special one. During his Presidency, Trump ‘owned’ the medium. The audience was in his pocket. From the White House, he would regularly unload his views and vent his bile on the nation, occupying much of the space on the popular Morning Talk Shows on Fox. The power of his Fox platform was rivalled only by his early morning vituperations on Twitter.
Americans waited for the morning run of ‘Fox and Friends’, where Trump was likely to be interviewed live from the Oval Office, just as they did for his morning tweets, to find out who or what had aggravated the President through his sleep-deprived night. Tucker Carlson, the Talk Show superstar, Hannity, and a host of other presenters, male and female, round the clock, dwelt on Trump-related themes, skewering anyone opposing his views to smithereens.
In the aftermath of the Dominion debacle, heads are already beginning to roll at Fox. Tucker Carlson is resigning. More resignations may follow.
Dominion is a company that sells voting machines. Its machines were used in several states during the 2020 elections. As it began to emerge that Donald Trump had lost the election, Fox News led a concerted effort by Trump loyalists to destroy the credibility of the election, claiming that Dominion had committed election fraud for Joe Biden of the Democratic Party, by tweaking its machines’ software and algorithms to alter vote counts. It also alleged that Dominion bribed officials to use its machines for the election, and that it was related to another company involved in rigging elections in Venezuela.
None of these claims were true. Part of the compelling evidence that would have come out at the public trial, had it been allowed to proceed, was that the prosecution got hold of emails and other internal Fox communications that showed that Tucker Carlson and other Fox superstars knew they were telling lies, even as they were broadcasting the ‘Stop the Steal’ message and firing up fury in Americans. The invasion of the Capitol, the deaths that followed it, and the unending rift that has run through the body politic of America are some of the consequences of that lie.
Can three-quarters of a billion dollars pay for the damage that has been done to the soul of America by lies fed into the ears of its most gullible citizens by Hannity, Tucker Carlson and other Fox notables, enabled by Rupert Murdoch?
Murdoch can afford the money. That’s not the issue.
But what about the injury done to the moral soul of America? Is The Truth no longer feasible, desirable, or necessary, in the Press, and in the life of the world’s biggest superpower? By what ethical rules are the citizens to conduct their lives? What are they to teach their children?
Murdoch, through Fox, enabled the glib voices of Carlson and Hannity to feed lies to Americans daily, knowing that they were telling lies. Even now, a substantial part of public and political discourse, and the battle to control people’s minds, is based on deliberate, subtle, and not-so-subtle lies.
How America will find its way back to any semblance of ethical personal and public life when the ‘Free Press’ that generates the news and commentary consumed by its most vulnerable citizens is in the hands of such people is a question that should cause worry.