New evidence in the Dominion lawsuit was released to the public on February 27th. This evidence against Fox will make it next to impossible for Fox to prevail in the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit. In his testimony Rupert Murdoch threw hosts under the bus to try to save Fox from potential ruin. Murdoch is trying to differentiate the Fox company from certain Fox hosts in order to limit the damage he knows is coming.
Fox Hosts Knew the Truth, So Did Murdoch and Everyone Else Over There
In depositions newly released to the public we read Rupert Murdoch’s testimony under oath that he and the hosts and executives at Fox all secretly knew that Biden had won a free and fair election but they knowingly allowed their prime time hosts with millions of devoted followers–Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro, Maria Bartiromo, Tucker Carlson and other hosts– to endorse and push the Big Lie over and over and over again to their viewers. Murdoch admitted they did it “for the green“, the money. They did it to keep viewers from rejecting Fox as their “go to” platform for information. The motive was clear from Murdoch’s testimony. “[W]e need to be careful about … pissing off the viewers.” So they created and did their best to sustain a parallel universe in which Trump had won the election he had lost.
This parallel universe is still being brought to you by Rupert Murdoch and Fox news hosts (along with others like OAN and Newsmax- also being sued for defamation and likely to lose just as Fox is likely to lose). These so called news sources were afraid to tell Trump’s snowflake supporters the truth because the truth would piss them off. After the election as Trump kept repeating the Big Lie, Fox at first gingerly began to pivot to the truth, but devoted Trump supporters responded by gravitating to OAN and Newsmax because those platforms were still giving them the alternate reality they craved. Fox then caved and returned to pushing the Big Lie to keep their viewers from getting mad at them for telling them the truth.
Football Analogy: Try This Idea Out
Imagine for a minute that you are watching your favorite football team play a team you hate. The game is close. You really want your team to win. But in the final moments, the other team manages a Hail Mary pass and runs the ball into the endzone winning the game in the final few seconds of play. Now imagine that the Fox news desk reports that your team won instead of telling the viewers the truth–that your team lost. Let’s pretend Fox is contradicted by other news teams and newspapers but Fox keeps claiming that the wrong football team won. Then they take it even further. They start endorsing a conspiracy theory that the TV sets that everyone watched the game on were rigged. They endorse a crazy idea that that deep fakes were used to alter the TV images and change the outcome. What everyone thought they saw on TV was not what really happened because the TVs were tampered with by Hugo Chavez.
Crazy you say? Sure is. But that’s the crazy that we have been living in and still are living in.
Now imagine that millions of people like you who saw their preferred football team lose and wanted to believe their team won instead, also began to believe that their TV sets were to blame because they were magically rigged to alter the images on the field as the game was being played. This conspiracy theory then becomes a self perpetuating myth. Millions decide their sets are rigged to change the images they see because the Fox news hosts keep saying things like “Well, we might never know if these TVs are rigged or not and because of that we just cannot know who really won the game when our favorite team is playing.”
What happens next? Millions of angry TV watchers throw out their TV sets and millions of TVs can’t be sold in stores across the country because deluded people refuse to buy them anymore claiming they are rigged. TV viewers storm Best Buy in anger and trash the TV section. The TV companies sue Fox for defamation because they are losing billions of dollars thanks to this Big Lie Fox is perpetuating about TV sets which has no basis in reality.
If you understand how damaging this analogy would be for TV companies, then you understand how damaging it has been for Dominion (and Smartmatic- the other voting machine manufacturer) to be smeared by Fox (and other right wing outlets).
If you understand how wrong it is for reporters to lie about the outcome of a football game then you understand how wrong it is for Fox hosts to lie about the outcome of a presidential election.
But Fox lies are worse than that. The Big Lie also undermines trust in our democracy. Fox is in bed with Trump and extremist Republicans. It should lose its license as a “news” platform. Instead it has become a propaganda platform for Trump and the GOP. If it does NOT lose its license to report the news then it should issue extensive retractions and the Fox hosts who lied about the election should be forced to repeat over and over and over again that Trump lost in a free and fair election and Joe Biden is our legitimate president. They should do this to help to remedy the massive harm they have inflicted on our country and our democracy by pushing the Big Lie and cratering faith in our voting system.
Even worse, Rupert Murdoch, Fox hosts and Fox executives also have blood on their hands from January 6th. If they had reported honestly that Trump lost the election before the insurrection it is very possible that the January 6th attack on the Capitol would not have happened or would not have been nearly as destructive.
Consequences for Fox if This Case Goes to a Jury
Dominion is asking for $1.6 billion in damages. That would compensate them for their out of pocket damages. But if this case goes to a jury with the damning facts we have here, a jury could impose massive punitive damages in addition as juries have done in the recent past when they are trying to teach the defendant a lesson. Depending on the state in which the trial takes place the amount of punitive damages a jury could award the plaintiff, Dominion, could be crippling.
“You just don’t often get smoking-gun evidence of a news organization saying internally, ‘We know this is patently false, but let’s forge ahead with it,’” said Ron Nell Andersen Jones, a University of Utah professor who specializes in media law.
Under New York Times v. Sullivan, a 1964 Supreme Court ruling that has guided libel and defamation claims for nearly 60 years, a plaintiff like Dominion must show that a defendant like Fox published false statements with “actual malice” — meaning that it was done “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” (Washington Post)
Unless Fox can persuade Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis to dismiss the case or strikes a settlement agreement with Dominion, it will probably have to face a jury. That could prove perilous, said Harder.
“In my experience, juries have no sympathy for media companies that knowingly cause harm to others,” he said.