Dominion suit puts focus on Fox News’ bad journalism

The nation’s democratic guardrails held after former President Donald Trump tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election, with dozens of courts — and a series of honorable election officials — rejecting his baseless ballot-stuffing theories.

Congressional hearings and media accounts have examined the election’s aftermath, including the riot by Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. How did the world’s most stable democracy find itself in such a precarious situation? Why do large percentages of Republican voters — upward of 60%, according to some polls — still doubt the validity of the presidential election?

An ongoing $1.6-billion defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems, the company that sells electronic voting machines across the country, against Fox News offers some answers. Recently disclosed depositions of top Fox News officials suggest that the network’s hosts, executives and fact-checkers knew that Trump’s claims were false.

Yet they touted these theories anyway. “The network and its stars … were spooked by dipping ratings after the election and feared their audience might switch to other right-wing networks,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Fox hosts expressed particular concern that Fox News’ decision to call Arizona for Joe Biden would send viewers to other channels.

It’s a high bar to prove defamation, but the depositions bolster Dominion’s allegations. In the terms of such lawsuits, malice stems from knowingly making false statements or recklessly disregarding the truth. If the depositions are correct, then Fox News did so on a repeated basis. No wonder the court has allowed the case to proceed.

Dominion’s latest court filings are stunning. “Fox knew,” it explained. “From the top down. Fox knew ‘the dominion stuff’ was ‘total bs.’… Yet despite knowing the truth — or at a minimum, recklessly disregarding that truth — Fox spread and endorsed these ‘outlandish voter fraud claims’ about Dominion even as it internally recognized the lies as ‘crazy,’ ‘absurd,’ and ‘shockingly reckless.’”

This case will wind through the courts for months, but it’s clear the prime network catering to right-leaning voters spun a narrative that undermined Americans’ faith in the security of our democratic electoral system. Fox reportedly has silenced its anchors on the matter, so its viewers are unlikely to learn about the lawsuit’s details.

In yet another shocking allegation, Dominion alleges that Fox shared information about Biden campaign ads before they aired, which has led one progressive group to file a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission. This suggests a fundamental breach of journalistic ethics.

“We err on the side of speech because the more and more speech you have, the better chance of having people actually getting the opportunity to point out what’s right and what’s wrong,” one of Fox’s attorneys told NPR in response to the explosive revelations. Certainly, all media outlets have the legal right to publish what they choose, but that doesn’t shield them from the financial consequences of making statements that harm their targets.

We agree that media bias is a widespread problem and much of it cuts to the left rather than the right. But Fox appears to have ignored one of the fundamentals of journalism: seeking after the truth. However the lawsuit plays out, Americans should at least understand that Fox shamefully imperiled our democracy in its zest for ratings.

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