Does Truth Matter? Do Lies Have Consequences?

When Trump was president, telling the truth was not upheld as the standard–HIS lies did not have consequences.  Trump was able to get away with lying 30,573 times during his presidency — averaging about 21 erroneous claims a day.  The lies were doggedly and faithfully documented by Daniel Dale and other fact checkers over the four years of his presidency and decried by millions of Americans, but believed by millions of other Americans. And the lies just kept on coming. Many of the lies Trump told were deeply consequential for Americans.

Dr. Birx and other members of Trump’s former pandemic task force, are finally telling us the back story about how Trump and others in his inner circle suppressed and silenced scientific information about the pandemic and how to prevent its spread, silencing the team that should have been informing Americans and pushing mis and dis information instead. Dr. Birx believes this resulted in some 450,000 unnecessary deaths from Covid-19.

We need an investigation and accountability for this travesty!

Even now with Trump off of Twitter, he is still pushing disinformation. Trump is currently making the surreal claim that the attack on the Capitol by his supporters was not combative or dangerous but was some sort of love fest with insurrectionists “hugging and kissing” the Capitol Police. We have all seen the video from January 6th. You cannot rewrite history.

One of Trump’s coconspirators, the platform that aided in the creation and sustenance of his alternate universe in which he was always doing the best, the greatest and the most wonderful things for America, was and still is Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. That platform and its hosts have consistently repeated and amplified Trump’s version of reality over and over again, creating an echo chamber in which the Trumpian version of reality was reinforced and believed by Trump supporters, conservative media, Trump’s communication team, his surrogates on TV, conservative radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and others, stirring an endless bubbling cauldron of fake news.

Conservative media has gotten away with outrageous lies, misinformation and disinformation. Their ability to lie without consequences is seriously damaging our country by dividing Americans into two groups of people: people who accept the truth and reality and people who believe the lies and reject reality.   Fox News has been a serial offender in the spread of disinformation.

This may be about to change.

Two Huge Defamation Cases Against Fox News

Dominion Voting Systems has filed a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News, saying the network spread false claims that the voting machine company was involved in voter fraud during the 2020 presidential election.

“Fox sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion in the process,” according to the lawsuit filed Friday in Delaware. “Fox endorsed, repeated, and broadcast a series of verifiably false yet devastating lies about Dominion,” the complaint says, including claims that the company’s software manipulated the results of the 2020 vote.

According to Dominion, some of its employees have faced harassment and even death threats over claims pushed by Fox News.

Dominion is seeking at least $1.6 billion in lost profits and enterprise value, plus more than $1 million in security expenses and expenses combatting disinformation. The company’s lawsuit asks for a jury trial.

Dominion has also filed defamation lawsuits against Trump ally and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, and Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, lawyers who worked with Trump on his post-election flurry of legal actions. The company is seeking $1.3 billion in damages from each of them.

Smartmatic, another voter machine company, sued Fox News in February for 2.7 billion as well as Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro, Fox hosts who repeatedly pushed lies about Trump winning the election when he lost it and spread false claims about altered vote counts because of allegedly manipulated voting machines. Both lawsuits say that Fox News profited from spreading disinformation that devastated the reputation and business of these two companies. Together they demand Fox pay 4.3 billion in damages.

Dominion was one of the largest manufacturers of voting machine equipment in the United States (not Venezuela, by-the-way). They supply voting machines to over 24 states in the U.S.  Their voting machines were used by states where Trump won the election in that state. They say they are bringing this lawsuit because truth should matter and lies should have consequences.

What is Defamation All About?

Defamation is a statement that injures a third party’s reputation. The tort of defamation includes both libel (written statements) and slander (spoken statements).

Proof of defamation requires:

  • [A] statement that is considered defamatory (injures a third party’s reputation). 
  • A published statement. (disseminated either written or spoken)
  • The statement caused injury. 
  • The statement must be false. 

In this case, the statement that injured these third parties, Dominion and Smartmatic. was that the voting machines they supplied were somehow rigged to make Trump lose. That lie was broadcast and repeated on massive platforms that influence public opinion. The injury to these two voter machine companies was loss of their good reputations and loss of profits. The damages are immense because these companies lost contracts to sell their voting machines worth billions of dollars as a result of the false information. This is a remarkably clear cut case. Defamation cases are usually hard to win but this one looks pretty darn strong.

The first defamation lawsuit brought by Smartmatic in February prompted Fox News to order hosts like Laura Ingraham to stop lying about the 2020 election. The lawsuit caused a Newsmax host to cut off Mike Lindell, the My Pillow Guy, from lying about the voting machines on air because every repetition of a defamatory statement can be the basis for another count in the complaint against the source of the misinformation. People like Laura Ingraham reversed course and stopped claiming Trump won the election when in fact he lost. These hosts had been saying the voting machines were rigged by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela to help Biden win– that disinformation was not only false but just plain nuts, which gets us to Sidney Powell’s cuckoo for coco puffs defense.

Sidney Powell’s “Who Would Believe Me?!” Defense

Sidney Powell, an attorney who represented Trump, is in deep trouble in these defamations cases because she kept screaming “fraud! fraud! fraud!” when the election was clean based on Trump’s own administration experts including AG Barr, Chris Krebs, head of cybersecurity. Lawyers including Sidney Powell are expected to tell the truth and are held to a higher level of factual integrity. She faces sanctions and the possibility of disbarment.

