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Today I’m going to be discussing two articles, one from the Financial Times and the other from The Economist. I’ll link to both article should you want to read them for yourself, but they may be behind a paywall, so, just letting you know.
Here are the headlines of the articles:
first, from The Financial Times
Rupert Murdoch’s Fox agrees $787.5mn settlement in Dominion defamation case
Lawyer for voting machine maker says eleventh-hour deal reached over airing of vote-rigging claims
and from The Economist
The Dominion lawsuit showed the limits of Fox’s influence over its audience
But notwithstanding a big settlement, the impact was negligible on America’s most popular cable network
So, here’s some background.
Fox News, the most watched cable news network in the US, has agreed to pay Dominion Voting Systems $ 787.5 million for making spurious claims that the company, which supplied voting equipment to 28 American states in the 2020 presidential election, had rigged its machines to steal votes from Donald Trump and give them to Joe Biden. If you make a spurious claim, you say something not based on facts. And, as it turns out, Fox News’ so-called journalists, knew that this story that Dominion was founded by Venezuelan socialist leader Hugo Chávez to rig elections did not have a shred of evidence to support it, that is, there was no evidence whatsoever to support this claim.
Why is this case so important? Thanks to Donald Trump – and Fox News – conspiracy theories related to election rigging are becoming more mainstream, that is, accepted by or involving most people in a society. If you rig an election, you dishonestly arrange the results before it happens. And as we saw in the January 6th attacks on the Capitol in Washington, these lies have dangerous consequences.
The damages that Fox has agreed to pay Dominion dwarfs the previous record set by a news organisation for defamation, back in 2017 ABC News paid $177 million to a meat producer for misleading claims that its products were not fit for human consumption. Now, if one thing dwarfs another, it makes it seem small by comparison. The previous record is less than a quarter of the damages Fox has agreed to pay. And even though this eleventh-hour deal, that is this settlement that was reached at the last minute before it would have gone to trial, seems to strike a blow to Fox’s reputation as a reliable news source, The Economist states that the impact of this result on Fox has been negligible, that is, insignificant, minimal.
As it turns out, although the settlement is financially punitive, it does not require Fox to publicly apologise or report on its own legal, journalistic, ethical failure. So they’re probably not going to lose viewers. What’s most interesting about this story is how it all started. According to The Economist, on election night in 2020 Fox news was the first news outlet to predict that the Democrats would win in Arizona. This really pissed Trump off, and to get back at Fox, he told his supporters to start watching Newsmax and One America News instead. These are two fringe networks, that is, with small numbers of viewers which are not widely respected – yet.
As a result Fox started losing viewers and its executives decided that they had to give viewers what they wanted – even if it was at the expense of the truth.
So they brought on Rudy Giuliani, with his far-fetched stories about Dominion being associated with Hugo Chávez, because it improved their ratings.
I’m a bit more optimistic than The Economist. I don’t think the impact of this settlement will be negligible. Thanks to this lawsuit we have found out just how corrupt Fox is.
In internal communications, Tucker Carlson, the most popular Fox commentator – I refuse to call him a journalist – said the following about Trump: “I hate him passionately. What he’s good at is destroying things. He’s the undisputed world champion of that. He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong.” And yet publicly Carlson was defending Trump and the Republican party.
That a lawsuit has helped us find out that one of the most powerful people in the news media has no conscience, well in my view that is not a negligible result.
As I was discussing this with my law students last week I pointed out how cases like this illustrate how the law can be a force for good. Corruption and hypocrisy in the media have been exposed and the next time a journalist is tempted to sacrifice the truth for the sake of their career they may just think twice.
Now, in a final twist to this story, news has just come this evening that Tucker Carlson has been fired from Fox. In theory Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox, made the decision not because of the Dominion case but because of a discrimination lawsuit brought by one of his former producers. There’s lots of speculation about where he’ll go from here since he’s already worked for all of the major networks. RT has put out a tweet inviting Carlson to join the Russian state-owned media outlet. As we say in English, watch this space.
make a spurious claim based on false reasoning or information that is not true, and therefore not to be trusted
A jury has rejected the spurious claim that the police created evidence.
rig dishonestly arrange the result of an election or competition before it happens
Previous elections in the country have been rigged by the ruling party.
become mainstream considered normal, and having or using ideas, beliefs, etc. that are accepted by most people
Polyamory, once considered taboo in most societies, is now becoming mainstream.
damages money that a court orders someone to pay to someone else for harming them or their property, to cover the cost of the harm, rather than to punish them
The politician was awarded £50,000 in damages over false allegations made by the newspaper.
dwarf be so big that other things are made to seem very small
The cathedral is dwarfed by the surrounding skyscrapers.
not be fit for human consumption not safe or suitable for people to eat
While not usually considered fit for human consumption, insects are now being promoted as an environmentally-friendly and affordable source of protein.
an eleventh-hour deal/decision/at the eleventh hour the last moment or almost too late
At the eleventh hour the government decided that something had to be done.
Thanks to an eleventh-hour decision by the union the strike was called off.
strike a blow to someone’s reputation seriously harm someone’s reputation
Prince Harry’s new book has struck a blow to the House of Windsor’s reputation – at least that’s what his publicists say.
negligible too slight or unimportant to have any effect SYN insignificant
The damage done to his property was negligible and the repairs were minor.
at the expense of something if something is done at the expense of someone or something else, it is only achieved by doing something that could harm the other person or thing
He did not want to devote more time to his business at the expense of his family.
be a force for good A person or thing who has a significant, positive impact on society.
The speaker made a surprisingly convincing argument that advertising can be a force for good.
for the sake of something or someone in order to help or bring advantage to someone or something
He moved to the seaside for the sake of his health.
watch this space idiom – used to say that there will very soon be an exciting change in the situation
We should have more details on this breaking news story very so watch this space.
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