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The hypocrisy of the Fox pile-on
To hear the same woke media organizations that have ignored reality about the mRNA jabs and Covid for three years lecture Fox on journalism is the definition of irony.
I didn’t want to write about the Fox News defamation lawsuit.
I didn’t want to have to defend Fox.
Fox hardly covered itself in glory in covering the 2020 election. As you know, I think the conspiracy theories around the election are false and the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 was ugly and indefensible, though the penalties some rioters have faced are disproportionate.
This is not hindsight. On Nov. 10, 2020, in an interview with Tucker Carlson, I said on Fox itself that Republicans should accept the reality that Joe Biden had won and should instead focus on ending Covid restrictions:
So as Biden takes office, and I think we all expect he is going to take office in 10 weeks, Republicans are going to really have to raise their voices… in the weeks between now and January 20th, Republicans are going to have to decide what to do. Are they going to, you know, fight what looks like a losing battle on behalf of Donald Trump? Or are they going to fight for COVID restrictions that are reasonable and that get us moving forward?
(SUBSCRIBE NOW! YOU MAY NOT ALWAYS LIKE WHAT I SAY, BUT YOU KNOW I’LL ALWAYS TELL YOU THE TRUTH AS BEST I CAN.)
Fox - and the Republican Party - should have taken that advice.
Yes, Fox behaved badly in the fall of 2020.
Now it has paid a stunning price. To settle the lawsuit the voting company Dominion filed over its supposedly defamatory statements, it is paying $787.5 million - an amount far in excess of any economic losses Dominion could reasonably claim. And Fox faces more lawsuits.
Dominion has hit the lawsuit lottery, and the joy at elite media outlets like the New York Times - much less MSNBC and CNN, which have been staring at Fox’s taillights for decades - is palpable. At this moment, the entire top of the Times mobile home screen is devoted to four separate articles kicking Fox.
But Fox’s haters should be careful what they wish for.
First, Dominion’s suit largely rested on the claim that Fox should be held liable for statements its guests had made, even in cases when its anchors had raised questions about them. The judge - who disliked Fox so much that he suggested lines of cross-examination to Dominion’s lawyers - upheld that remarkably expansive view of defamation. He also blocked Fox’s defense that the claims were newsworthy in and of themselves, even if they were false.
Combined with the huge payout Dominion received, it is hard to believe this case won’t spur more defamation lawsuits using similar theories - potentially discouraging news organizations even from quoting people with controversial views.
But even more importantly, when I read the endless condemnations of Fox for refusing to challenge its audience on the election, I can’t help but think that organizations like the Times are playing exactly the same game about the mRNAs, and for exactly the same reason.
Many of the Republicans at the core of Fox’s audience were (and in some cases still are) desperate to believe Trump’s election claims, despite powerful evidence they were baseless. Fox did not want to challenge them and refused to provide facts that might have made them uncomfortable.
And many of the Democrats at the core of the Times’s audiences were (and in many cases still are) desperate to believe the mRNA vaccines work, despite powerful evidence they don’t. The Times and every other woke media organization do not want to challenge them and refuse to provide facts that might have made them uncomfortable.
As the Times’s chief television critic wrote:
Ooh. Boom! Gotcha, Fox News.
Except for Fox News, substitute The New York Times, and for “2020 election” substitute “mRNA vaccines” (or “psychiatric harms of cannabis,” or any of several other topics the Times readership finds uncomfortable).
The biggest difference between the Times and Fox in terms of audience service is that Fox is a little more honest internally about what it’s doing, and why.
Standing up to your audience, when that audience is paying the bills, is tough. And unpleasant. And potentially financially damaging.
And absolutely necessary if reporters and news organizations are to have any hope of doing their jobs well in the long run. Which is why I make myself do it every so often, even when I don’t want to.