Certified Checks and Balances

Stephen Shackelford, one of the lawyers who led Dominion Voting Systems legal shellacking of Fox News, said of the surprise settlement: “Money is accountability.” When it comes to civil cases, he couldn’t be more correct, and Fox just got held accountable to the tune of $787.5 million. Dominion gets the cash and the reality-based public got plenty of pre-trial discovery to confirm things we already knew: Fox News lied about voting machines (and a lot more) following the 2020 election, they knew they were telling lies, and they did it in service of a candidate they held in contempt. Like that candidate, they were held hostage by an increasingly rabid base with a growing number of viewing options to feed an endless appetite for fear mongering and conspiracy theories. The reason this devastating court loss for Fox leaves you with a pit in your stomach is because while Dominion won, America lost.

Fox viewers will not finally see the light and realize they’ve been lied to by Murdoch, Inc for years. They will not be told that Fox News holds them in the same contempt they hold their favorite candidate and manipulates them for money. Because the settlement holds no required admission or apology, Fox viewers aren’t hearing much of anything about this case, which was predictable as this particular settlement falls into a broader category Fox News insistently avoids: Reality. If Fox learned any lesson, it’s that lying is good business, insomuch as you avoid directing those lies at deep-pocketed, well-lawyered corporations. In terms of the damage to truth and the ongoing threat to American democracy, we’re basically back where we started, give or take about $800 million (which, when you think about it, is a small price to pay for several billion).

+ “In the Murdoch universe, paying such settlements is just the cost of doing business Murdoch-style. The alternative to settling with Dominion for telling a series of lies about voting fraud would have been a painful and long courtroom drama … The Fox brand would have been further stigmatized, and shame and disparagement would have been leveled at Murdoch, Fox executives and Fox hosts Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Maria Bartiromo, Laura Ingraham and Bret Baier, all of whom Dominion planned to put on the witness stand. Getting out from under all of that hurt for $787.5 million is a kind of bargain for a company with a market cap of $17.3 billion. Fox has $4.1 billion in cash and warrants on hand.” Jack Shafer: Rupert Wins Again.

+ Margaret Sullivan: “The public’s memory is short. There will be no apology required as part of the settlement, pointless as that would have been. Fox is already back to bragging about their ‘continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards’, which would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.”

+ “Dominion’s choice to settle comes as a great disappointment to many critics of Fox, and is also probably a smart financial decision. For the critics, this case was about democracy and disinformation and provided an opportunity to hold Fox accountable for years of broadcasting hogwash. For Dominion, it was primarily about business. No matter how lofty the language its spokespeople used, the company didn’t sue to fix the American media landscape.” David A. Graham in The Atlantic: Fox News Lost the Lawsuit but Won the War.

+ The war over damages is far from over. “Most notably, Fox News faces a $2.7 billion case brought by election technology company Smartmatic.” (Then there’s a broader war to secure America’s democracy. No corporation or court case is going to do that, and we shouldn’t expect that it will.)

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