Powell has issued a statement that foreshadows her defense at trial. “Reasonable” people, she says, “would not accept her statements as “fact.” However, even after it was factually irrefutable that Biden won and the allegations about voting machines were baseless, she kept on screaming fraud and did so again at the Ellipse.

She seems to be alleging that she should not be held accountable for lying because her statements were sort of like a skit on Saturday Night Live. I guess her defense will be: “Come on! Who in their right mind would believe me when I said that Hugo Chavez was rigging voting machines?! The guy is dead! It was a ridiculous claim! What a joke!” In addition, her defense incorporates a diss of Trump voters. She is saying if Trump voters believed her they are not “reasonable people”.

Powell is a lawyer and she represented the president at the time she made these statements. She went on every show she could get on and repeated that lie over and over and she did it again at the Ellipse before thousands of furious Trump supporters who then stormed the Capitol. They sure as heck believed what she said. As an attorney, she knew better. She was not doing stand up comedy. Many Trump supporters believed this garbage she and others spewed. Then again, these folks are buying into conspiracy theories with QAnon and believe the lies disgorged by Fox “news” every day.  She’s right about these folks not being reasonable people…I’ll give her that.

The Truth About the Election Would Come Out

As part of the proof that would be presented at trial, assuming these cases are not settled, the truth about election integrity in the 2020 election would probably be presented. That could be good for the country. 2020 was NOT an election mired in vote fraud. It was a clean election. Probably one reason it was so clean was that Trump was predicting fraud and Secretaries of State and election officials across the country were on high alert to protect against and stop anything that even seemed the least bit shady. The places where votes were counted were overseen by representatives of both parties and the counting was videotaped. Having a jury trial in this matter would do the country good because it might force the Trump supporting public to finally accept reality. What happened to Lou Dobbs should also serve as a cautionary tale.

Why Lou Dobbs Got Sacked

Lou Dobbs made the mistake of continuing the Big Lie on his program after the Smartmatic lawsuit was filed. His program aired on the Fox Business channel and was the highest rated program on Fox Business.

Fox News Media cancelled “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” benching the business network’s top-rated host… a day after Dobbs and Fox News were named in a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit over false claims about the integrity of the 2020 election.

Unlike some of the other hosts on the entertainment side of Fox, Dobbs’ show is on the business side of the network and that probably accounted for Dobbs’ abrupt departure. The business community cannot get away with the repetition of lies the way the entertainment side of Fox has managed to do. Fox hosts will probably be portrayed as entertainers when this case is tried in court.

Lou Dobbs was supposed to be informing the business community. The business community relies on facts to make good business decisions. Unfortunately, many Fox watching Trump supporting viewers seem to want the Fox hosts to entertain them and tell them what they want to believe is true even if it is disinformation or misinformation. Fox hosts like Ingraham, Hannity, Carlson and understand they are feeding the wishes of the Trumpian base; they are paid big bucks to do that. The hosts claim they are providing the viewers with the entertainment they seek. Way too many Americans who support Trump and the GOP think Fox hosts are telling them the truth when they are not.  If these defamation cases are successful could it force Fox to stop being a fountain of mis and dis information? Groups like Media Matters for America have weakened hosts like Lou Dobbs by explaining the damage he and other hosts are doing to the companies that sponsor these shows. In case of Lou Dobb, Media Matters helped to position him for a fall from grace, but it took Smartmatic’s lawsuit to finish him off.

What Will Happen to Fox?

Fox hosts have been a fountain of mis and dis information for many years. How do you get a supposed news channel to tell its viewers the truth instead of being a mouthpiece for right wing propaganda? In our country we have a First Amendment right to free speech which means the government cannot go after Fox to force hosts like Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity to tell the truth. He and other hosts will claim these are  their opinions and they have a First Amendment right to express them. Most politicians cannot sue Fox for defamation because they are public figures and as such they are fair game for attacks by opinion hosts. But these defamation lawsuits brought by Dominion and Smartmatic could force Fox to stop being such a cesspool for fake news.

Fox allowed extensive fake news after the election to try to hold onto Trump supporter as viewers. Trump supporters were mad at Fox for its early call of Arizona for Joe Biden. Even though Fox continued the Big Lie, many irate Trump supporters gravitated to more right wing platforms like Newsmax and OANN. CNN and MSNBC have also gained viewers.

Fox News Channel, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corp, has dominated the rating books since the start of the 21st-century, but over the first two weeks of 2021, it has averaged fewer viewers throughout the day than both CNN and MSNBC, and the numbers have been especially stark since the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the subsequent impeachment of President Trump. (Forbes)

Over the first two weeks of 2021, Fox averaged nearly 800,000 fewer total day viewers than MSNBC, and around 1 million fewer than CNN, according to Mediate, and every day since Jan. 4, Fox has trailed both MSNBC and CNN in the crucial age 25-54 demographic. (Forbes)

Although Trump has threatened to start up his own rival platform to best Fox and Twitter, Trump’s reputational damage and loss of donor support has made that possibility less likely. Trump will soon be facing a slew of lawsuits both criminal and civil now that he cannot hide behind the shield of the presidency. He has lost the power of the presidency to give gifts to his buddies and punish people who thwart his will. Lawsuits will keep Trump busy for a long time. Fox could decide it makes better business sense to be a tamer more truthful version of its former self.  If this is the result of these two defamation lawsuits, it will be a huge win for our country.

 

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