By Terry Manning
Conservative television network Fox News has had a few memorable slogans over the years.
“Fair and Balanced.” Nope, and nope.
“We Report, You Decide.” Only if “reporting” means cherry picking facts and presenting them in a biased manner that leads to misinformed decisions.
“Most Watched, Most Trusted.” I’ll grant them “most watched.” Sadly.
“Standing Up For What’s Right.” Either they misspelled “white” or left off “-wing.”
Maybe they should try, “We’re Full Of It, But That’s OK Because You Like The Way We Lie.” Nah, Eminem and Rihanna might go after them legally. Not that that would be the worst thing that could happen.
In recent reports from The Washington Post and other news outlets, it came to light that Fox News executives and their highest-profile personalities knew they were spreading lies when they promoted claims the 2020 general election was stolen from Donald Trump.
The right-wing propaganda machine is being sued for $1.6 billion by Dominion Voting Systems for defamation over airing claims Dominion was compromised by people trying to fix election results in favor of Democratic candidates around the country. Especially in favor “Sleepy Joe” Biden, who defeated Trump with the highest vote total in U.S. history.
Internal communications produced as part of the proceedings show Fox News’ top executives knew the accusations were baseless. Fox News stars like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson are documented sharing concerns about Trump lawyer Sidney Powell’s wild claims about voter fraud.
A network that calls itself “news” knew they were broadcasting false claims — literal fake news — and they decided to air them anyway?
As a former practicing journalist, I will tell you nothing strikes fear in the heart of a news executive like the possibility of being sued for publishing information that turns out to be wrong or incomplete. Freedom of the press does not favor information that is poorly reported or knowingly inaccurate.
So why did Fox News broadcast false information?
Because their audience wanted that false information. When Fox News personalities like Neil Cavuto and Bret Baier refuted the false election claims on-air, viewers complained and some left for Newsmax. The upstart network had gained traction with Trump voters by being even farther right-wing, by out-Fox-ing Fox News.
According to court documents, billionaire Rupert Murdoch messaged Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott, “Everything at stake here,” meaning potentially losing viewer support, losing ratings and, most importantly, losing money.
The New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg writes that when one Fox News reporter rebutted Trump’s Dominion claims, Carlson tried to get her fired, writing to Hannity: “It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”
What kind of “news” channel are you when the truth is bad for business? But it’s a model Fox News has followed since it began, giving people just enough of the news to feel like they know what’s going on and then telling viewers how they should feel about it. (Those feelings are mostly fear and anger, from what I have seen.)
One reason Fox News has been so successful is they take complex or nuanced issues and boil them down to talking points: Trump smart. Putin strong. Obama Black. Biden weak. Pelosi socialist. We love America. They hate America.
A recent study concluded outlets on both ends of the political spectrum use this tactic to communicate more effectively with their audiences.
Jessica Sparks, a former journalist and journalism instructor (full disclosure: She is a friend and former colleague) is lead author of a paper that reviewed thousands of articles published across varied news sites and found that not only do these partisan outlets make their messages easier to comprehend but they reinforce them with negative language and tone.
Sparks and co-author Jay Hmielowski write, “If audiences are seeking content that reflects their attitudes and that rejects mainstream journalism, partisan media outlets on both sides of the political spectrum benefit from differentiating themselves both in content substance and content style.”
If you watch Fox News on even a recurring basis, you will find this is exactly what they do. All day. Every day. And now it looks like they are going to have to pay, at least in this case.
The revelations from this lawsuit are a big story and can be found on many news sites. All except Fox News, as far as I can tell. But they already know their viewers can’t handle the truth.
Terry E. Manning is a Clemson graduate and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.