The reason Fox News czar Rupert Murdoch resisted settling Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation suit became clearer within 24 hours of the settlement, when a rival voting firm also trashed by Fox reiterated that it was immediately going ahead with demanding $2.76 billion in its own defamation action.
“Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign,” Smartmatic lawyer Erik Connolly said Wednesday. He went on: “Smartmatic will expose the rest. Smartmatic remains committed to clearing its name, recouping the significant damage done to the company, and holding Fox accountable for undermining democracy.”
Fox and Murdoch are also facing shareholder lawsuits and one from Tucker Carlson producer Abby Grossberg. Meanwhile Dominion is suing wing nut networks OAN and Newsmax, Trump “lawyers” Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, plus the MyPillow guy and the Overstock.com guy. The hits, against Fox and Trumpworld, will keep coming.
I get why people felt deflated in the immediate wake of Dominion’s decision to settle with Fox. (My colleague Chris Lehmann laid it out well here.) A trial would have been delectable. But we already knew there would be no cameras in the courtroom, no live-tweeting, just staid print, Web, and television reporting after the fact. We were not going to get to hear Tucker Carlson, on the witness stand, read aloud his texts like this one, sent on January 4, two days before the deadly Capitol insurrection: “We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights, I truly can’t wait. I hate him passionately.”
But at other times Carlson was more worried about the decline in Fox’s stock price when the network occasionally told the truth—that Joe Biden was the legitimate president—than about Trump’s damage to democracy. We would not get to hear him read aloud, his pasty face reddening, “It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke,” as he texted five days after Fox joined other networks in declaring Biden the election victor. Tucker is a tool (my nicest word for him). We knew that.
And we were not going to get to see Murdoch admitting that his network’s hosts regularly featured nutty Mike Lindell, Mr. My Pillow, because of his advertising. “The man is on every night. Pays us a lot of money,” he said in a deposition. “At first you think it’s comic, and then you get bored.” It wasn’t politics but cash, he insisted memorably. “It is not red or blue, it is green.”
But those quotes and worse are widely available, and they certainly don’t matter to Fox viewers. (Do you really think, if a trial were televised, Fox would broadcast it and Fox viewers would watch it?) Just recall: Trump sat for an hour of softball questions by softball Tucker last week, just months after we learned that Carlson had said “I hate him passionately.” There are never any consequences inside the Fox/Trump bubble.
Other folks were disappointed by the lack of a formal Fox apology as a condition of the settlement. But that was never a realistic expectation—the firm might as well hand Smartmatic another billion or so to settle that suit. And on and on. And given the availability of the news that Fox lied about this whole national nightmare, why do we think some kind of scripted apology would break through to Fox viewers? Again: There will be no consequences, for any of this, inside the Fox/Trump bubble.
What matters happens outside the bubble. I’m glad Dominion sued, and Smartmatic too. Dominion won the biggest settlement in the history of defamation law, by far. But we can’t expect big corporations to protect democracy. Our laws give them tools and incentives to help themselves, and that’s what they’re doing. Basically, it’s rich guys paying money to rich guys, which makes our world go round, sadly.
The help to democracy is mainly collateral repair. But it does make some difference. (My friend Claire Potter lays it out well here.) The judge’s summary judgment in the Dominion case stipulated that the firm’s claims were true, and that Fox deliberately lied about the plaintiff’s role in vote-switching for Biden. Smartmatic starts there. So do we. Mainstream journalists should be bolder about describing Fox’s routine lies, and Fox’s corrupt, anti-democracy agenda. Mainstream Democrats should as a matter of course refuse to be Fox guests, as I did 14 years ago and so many others have done over the years. Hey, Secretary Buttigieg, you’re “great” on Fox —but you’re not changing any minds.
We who care about the truth have the truth. We will get more. Those who want more retribution—I might be one, I try not to be—might get that too. I’ve gotten more optimistic in the day or so since Dominion settled. “Truth matters. Lies have consequences,” Dominion’s lead attorney Justin Nelson declared outside the courthouse on Tuesday. Sure, it’s his job to say that. But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.