I was both pleased and disappointed by the news of the $787.5 million settlement in the Dominion v Fox News case. I was pleased for a number of reasons, mainly that a willingness to settle proves yet again that Rupert Murdoch and others at Fox are well aware they lied to increase their own profits, but also because a trial was likely to be turned into a media circus that would have kept our attention away from most anything else. My disappointment is in the fact that Fox got off light. Oh sure, over a three-quarters of a billion dollars is a lot of money … more than I can even begin to comprehend … BUT true justice in this case would have stemmed from Murdoch, Hannity, Carlson, Ingraham, Pirro and others having to face their viewers, the people they lied to, and say, “Yes, we lied to you because we think you are stupid enough to believe our lies, and so we could make more money.” We were denied that. Fox viewers were denied an apology, are still being denied the truth.
Erik Wemple, media critic for The Washington Post, addresses this “big hole” left in the wake of the settlement, and I agree … money is paid, but full accountability is still lacking.
There’s a big hole in the Dominion-Fox News settlement
18 April 2023
When news of a possible settlement between Dominion Voting Systems and Fox News surfaced on Sunday night, pleas from concerned citizens popped up on social media: Don’t settle this lawsuit, Dominion. Put all the evidence before a jury. Drag Fox News hosts and executives to the witness stand. Grill them on their deceptive programming.
So, the news Tuesday afternoon that the two parties had settled Dominion’s $1.6 billion defamation suit over election disinformation for $787.5 million will disappoint those who longed for a more visceral comeuppance for Fox News. That’s understandable, considering that Fox News has littered the public square with lies and half-baked stories — essentially mini-Dominions — for 26-plus years.
The size of the payout, however, speaks to both the journalistic atrocities and the reams of internal correspondence that Dominion pried from Fox News during the pretrial maneuvering. And yet: It all feels a bit empty.
Justin Nelson, a top attorney for Dominion, sounded a triumphant tone in a statement following the announcement. “The truth matters,” said Nelson. “Lies have consequences. Over two years ago, a torrent of lies swept Dominion and election officials across America into an alternative universe of conspiracy theories.” The settlement, he added, “represents vindication and accountability.”
That accountability came via volume. A Dominion document filed with the court on Tuesday listed 7,021 trial exhibits, including transcripts of offending programs, internal correspondence among producers expressing doubts about the stuff their bosses were broadcasting, scolding remarks about people committed to doing actual journalism, and a lot more. A good portion of the material relates to the actions of former Fox News host Lou Dobbs, a 30-plus-year veteran of cable news. He figures to be among the winners in this settlement, considering that he won’t have to see his propaganda exposed again in what promised to be saturation coverage.
Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro and Rupert Murdoch are among the others whose spring outlook just got a little brighter.
In its statement, Fox News demonstrated that not even a court record bulging with evidence of perfidy is enough to shame the organization into genuine contrition. “We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems. We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false. This settlement reflects FOX’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.”
(Boldface added to highlight the network’s minimization of the fact that the discovery materials exposed not just falsehoods but lies. Boldface italics added to highlight an unthinkable proposition — firm evidence that the network refuses to learn from any experience.)
After Nelson and other speakers finished addressing the media, the Erik Wemple Blog and other reporters asked whether the settlement required Fox News to publish any retractions or apologies. The lawyers turned and left without answering those questions. The Post’s Jeremy Barr reported that the network will not have to air any retractions or apologies pursuant to the settlement agreement. Which is to say, the resolution requires a great deal of something that Fox News has in wheelbarrows (money) and very little of something it has in teaspoons (editorial integrity).
That’s where the emptiness comes in.
Documents made public in the course of the litigation showed that Fox News’s relationship with its audience tortures the ideal of an America that runs on a shared set of facts. When Fox News bosses observed that its loyal viewers were fleeing to other networks peddling election lies, they grew worried that their two-decade-long ratings dominance was in jeopardy. So, they fine-tuned the coverage to indulge some conspiracy-theorizing. The upshot is that Fox News was able to keep its audience both sizable and ill-informed.
The settlement might only perpetuate that dynamic. The full depravity of the network’s 2020 election coverage will never have to be disclosed to viewers on the only cable-news outlet they trust.
The slam-dunk nature of the evidence in Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox News stirred expectations — a bankrupt Fox News; abject apologies from the likes of Carlson and Murdoch — that a single lawsuit may never have been able to deliver. “This litigation cannot solve all problems,” said Nelson.