Albany Times Union

Distorting the truth


In its broadcasts about the 2020 presidenti­al election, Fox News knowingly spread falsehoods in a desperate bid for profits — falsehoods that posed a threat to our democracy. And when called out on it, the network has tried to duck behind the First Amendment.

Feeling the heat from Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation suit, a Fox News spokeswoma­n warned that “a ruling in favor of Dominion would have grave consequenc­es for journalism across this country.” As with so many other things that come from Fox News, this is the opposite of the truth. It is a ruling in favor of Fox that would have grave consequenc­es, harming the work done by actual American journalist­s and weakening the barriers that separate propaganda from fact.

Evidence submitted in the suit against Fox reveals the network amplified rumors that the voting machine company had rigged votes in Joe Biden’s favor, even though Fox media executives and personalit­ies knew the accusation­s were not credible.

In texts and emails, Fox pundits and executives privately scoffed at and derided the fraud claims — and the people they were bringing on air to make these claims — while publicly, they were throwing fuel on the fire. Fox hosts repeatedly put attorney Sidney Powell on camera to spread Dominion conspiracy theories while privately describing her as unreliable. In court documents, Dominion testified that it emailed Fox executives thousands of times to set the record straight — one network exec wrote to a colleague on Nov. 14, 2020, that he’d received Dominion’s fact check so many times that “I have it tattooed on my body at this point.” Ms. Powell was back on Fox News talking about Dominion the next day.

Why did they do this? To keep their ratings up and avoid angering viewers with truths they didn’t want to hear: The election was fair, and President Donald Trump had lost.

There’s Suzanne Scott, head of Fox News Media, worrying about “pissing off the viewers” by acknowledg­ing Mr. Biden had won. And Tucker Carlson texting fellow pundits after a Fox reporter tweeted that there was no

Fox News has no business hiding behind the First Amendment in the Dominion defamation case.

To comment:

evidence linking Dominion to voter fraud: “Please get her fired,” he wrote. “... It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.” Meanwhile, other people in the organizati­on were warning executives that the allegation­s against Dominion were “BS” and urging them to fact-check claims being made on air. And even Fox Corporatio­n chair Rupert Murdoch called the election narrative a “Trump myth.”

Reporters get things wrong sometimes. When they do, they correct it. That’s not what happened at Fox: The Dominion materials make clear that the network knew it was feeding its viewers unreliable informatio­n.

Defamation cases must clear a high bar, and rightly so. They must prove that inaccurate informatio­n was shared with “actual malice” — shared while knowing it was false, or with reckless disregard for the truth. This case should clear the bar with air to spare.

But this isn’t about just reputation­al harm to Dominion. It’s about the consequenc­es of spreading misinforma­tion: less trust, more confusion, more rips in our fraying social fabric. Fox News’ broadcasti­ng helped erode faith in American elections and added to the ragestorm that brought our country to the brink on Jan. 6, 2021. And it did it in a nakedly cynical bid to cling to power and money.

A win for Fox could justify the call from Mr. Trump himself, the master of false and reckless statements, to “open up our libel laws.” And that would have grave consequenc­es for journalism. This case is a chance to show our laws work just fine.

“Fair and Balanced” is the muchderide­d motto that Fox News retired in 2017. The Dominion case should sink “Most Watched, Most Trusted,” too.

 ?? Getty Images ??
Getty Images

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States