There is No Journalism at Fox News
Like millions of Americans and conscientious individuals all over the world, I was disappointed that Dominion Voting Systems settled their defamation suit with Fox News. There is very little that would have given me more pleasure than watching Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and especially -- most especially -- the now-fired Tucker Carlson squirm on the witness stand as they attempted to explain why they lied to their massive audience about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
True, by settling with Fox for $787.5 million, slightly less than half the originally sought-after amount, the company will be rewarded with a huge check and avoid years of legal appeals. But the public was expecting many more revelations about how some of Fox’s most sterling media stars and top corporate executives deceived their viewers.
Said Dominion CEO John Poulos: “Fox has admitted telling lies about Dominion that caused tremendous damage to my company, our employees and the customers we serve. Nothing can ever make up for that. Throughout this process, we have sought accountability. Truthful reporting in the media is essential to our democracy.”
As a journalist with decades of experience, it is the last sentence in Poulos’ statement that most resonates with me. Truth as it applies to a democracy is what journalism in a free society is all about.
Understand something about journalists. Unlike lawyers, accountants, doctors or real estate agents, journalists don’t take an examination to become certified. There is no test we must pass, except for one, and that is the test of veracity. The public must have faith that what we are telling them is the truth; that we have done our research, tracked down and vetted our sources, poured through documents, then checked, doubled-checked and triple-checked any information before it is reported to the public.
Yes, it is true that in today’s ever accelerating informational pipeline, where news is expected to be reported almost as soon as it breaks, we sometimes get the facts wrong.
But that isn’t intentional. Indeed, any seasoned journalist knows that reporting done incorrectly and repeatedly is the surest route to ending a career. Truth is the lifeblood of our profession. We know that if the public can’t believe what we’re telling them, we have no business calling ourselves reporters.
Reporting information known to be false goes against every basic tenant of professional journalism. It is absolutely the worst offense a journalist can commit.
But that is precisely what some of Fox News’ most preeminent personalities did, and they did it willingly, with little-to-no compunction, and with every intention of suffering no consequences for their incredible breach of ethics.
At the crux of this suit, the largest public defamation suit ever involving a media company, is Fox News’ broadcasting that the 2020 presidential election, which Donald Trump clearly lost, was rigged by Dominion’s voting machines. Those assertions by such Fox luminaires as Hannity, Ingraham and Carlson were patently untrue, and every single one of these commentors knew those assertions were false before they broadcasted them.
As proof of their duplicity, Dominion’s lawyers accessed private text messages from these commentators. For instance, in one of his text messages, Tucker Carlson not only said he didn’t believe Donald Trump’s claims of a stolen election, but he added this: "I hate him passionately."
Of course, that isn’t what he told his dedicated viewers. To them, he called Joe Biden’s legitimate election: “a betrayal of American democracy.” Laura Ingraham, who has publicly defended Trump and the Capitol Hill rioters, wrote in a private text message that Trump was “destroying his legacy” by not attempting to end the disturbance sooner.
And Sean Hannity, one of Trump’s most ardent defenders on the air, admitted under oath that he knew Trump’s claims that he won the 2020 election were false, adding: “I didn’t believe it for one second.”
Allow me to restate an infamous comment from an even more infamous figure of history:
‘All this was inspired by the principle -- which is quite true within itself -- that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.”
The author of that comment is Adolf Hitler, and it can be found in his book Mein Kampf. Any student of world history knows the results of the theories Hitler advocated in Mein Kampf. And any reasonable person who is alive and conscious knows that Donald Trump’s claims of a stolen election led to devastation, death and national shame.
Keep in mind that the storming of this nation’s Capitol and the horrors of the Second World War both began with lies, lies that were circulated, lies that were promulgated, and lies that were believed.
It is unfortunate that the corporate heads and media stars at Fox News didn’t realize that unavoidable fact, that they subverted honest reporting for profit.
At the very least, they could have saved themselves nearly a billion dollars by simply reporting the truth.