When Attacking Democracy is the Right Business Decision
Fox News made a calculated risk that undermining a free and fair election was in their best interest. And they weren't wrong.
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“The Newsmax surge is a bit troubling,” Fox News President Jay Wallace wrote to Rupert Murdoch following the 2020 Presidential Election. “Truly is an alternate universe when you watch, but it can’t be ignored.”
What Wallace was observing was a competitor in the making. Newsmax and fellow upstart OANN didn’t hesitate to embrace the Big Lie that the presidential contest had been stolen by Joe Biden, the Democratic Party, and a shadowy cabal of evil interlopers, ranging from Venezuela to China to satanic child abusers. “Trying to get everyone to comprehend we are on war footing,” Wallace continued.
On Election Night Fox had committed one of the few unforgivable sins within the Republican Party: actively admitting defeat. When it became obvious that Trump had dropped the state of Arizona to his rival, the network gritted its teeth and announced the result. This drew the ire of Donald Trump and his cronies, but also led to a crush of viewers switching the channel in search of an alternate reality that better suited them. Newsmax and OANN were more than happy to give them just that, and they never let up.
Despite texts revealing that Fox News’s hosts and executives knew full and well what took place, and that Trump had obviously lost the election, it was understood rather quickly that there was no choice but to trumpet the lie in order to protect the audience share and learn to love the lie.
Tuesday’s settlement in the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit was the fated consequence of those decisions. The original pursuit was $1.6 billion dollars. Dominion had become the focus of the conspiracy theory and Fox News had filled its airwaves with claims that the business had played an integral role in stealing the election. Right before the trial was about to begin, a settlement totaling $787 million interrupted the proceedings.
It was disappointing. Millions of Fox critics were more than ready to see their personalities and leaders squirm on the stand. There was a hope that, should the full penalty be reached, it might deal a significant blow to the corporation. The announcement of the settlement was met with more than a fair share of groans and some saying it was at least significant.
There are several other looming lawsuits for Fox, including other companies implicated in their conspiracy theory-mongering and possibly their own investors, but at this moment, it’s hard to argue the corporation made the wrong decision.
Since the network launched in October of 1996 it has been airing twenty-four hours of conspiracy theory fearmongering a day. It is a strategized alternate reality designed, intentionally, to gift the Republican Party and conservative, wealth-based politics a world that benefits their agenda. The results have been as impressive as they have been disturbing. Fox has singularly changed the landscape of American culture, creating a rightward shift in our politics and society and permanently trapping millions upon millions of American in their designer reality, creating a torrent of violence, wreaking havoc on representative government, and systematically hampering democracy at every turn. When we reach a point of no-return with climate change, when we watch yet another election stolen, when things get as bad as we can imagine, Fox News and its bevy of executives and on-air talents will deserve a considerable share of the blame.
When we reach a point of no-return with climate change, when we watch yet another election stolen, when things get as bad as we can imagine, Fox News and its bevy of executives and on-air talents will deserve a considerable share of the blame
But this decision was in line with all of the prior decisions. When it came to the pandemic, it was a tap-dance routine of either pretending the disease didn’t exist or that Trump was doing a bang-up job fighting the deadliest thing imaginable. Here, the protection of their ratings and ad revenue was entirely logical within this current atmosphere of business interests.
Fox News did what the economy expected them to do. There are no downsides economically in this case. Their $14 billion dollars a year profit was absolutely served, even if it meant taking a $700 billion plus hit in this situation. It doesn’t matter if they have to apologize - which they don’t - or admit wrong - they really don’t - all that registers with those viewers they saved is that the alternate reality they require was maintained. And it means the conspiracy theories are only going to get worse and more dangerous in every regard.
It is no different from a corporation selling cigarettes to the public and to children knowing full and well they are cancerous, or a pharmaceutical firm peddling heavily-addictive and deadly opioids to a public. Because the pursuit of ever-increasing profits is not limited in these circles by moral or ethical concerns. And you cannot expect these corporations to police themselves, which is the very basis of the neoliberal market.
In this arena nothing is more important than profits. Not the lives and well-being of the people. Not public health. Not the environment. And most certainly not democracy. These are all abstract or rather immaterial concerns. Collateral damage at best.
The tally at the moment is more than clear. Fox’s billions in profits cast a long, long shadow over the hundreds of millions lost. The conspiracy theories they air, the same ones that launder white supremacist paranoia and put so many of us in literal danger, afford them those billions and make any of these lawsuits or challenges surmountable. You cannot expect them to stop until an agency or law intervenes. The market has been absolutely primed to work this way, and it isn’t a coincidence that all of our businesses and sectors are wired to work counter to our interests or our safety.
Because this capitalist model is antithetical to a sustainable or healthy society. It is powered by fear, terror, and insecurity. These things prime consumers to spend their hard-earned wealth on things they don’t need or invest in projects that will ultimately hurt them and the people they love in the end. And so Fox News will make this decision every time it is presented to them.
They will make this decision until the decision isn’t an option.
How naive of you, Jared. If you were familiar with how civil litigation works, you'd know that this case was never going to trial. Most civil suits never do. It was about nothing more than a company endeavoring to recoup a business loss from a libelous entity. They got more money from this settlement than what their business is even worth.
It is not up to either Dominion or Smartmatic to crusade on behalf of those who wish Fox would die. It's up to its shareholders, its advertisers and its idiot viewers. This is how capitalism functions.
This settlement actually makes it a lot harder for Fox to squirm out from under Smartmatic's pending suit. And unlike the outcome of a jury trial, Fox cannot appeal it. Amazingly, the damages were announced publicly, and it's hardly chump change. Besides, the consensus is that Fox may not have admitted culpability, but nobody settles a suit with such a huge payout without looking guilty.
I'm looking forward to seeing what happens with Smartmatic.
The decline is already apparent for anyone who cares to look. That's the biggest issue, is getting enough people to see the forest for the trees.