Opinion

OPINION | WOODY BASSETT: Deception for ratings, money takes precedence at Fox News

‘Fair, balanced’ Fox News can’t withstand scrutiny

From its inception, Fox News has done untold damage to the American body politic, not because it espouses conservative principles and beliefs but because of the dishonest and unprofessional methods it uses to do so.

One can't credibly condemn Fox without first acknowledging there are other cable news outlets subject to legitimate criticisms. But I won't succumb to false equivalency. It's plain as day to most that Fox News is in a league of its own.

Fox advertises and promotes itself daily by using a deceitful tagline, "Fair and Balanced." But the everyday reality is exactly the opposite. There's nothing remotely fair or balanced about Fox News.

For the most part, Fox isn't really a news channel. It never has been. It's a right-wing entertainment network and a relentless propaganda machine for the Republican Party. It's hard to tell if the Republicans own Fox or if Fox owns the Republicans. Either way, it's bad for the country and bad for the Republican Party.

What's so shameful about Fox is its willingness to peddle misinformation and disinformation on such an extraordinary scale, its tendency to suppress or distort facts and evidence, its never-ending expressions of fake outrage, its constant promotion of crazy internet conspiracy theories and, worst of all, its broadcasting outright lies with impunity.

Too many Fox viewers seemingly form their opinions and cast their votes based solely on what they see or hear on this one network, to the complete exclusion of other sources of information, facts, evidence and opinions.

Fox's business model is simple: Divide Americans in every imaginable way, spin the "news" in a manner that fuels and validates the preconceived notions of its viewers and then capitalize by monetizing the fear, anger and resentment it generates among its viewers. That's why so many people believe Fox News has had a crippling and poisonous impact on American politics, government and culture.

Truth and journalistic integrity don't seem to matter to Fox News. All that matters to Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his prime time lineup of hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham are ratings and money.

A day of reckoning for Fox News should have come long ago. It hasn't yet but maybe it's nearing because Fox is currently embroiled in perhaps the biggest media scandal in history.

Which brings us to the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox for the false and outlandish claims the network repeatedly aired about it following the 2020 election. Dominion seeks recovery for lost profits and harm to its reputation as well as punitive damages.

Using Dominion as a scapegoat, Fox questioned election results by constantly airing outrageous Trump campaign lies about Dominion voting machines getting hacked, supposedly causing its software to flip votes from Trump to Biden. Without a shred of evidence to back up these allegations, Fox made a calculated decision to pander to its pro-Trump audience to boost ratings and make more money by broadcasting defamatory lies about Dominion.

Recent filings in the case by Dominion reveal dozens of damning private statements by Fox television personalities (Carlson, Hannity, Ingraham, et al) and Fox executives proving they knew Team Trump's claims of a rigged election were untrue. Yet the network chose to incessantly continue spoon-feeding viewers lies they didn't believe themselves, including broadcasting the biggest lie of all -- that Trump had actually won the election.

The irony is that while Fox News was deliberately airing lies to keep its ratings high, the recent Dominion case filings show most of the key people at the network were privately trash-talking Donald Trump.

Under applicable law, to win the case Dominion must prove Fox made false statements with "actual malice," meaning they either knew them to be false or showed reckless disregard as to their accuracy. Dominion appears to have clear and compelling evidence that Fox knowingly lied to its audience, sacrificing integrity for ratings and putting profits above truth.

Fox News will try to use the First Amendment as a shield to Dominion's legal claims. But knowingly and deliberately telling lies like the ones Fox appears to have told its viewers about Dominion means Fox will neither enjoy nor deserve the constitutional protections normally afforded to the media under the First Amendment.

The Dominion case is scheduled for a jury trial in April. Maybe Fox will pay a ton of money to settle the matter with confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses included.

But I hope the case goes to trial because it would shine a bright light on how Fox News operates and would force Fox corporate executives and on-air personalities to testify under oath and face cross-examination. If that happens, Fox and its people will discover it's far easier to lie to viewers than it is to lie to a jury.