How Fox News 'knowingly feeds viewers lies' with its 'cynical pander-for-profit' model: conservative
One of the major legal ironies of 2023 is the fact that far-right Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his allies are trying to weaken the protections of New York Times v. Sullivan at a time when Fox News — which has been aggressively promoting DeSantis — is using those protections to fight a $1.6 billion lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems. New York Times v. Sullivan was the 1964 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously agreed on what does and doesn't constitute defamation.
According to Chief Justice Earl Warren (a Republican appointee of President Dwight D. Eisenhower) and eight of his colleagues, plaintiffs must show "actual malice" in a defamation lawsuit. Sloppy reporting or inflammatory comments do not fit the Sullivan standard for "actual malice" — a standard that, according to countless journalism professors, has served everyone from the liberal/progressive Mother Jones to the conservative National Review well over the years.
DeSantis and Florida State Rep. Alex Andrade (a far-right MAGA Republican) are trying to make it easier to prove defamation, and Andrade is critical of the Warren Court's Sullivan ruling. If they had their way, a company like Dominion would have an easier time suing Fox News and other right-wing media outlets.
READ MORE: Civil libertarians slam Ron DeSantis' 'brazen and blatantly unconstitutional' war on press freedom
Defamation, under Sullivan, is very difficult to prove. Dominion alleges that Fox News defamed the company by promoting the totally debunked conspiracy theory that its voting equipment was used to help now-President Joe Biden steal the 2020 election from Donald Trump — a false claim made by then-Trump attorney Sidney Powell. And Fox News' attorneys have maintained that it was simply asking questions in late 2020 and early 2021 and was not accusing Dominion of anything.
But Dominion, in its case, has presented some incredibly damning evidence: text messages and e-mails from Fox News pundits (including Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson) who acknowledged that the conspiracy claims about Dominion were total garbage but promoted them anyway.
Never Trump conservative Amanda Carpenter, in a scathing article published by The Bulwark on February 28, argues that Dominion's evidence shows Fox News to be highly unprincipled in its pursuit of ratings.
"A pair of court filings released Monday, (February 27) and last week by Dominion reveals frantic discussions inside the network about losing viewers by correctly calling Arizona for Joe Biden in the 2020 election," Carpenter explains. "Leaders at Fox then hushed truth-tellers and latched on to election conspiracy theories to lure viewers back."
READ MORE: Fox News lawsuits will expose the 'dishonest' network and threaten 'alt-reality media': conservative
The anti-Trump conservative continues, "Dominion must meet a high standard to win its $1.6 billion case. But the filings are already proving something significant, beyond the shadow of a doubt: that Fox casually and knowingly feeds its viewers lies. Dominion has documented how their leading voices don’t believe what they say on the air. How they are afraid to tell you what they really think. Therein lies the peril of Fox's pander-for-profit model. The filings tell the story."
Fox News has long had a hard news division and an opinion division. And the right-wing cable news outlet had some accurate reporting on Election Night 2020, when veteran reporter Chris Stirewalt called Arizona for Biden before their competitors. But Trump supporters were furious with Stirewalt, and Fox News subsequently fired him. Ironically, Stirewalt lost his job for doing it well and scooping the competition.
Dominion's lawsuit, Carpenter notes, shows that Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson were worried that the hard news division’s reporting was offending pro-Trump viewers. But privately, Carlson said, "Sidney Powell is lying, by the way. I caught her. It’s insane." And Fox News' Laura Ingraham said of Powell, "Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy (Giuliani)."
Carpenter explains, "Network Chairman Rupert Murdoch similarly testified that he saw it as 'trying to straddle the line between spewing conspiracy theories on one hand, yet calling out the fact they are actually false on the other.' Except that the substantive 'calling out' was kept private. While Fox gave license to its most-watched hosts — primarily Carlson, (Laura) Ingraham, Hannity, Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro, and Maria Bartiromo — to elevate conspiracy theorists and lend credibility to guests such as Sidney Powell, they revealed their true thoughts only to each other."
It remains to be seen whether Dominion will win or lose its defamation case against Fox News. But whatever ultimately happens, Carpenter argues, the lawsuit has brought attention to Fox News' lack of ethics.
"There's a big market for media that lies to its audience under the guise of reporting the news," the Never Trumper writes. "This case will decide, in part, whether those media put themselves at risk by embracing contempt and deception as a ratings strategy. Regardless of the outcome, the filings show how cynical the model is."
READ MORE: A 'demonic force: Bombshell text messages reveal how Tucker Carlson really felt about Trump
Read Amanda Carpenter’s full article for The Bulwark at this link.
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