Republicans fear being 'eaten' alive by the 'extremists and loons' they helped empower: columnist

Republicans fear being 'eaten' alive by the 'extremists and loons' they helped empower: columnist

According to a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems, what far-right Fox News pundits say on the air and what they are actually thinking can be two very different things. Dominion, the Washington Post reports, has uncovered actual e-mails and text messages that Fox News hosts like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity sent during the lame duck period of late 2020 and early 2021 — when attorney Sidney Powell and other allies of then-President Donald Trump were falsely claiming that Dominion's voting equipment was used to help now-President Joe Biden steal the election.

In those e-mails and texts, Fox News pundits acknowledge that Trump lawyers' claims of a stolen election were nonsense. And Dominion alleges that despite knowing the truth, Fox News shamelessly promoted the Big Lie anyway. Fox's attorneys, fighting the lawsuit, have maintained that the cable news outlet's hosts were simply asking questions in late 2020/early 2021 — not going out of their way to promote defamatory lies.

Defamation, under the standards the U.S. Supreme Court laid out in New York Times v. Sullivan in 1964, is extremely difficult to prove. Defamation, according to the late Chief Justice Earl Warren and his colleagues, must involve "actual malice."

READ MORE:Dominion just created an 'overwhelming' hurdle for Fox News: legal expert

Sloppy reporting and careless mistakes, according to the Sullivan standard, do not constitute actual malice. Nor does inflammatory rhetoric. And ironically, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his GOP allies in the Florida State Legislature are trying to weaken Sullivan’s protections for journalists at the same time that Fox News' lawyers are trying to use them for protection in a major lawsuit.

In an opinion column published on February 24, the Washington Post's Paul Waldman argues that Fox News — like House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California) — is being eaten alive by the very extremism it has been promoting.

Looking back on that lame duck period of late 2020/early 2021, Waldman recalls, "On air, Fox was spreading lies about supposed election fraud and bringing on guests without concern for their credibility, including Rudy Giuliani and GOP lawyer Sidney Powell. Meanwhile, Fox's stars and executives privately belittled those same people and the claims they were making…. At the same time, Fox News tried to suppress the truth. Reporters for the organization who corrected false claims were reprimanded and threatened."

Waldman notes some of the things that Fox News hosts said in private, according to Dominion. Hannity, for example, wrote that Giuliani was "acting like an insane person," and Carlson wrote, "Sidney Powell is lying."

READ MORE: Dominion filing is 'absolute nightmare fuel' for Fox News' lawyers: legal expert

The Post columnist argues, "These documents make clear not only that Fox News stars and executives think their audience is a bunch of half-wits, but also, that they live in fear that the audience will turn on them unless they tell viewers exactly what they want to hear regardless of the facts. Who taught that audience to believe conspiracy theories and to assume that any unwelcome information must be a sinister lie? Fox News, of course."

Similarly, Waldman emphasizes, McCarthy is afraid to be honest about the events of January 6, 2021 because he fears offending the MAGA conspiracy theorists he has been encouraging. But by doing so, according to Waldman, the House speaker is sending out a message that the GOP is comprised of "extremists and loons who are far more interested in the obsessions of a spectacularly unpopular ex-president than in the genuine problems the country faces."

"Like the trembling dissemblers of Fox News," Waldman laments, "McCarthy must feel that he has no choice: Feed the beast or be eaten by it. Winning the future is an idea they cannot latch on to because they are so frantic to survive one more day. Republican elites are not powerless. They helped make this mess and could nudge their base back toward reality if they chose. But they're too afraid to try."

READ MORE: 'They certainly deserve it': GOP strategist hopes Fox News defamation suit ends in favor of Dominion

Read Paul Waldman’s full Washington Post op-ed at this link.

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