Here’s an instructive and telling little exercise for you, one that I engaged in myself this past Sunday morning.
Head over to Google and search for “NBC defamation lawsuits by former employees.” And then, do the same with CBS, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. You’ll find a few interesting incidents. A Native American employee sued NBC over discrimination at the 30 Rock workplace. The CBS affiliate in Dallas settled an age discrimination case brought by an on-air reporter.
After you’ve done that, go Google “Fox News defamation lawsuits by former employees”—and watch your computer explode. There’s the record $1 million fine Fox paid in 2021 over various #MeToo allegations from female employees. There’s the staggering $20 million Fox agreed to pay to Gretchen Carlson in 2016. There’s the far bigger $90 million settlement reached the next year concerning allegations of sexual misconduct surrounding Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly. There was the $15 million paid to a former female host who alleged pay discrimination. And these are just suits filed by Fox’s own employees; they don’t include other such settlements like the $100 million Fox paid out in the British phone-hacking scandal—the details of which, if one bothers to recall them, add up to an unbelievable breach for a “news organization” to have committed. (The short version goes something like this: News of the World hired “investigators” to hack the phones of celebrities, politicians, families of soldiers killed in war, and the family of a missing 13-year-old girl who was later found dead; they got caught, and the media feeding frenzy consumed the United Kingdom.)
I’m sure I could go on if I spent a full day looking. This is just the bounty plundered from 15 minutes of research. But I hope this all proves a point: All news organizations fight lawsuits from people irked by how they’re covered. Often these are nuisance suits trying to buy silence, like Donald’s Trump $475 million suit against CNN filed last October. Sometimes, sure—news organizations make errors. But there’s only one “news organization” in America that has serially settled lawsuits with its own employees—usually women—over allegations that are sometimes sickening (one former Fox employee said Roger Ailes blackmailed her into being his “sex slave” for two decades).
Fox has also settled an unusual number of suits with the people and organizations it has covered—and that brings us to the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit, opening Tuesday (the judge delayed it by a day) in a courtroom in Delaware. If there’s any justice in this world, this suit will prove in court once and for all what has been apparent for years: Fox is not a news organization in any normal sense of the word at all; it’s an ideological shakedown operation that knowingly peddles lies to advance a deeply reactionary, anti-democracy agenda with the goal of turning the United States into an Orbánesque illiberal pseudo-democracy, if not an outright Putinesque authoritarian state.
Does that sound a bit strong? It’s not. Think about what the Fox anchors and executives were doing, as we’ve learned from the pretrial documents that have been made public so far. Privately, they were acknowledging that Trump lost and Joe Biden won and that Trump was lying about the election. Publicly, as Rupert Murdoch admitted in a deposition, Fox hosts were going on the air and endorsing the lies.
In other words, Fox News was directly and strategically attacking democracy—a democratic outcome that its anchors and executives knew to be legitimate—for the sake of ratings and money. If Fox had had its way, Trump would have succeeded in overturning the election, and our democracy would be gone.
CEO Suzanne Scott didn’t just passively go along. She aggressively inserted herself into the news operation to insist that what little actual news gathering other people at Fox were doing must not continue. The infamous December 2, 2020, email from Scott to EVP Meade Cooper carried the subject heading “Fox News’ Eric Shawn Fact-Checks Trump’s ‘Dump’ Claims” and reads: “This has to stop now. I’m going to address this with you and Jay and Lowell tomorrow. This is bad business and there clearly is a lack of understanding what is happening on these shows. The audience is furious and we are just feeding them material. Bad for business.”
That’s not just a smoking gun. That gun is still sizzling, two and a half years later. Before Scott’s email, Shawn had done two segments on his weekend show debunking various Trump claims—he said claims of a rigged ballot were “false and unsubstantiated,” and he asserted that Trump’s claims about massive vote dumping to help Biden were also untrue.
What Shawn was saying was true. He was doing journalism; delivering news. And that, not Maria Bartiromo’s propaganda, is what Scott ordered stopped. In addition to that, we know that in the aftermath of the election and Biden’s victory, Fox didn’t fire any of the anchors spreading poison and lies. It fired the two guys who ran the Decision Desk, which was the first to call Biden as the winner in Arizona, which was the crucial call that propelled him to victory. Fox fired the two people trying to do news. The people doing propaganda, it kept and protected, and most of them are still on the air.
Why Rupert Murdoch didn’t settle this suit like all the others boggles the mind. Because this chain of events will find him, possibly this week, in a place he’s spent decades trying to avoid—a courtroom, on a witness stand, under oath, answering hostile questions from smart lawyers. But he made his choice. He has a lot of fancy lawyers himself, and rich people find many sleazy ways to wriggle out of blame and responsibility. So I make no predictions here. But based on what we know publicly, it shouldn’t be too hard for a smart litigator to paint Murdoch into a grim corner where he has to end up admitting that his news organization knowingly aired lies for the sake of ratings.
And if these 12 Delawareans find Fox News culpable? That’s not the end. It’s a beginning. Because from that moment, we will be able to say, with a certainty we can’t quite claim now, that Fox News lies.
That certainty should set in motion its own series of events. For example: What will our country’s real news organizations do in response to such a verdict? NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, and others should band together and say: We do not consider Fox News to be like us. It is not a news organization in the accepted sense of the term. Memo to the White House, Congress, or any media credential-granting institution: If you give Fox News media credentials for your event, none of us will cover it.
In addition, cable and satellite providers have to stop paying Fox News the carrying fees that are really Fox’s bread and butter, far more than ad revenue. Are you aware that you, reader, if you are a cable or satellite subscriber, pay Fox News about $20 a month? If the jury finds against Fox, pressure must mount for that to end as well.
A verdict against Fox rips down the veil. Nobody will have to pretend anymore. And we should make the demand of our real news organizations that they too stop pretending. Rupert’s Reign of Terror can be ended.
UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal reported Monday morning that Fox may be trying to settle. Scumbags.