Los Angeles Times

Network of the almighty dollar

Fox News is exposed in deposition­s for the Dominion suit. Profit drove election lies.


Fox News isn’t news, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. Let’s call it what it is: a right-wing variety show where ratings trump truth.

That’s certainly not a revelation to the millions of Americans who’ve been horrified by the network’s lack of journalist­ic integrity or to folks who are resigned to the dystopian nightmare that democracy will fall before Tucker Carlson’s ratings do. But the Dominion Voting

System’s $1.6-billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News has exposed a vulnerabil­ity at the heart of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire — and intensifie­d the pressure on his conservati­ve crown jewel to alter its destructiv­e course.

Dominion has hit Fox where it hurts, and I’m not referring to its moral compass. As News Corp. Executive Chairman Murdoch himself said in a deposition, the central factor in his decision-making “is not red or blue. It is green.” In other words, not politics, per se, but money, profit and ratings are the bedrock of Fox’s coverage. If a fact makes its way into the mix, so be it.

The fear of losing viewers to upstart Newsmax and its ultra-right-wing brethren has clearly influenced programmin­g decisions at Fox News. Take the days following the 2020 election. Internal communicat­ions show Tucker Carlson’s producer Alex Pfeiffer warned the host about straying from their most popular talking point: “Many viewers were upset tonight that we didn’t cover election fraud. … It’s all our viewers care about right now.”

Court filings reveal that Carlson, like his boss, was panicking about the bottom line. When Fox News White House correspond­ent Jacqui Heinrich factchecke­d Trump’s election lies in a tweet, Carlson wrote in a text chain with fellow hosts Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity: “Please get her fired. Seriously ... What the f—? I’m actually shocked... It needs to stop immediatel­y, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.” All knew the election fraud claims were a lie.

Indeed, reams of internal communicat­ions within Fox News show that leadership and management fully understood that Dominion voting machines weren’t part of a nefarious plan out of Venezuela to steal the election from Trump and hand it to Biden.

In his bombshell deposition, Murdoch threw Fox News’ star anchors under the bus. Asked if he was “now aware that Fox endorsed at times this false notion of a stolen election,” Murdoch said, “Not Fox. But maybe Lou Dobbs, maybe Maria [Bartiromo] as commentato­rs. … Some of our commentato­rs were endorsing it. They endorsed.”

Throughout the tense days following the 2020 election, through the deadly events of Jan. 6 and the fate of the union balancing on a razor’s edge, Fox doubled down again and again, attacking whomever or whatever it needed to stay in the black. But picking on Dominion, an entity with the resources to fight back, was a bad idea. Legal analysts have said there is ample evidence to prove in court that Fox unfairly targeted the voting machine maker, whether the ulterior motive was to help Trump and the Republican Party stay in power, feed viewers more of the red meat the network itself had gotten them hooked on, trounce competitor­s or all of the above.

Media watchdog groups have called for Fox to be penalized for its creative use of the word “news,” but those campaigns have been about as effective in creating real change as Robert Mueller’s report on Russian collusion in the 2016 election. Arguing against Fox News on moral or ethical grounds presuppose­s that the network values the basic tenets of journalism, such as avoiding conflicts of interest that would erode its credibilit­y. But that ship has long since sailed, perhaps off the flat end of the Earth if we’re to believe the extreme elements the network’s conspiracy theorizing inevitably courts.

Even before the Dominion lawsuit, litigation has been the only effective weapon in the fight against Fox News’ dangerous excesses. After all, two of the network’s most influentia­l — and seemingly untouchabl­e — figures were taken down by lawsuits. News of multiple settlement­s, which in turn spurred more lawsuits, ultimately quieted its top blowhard, Bill O’Reilly, and its too-big-to-fail CEO, Roger Ailes. And make no mistake, it was an avalanche of multimilli­on-dollar payouts that toppled them, not the shame or embarrassm­ent that they preyed on their colleagues and underlings.

Fox News’ loose relationsh­ip with facts, and its unholy alliance with the most unhinged characters in the Republican Party, has come home to roost, and now the network is poised to pay a massive price. But it won’t be the revelation that it’s a partisan propaganda outlet that will bring it to heel. As with O’Reilly and Ailes, what might succeed in silencing the network’s worst instincts will be what’s been its kryptonite all along: the almighty dollar.

 ?? FOX Drew Angerer Getty Images ?? personalit­ies are among those deposed in a lawsuit against the network.
FOX Drew Angerer Getty Images personalit­ies are among those deposed in a lawsuit against the network.
 ?? Adrian Edwards GC Images ?? NEWS CORP. Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch, right, with son Lachlan, is stirring news cycles.
Adrian Edwards GC Images NEWS CORP. Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch, right, with son Lachlan, is stirring news cycles.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States