How much do people who live in the right-wing news ecosphere know about Fox News’s $787 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems? Not much, according to media observers, who have reported that Fox itself spent only about seven minutes covering it. That is not surprising, since, increasingly, Americans occupy information silos of their own choosing without accessing opposing information. For Fox, the settlement, though costly, was worth it. By avoiding a trial that even its most blinkered viewers couldn’t ignore, it, at least for now, can preserve its audience.
Fox had already been deeply worried about competition from other reactionary “news” organizations when its on-air hosts began knowingly spreading damaging lies about Dominion. Among those Fox broadcasts’ assertions was that the long-dead Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez was behind supposed vote fraud in the 2020 election. Statements made in sworn depositions and unearthed from text messages and email by Dominion’s legal team demonstrated without a shred of doubt that Fox “hosts, producers, and executives with specific responsibility for each broadcast knew the statements were false or recklessly disregarded the truth.”
Up and down the organization the stories about Dominion were known to be made up; Fox’s chief political correspondent, Bret Baier, stated privately on Nov. 5, 2020, “There is no evidence of fraud. None.” The executive in charge of the opinion shows, including Sean Hannity’s and Tucker Carlson’s, warned that “going on television to say that the election is being stolen . . . would not be based in fact at that point.” Rupert Murdoch, the Fox chairman, also saw the truth, saying on Nov. 6, it is “very hard to credibly claim foul everywhere.”
Mr. Carlson, the top-rated host, who was out at Fox almost the instant that the Dominion settlement was made public, was among those at the network who feared losing its audience. The night of the election, when Fox was the first television outlet to call the important Arizona results for Joe Biden, Mr. Carlson saw the danger. In a text message about his news-side colleagues, he complained, “We worked really hard to build what we have. Those fuckers are destroying our credibility. It enrages me.” They knew the lies but because they saw a ratings threat repeated them anyway. In that context, the $787 million settlement makes sense — a price to pay to stay in business. It is too bad that so many Fox watchers may never know.