Robert Reich: Will Fox News be detoxed?

Robert Reich: Will Fox News be detoxed?
Jeanine Pirro, Image via Wikimedia Commons

The $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News — which starts Monday, with jury selection tomorrow — has uncovered a trove of damning text messages and emails showing that Fox News hosts like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham knowingly lied to their viewers about false claims of voter fraud during the 2020 presidential election. A few weeks ago, Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis ruled that the evidence made it “CRYSTAL clear that none of the statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true,” and that the statements from Fox News that are challenged by Dominion constitute defamation “per se.” Yesterday, Judge Davis said he was imposing a sanction on Fox News and would very likely start an investigation into whether Fox’s legal team had deliberately withheld evidence, scolding the lawyers for not being “straightforward” with him. The rebuke came after lawyers for Dominion revealed a number of instances in which Fox’s lawyers had not turned over evidence in a timely manner. The judge also said he would likely appoint a special master to investigate Fox’s handling of discovery of documents and the question of whether Fox had inappropriately withheld details about Rupert Murdoch’s role as a corporate officer of Fox News.

Doesn’t look good for Fox.

But one key group of people haven’t heard the revelations about Fox News: Fox News viewers. There’s been a near-total blackout of the story on Fox News, and Fox host Howard Kurtz has confirmed that Fox higher-ups have issued orders to ignore the story. Fox has even rejected paid ads that would have alerted viewers about the lawsuit. Other Rupert Murdoch-owned properties, like the New York Post, are also keeping their readers in the dark. Fox News has even filed a motion arguing that the court should maintain the confidentiality of discovery material already redacted by the network, shielding it from the public.

So today’s Office Hours question: If the court finds that Fox News defamed Dominion, will Fox viewers ever know the network knowingly lied to them about the 2020 presidential election? And will the judgment force Fox News (and other news media) to change the way they cover the news in the future?

What do you think?


My two cents:

IMHO, most of you nailed it. As long as there’s big money to be made by selling lies, weaponizing Trump viciousness, and peddling conspiracy theories, Fox News will continue to do it. The network will appeal any verdict that goes against it, and even if it ultimately loses on the law it will negotiate damages lower than $1.6 billion — and quickly make it up in future revenue. Rupert Murdoch doesn’t give a fig about the public interest or even the opinion of most of the public as long as he can continue to inject profitable toxins into the brains of his viewers (and readers). And he has rounded up sufficiently venal and unprincipled hosts — Tucker Carlson et al — who will also sell dangerous lies as long as they make big bucks doing so.

Advertisers don’t care, either, as long as Fox News viewers continue to watch the network’s appalling content.

I very much like Marilyn Anderson’s idea that, if Dominion wins the lawsuit, part of any settlement should specify that Fox News makes a statement of transparency about the litigation they lost and why.

But the basic question here is whether lawmakers are willing — and courts are willing to let them — impose any special responsibilities on cable networks, as they did with the old “fairness doctrine” as once applied to broadcasters who utilized the public spectrum. I doubt it.

Wish I could be more optimistic about this, but profiting off of dangerous lies has become a big business in America. This is one of the core challenges to the future of democracy.

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