Maybe a jury will decide Fox News really is responsible for tarnishing the reputation of a vote-tabulating tech firm. I don’t care. But if not, maybe CNN viewers and New York Times readers should get ready to sue those two for lying about the details of the lawsuit.
As gleefully told by CNN and the Times, new legal documents prove that prominent Fox executives and primetime hosts knew that allegations from Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign advisers about machines manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems corrupting the 2020 election were false, but repeated them to the Fox audience as true anyway. That would mean Fox is liable for the defamation of Dominion for the purpose of, Dominion says, satisfying the cable channel’s Trump-loving audience.
The evidence to back it up — or, as CNN and the Times suggest, indisputably prove it! — is in the court filings by Dominion, which include comments made publicly by Fox personnel and private messages between primetime hosts and executives.
The private communications do demonstrate that hosts such as Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham privately rejected the allegations put forth by some on Trump’s legal team that Dominion machines were compromised and delivered a false victory to Joe Biden. But interestingly enough, there is nothing documented about those people at Fox or anyone else at Fox asserting on air that the claims related to Dominion were true.
Some hosts did air segments featuring interviews with Trump advisers who repeated those claims and acknowledged the allegations as having been made public, either in the media or in legal documents. But there are no instances of Fox hosts, producers, or reporters on air attesting to the credibility of the accusations.
I don’t know who needs to hear this at CNN and the Times (everyone) but it’s not a “lie” to cite allegations made by a sitting president’s lawyers or campaign officials. That Fox people cited those claims (which, again, were made by associates of a sitting president) and then privately expressed doubt about them doesn’t mean they intentionally misled their audiences. It means they let their audiences know about real-life events, which, believe it or not, don’t always require a “FACT CHECK: YOU’RE WRONG, MR. PRESIDENT!”
Here’s one of the more extreme examples of a Fox host talking about 2020 election suspicions and the voting machines, and it comes in the form of Jeanine Pirro in late November that year: “The president’s lawyers have come forward alleging … The president’s lawyer’s alleging … which they say … And the president’s lawyers alleging … These are serious allegations … The president’s lawyers offered evidence … The president’s lawyers have indicated …”
Pirro told her audience what Trump’s lawyers said. It’s not a crime to describe what’s happening in the world.
To put it another way, Nicholas Sandmann sued CNN (and earned a settlement) for describing his appearance in a viral video in ways that suggested he was an aggressive bigot. Am I now responsible for further harming Sandmann’s reputation for stating those facts? No, obviously.
Also included in the court filings was testimony by Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch, who says himself of some hosts that “they endorsed” the concept of a “stolen election.” But what Murdoch did not say is that they “endorsed” the claim that Dominion’s machines delivered a fake outcome of the election.
Sinister theories about Dominion, which were never backed up by anything, lasted for about two seconds in the months-long debate over the election. Among the people who believed the election to be stolen, the bulk of their suspicions was about mass voter fraud and illegal ballots, which had nothing to do with corrupted software or rigged machines. I have no idea if any Fox hosts said the election was stolen. But that’s not the same thing as explicitly stating by name that Dominion was responsible for the heist.
I say The New York Times is evil. Others might say the Times is evil because its opinion section is filled with necrophiliacs. If that tawdry claim isn’t true, I’m not responsible for defaming the paper just because I also happen to believe it’s evil.
A jury might see things another way. But it won’t be because CNN and The New York Times are telling the truth about the case.