Of course they knew it was a lie
On the one hand, wow! What blatant hypocrisy. Such craven cynicism.
On the other hand, yep! Of course. No surprise here. What did we expect?
Those were but a few of the more restrained (and less profane) reactions to the revelations from court filings made public yesterday that the most famous Fox News hosts and other senior staff at the network — including owner Rupert Murdoch — pretty much agreed with the rest of the reality-based world that widespread voter fraud claims around the 2020 presidential election were pure, unadulterated horse manure.
This is blockbuster news. It’s also completely predictable. These people are not stupid, and they are not completely disconnected from what the rest of us see. They read the same newspapers, even if they pretend not to. They hobnob in the New York media scene. Their kids often go to elite private schools. They just know that their business models — and their millions — depend on presenting a very different set of “facts” (as in, non-facts) to their viewers.
We now can read the words that the likes of Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham never meant us to see. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, they were mocking Trump’s purveyors of the Big Lie, such as Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, in their private communications.
According to reporting by The New York Times, Carlson and Ingraham were sharing text messages in the wake of the election that would have been a surprise to their viewers, to say the least:
“Sidney Powell is lying by the way. I caught her. It’s insane,” Mr. Carlson wrote to Ms. Ingraham on Nov. 18, 2020.
Ms. Ingraham responded: “Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy.”
The revelations come from a lawsuit being filed by Dominion Voting Systems, makers of voting machines that were regularly vilified on Fox News as part of a vast conspiracy to deprive Donald Trump of reelection. The company is suing Fox for defamation. And many legal experts think the impact can be huge — “a case that poses considerable financial and reputational risk for the country’s most-watched cable news network,” according to The Times. A good summation, although perhaps “news network” should be in quotation marks.
What Fox News is alleged to have done (and the evidence is pretty damning), deserves to be front-page news. And we might be getting only a glimpse of what's to come. Much of the released filing was redacted. And Fox News sure hopes it remains hidden.
What does emerge, however, is that Fox News was worried in the aftermath of the election — and for good reason. Their viewers seemed to be more loyal to Trump than to Fox, and the network risked losing audience share to the even nuttier corners of the right-wing media alternative universe (like Newsmax and OAN) if they didn’t echo Trumpworld’s fevered waves of disinformation and outright lies. That when faced with the choice of protecting American democracy or their own bottom line they chose the latter should also surprise no one.
But it should not be normalized or accepted.
Reporters are humans, like everyone else, and thus are fallible. We make mistakes, information that we thought was true can change, and we are sometimes limited by our own assumptions, backgrounds, and biases. The craft of responsible journalism recognizes these vulnerabilities and builds systems with checks and balances that are meant to help our readers and viewers get to as much of a responsible version of the truth as is humanly possible.
News organizations worthy of the name believe the stories they distribute. Their reporters believe what they report. Their writers believe what they write. And their anchors believe what they say on the air.
These Fox News personalities and the corporation that pays them were not trying to do any of this. Their programs became echo chambers for egregiousness. They knew truth, and they knew fiction. And they deliberately peddled falsehoods.
It was a calculated business decision. And that means that whatever business Fox News is in, it isn’t the news business.
To paraphrase Captain Renault from the movie Casablanca, I'm shocked! Shocked to find that lying is going on in there.
Sadly, what we’re talking about here is not a line from a film, and it’s not a joke. This is serious business raising serious questions about the future of our country.
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