Dominion Voting Systems is suing Fox News for defamation, claiming Fox News gave election deniers working for then-President Donald Trump the opportunity to claim Dominion’s voting machines facilitated cheating in vote counting, without which Trump would have won re-election, and that Fox News personalities knew there was no evidence of fraud. Whatever damage Fox News did to Dominion’s reputation is nothing compared to the damage it inflicted on itself. Fox News must do everything it can to restore not only Dominion’s reputation but its own as well.
In the weeks following the 2020 presidential election, Fox News commentators had on their shows Trump’s attorneys and supporters, including Rudy Giuliani and Sydney Powell, who used their airtime to denounce Dominion Voting Systems for allegedly rigging their equipment to undercount votes for Trump while overcounting votes for Joe Biden. Had the machines been programmed honestly and accurately, the election deniers charged, they would have shown Trump won re-election. The election deniers’ conclusions went virtually unchallenged on the air.
But evidence collected by Dominion shows that Fox News hosts privately expressed disbelief and contempt for Giuliani and Powell. Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Laura Ingraham all rejected privately rejected their claims in the most scathing possible terms. For example (as reported at: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/16/business/media/fox-dominion-lawsuit.htm):
- Tucker Carlson said, “Sidney Powell is lying, by the way…It’s insane.
- Laura Ingraham agreed. “Sidney Powell,” she said, “is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy.”
- Sean Hannity called Sidney Powell a f**king lunatic.”
- Rupert Murdoch, the Head of the ox News Corporation, said claims made by Giuliani and Powell were “really crazy stuff,” and “terrible stuff damaging everybody.” With his approval, one of his top aides circulated an editorial published in the Murdoch-owned New York Post criticizing Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election results.
So why the disconnect between what Fox news personalities were saying privately and what they were allowing election deniers to say publicly without significantly challenging them? The answer, says Dominion, is that Fox News was more concerned with profit than truth.
Of especial concern to Fox News was the defection of viewers to Newsmax and One America News following Fox News’s decision to project Joe Biden as the winner of Arizona’s electoral vote on election night. Eager to win back defecting Trump supporters and prevent further defections, Fox News encouraged the broadcast of more stories supporting the claims of Trump, Giuliani, and Powell, while dismissing Fox News editors, including Chris Stirewalt and Bill Sammon, who had spoken out against what they considered to be untruths in Fox’s coverage.
How this case will be resolved remains to be seen. Fox News says it was merely reporting, as news, the accusations of election fraud made by Trump, Giuliani, and Powell and can not be held liable for defamation. But some legal analysists who’ve examined the evidence Dominion has produced to date have expressed amazement at the sheer quality and quantity of facts Dominion has amassed. They say Dominion’s case looks exceptionally strong and may and that its evidence may be able to show the “actual malice” required to win a defamation case of this sort.
But whether the evidence meets the “actual malice” test demanded by the Supreme Court, Fox News must, for the sake of its own reputation, make amends. It should publicly admit what the evidence makes obvious—that its personalities were reporting, or allowing on their shows to be reported, accusations they believed to be false, made by people whose integrity and even sanity they questioned. Rather than hiding behind legal technicalities, it should do what is right and moral. Moreover, in doing so, Fox will increase the credibility of its future reporting as well.)
And those who see Fox News as an antidote to the “liberal media” must also insist it repair its reputation. Conservatives as well as honest liberal critics frequently condemn the “liberal media” for their own attempts to slant the news. Among the more egregious examples of liberal bias in recent memory were the New York Times’ infamous 6/14/17 editorial blaming Sarah Palin’s rhetoric for the attempted murder of a congresswoman (https://www.wsj.com/articles/sarah-palin-the-new-york-times-and-the-oops-defense-11644457557)and the refusal of CNN and other media outlets to downplay evidence that he Steele Dossier accusing Trump of collusion with Russia was false (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/11/23/cnn-steele-dossier-reckoning-stelter/).
Intellectual integrity and consistency require conservatives demand of Fox the same high standards they demand of the “liberal media” as well. Fox cannot claim to be “fair and balanced” unless it holds itself to the high standards necessary to produce true fairness and balance in its reporting.
Was this attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably. In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a nine-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized crosshairs.
“Sidney Powell is lying by the way. I caught her. It’s insane,” Mr. Carlson wrote to Ms. Ingraham on Nov. 18, 2020.
Ms. Ingraham responded: “Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy.”
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.