What About Fox and Dominion? Did Fox Get Off Easy?

Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

I’m seeing a lot of mixed opinions about the Fox/Dominion settlement. Mostly, I agree with David’s sum-up and response. To the extent you’re disappointed or feel like Fox got away with it, your expectations were unrealistic. Dominion’s a private company. It’s in the business of being in business and making money, not saving American democracy.

It’s genuinely difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the financial settlement: upwards of a billion dollars. Someone asked me yesterday if it were the biggest defamation settlement in history. I noticed a few reports basically hedging on this point, calling it likely the biggest settlement ever. But I think that’s mostly because it’s hard to prove a negative on the fly. I’m not sure there’s ever been a pay out even a 10th the size. (Mammoth verdicts are often trimmed down or tossed entirely on appeal.)

I’m also surprised that there was no admission of error, let alone an apology — we’ll get to that in a moment. But the reality is that the discovery process itself was a devastating verdict on Fox’s lack of any journalistic principles as a news organization. And the galactic size of the settlement really speaks for itself.

Once again, Dominion isn’t an activist organization. We shouldn’t expect it to act like one. The result of this case has been absolutely devastating for Fox’s reputation.

But what about the lack of an admission of wrongdoing, or at least a clear statement that the allegations were not true? I have to admit I was surprised by this. I do think that what became public via the discovery process combined with the settlement makes clear to anyone living in the reality based universe that the accusations were ridiculous and that Fox has zero credibility about anything. But still, given that the suit is about telling lies, why not insist that Fox admit publicly that they were lies? After all, Fox actually ran what amounted to retractions when the cases were first filed, trying to get ahead of things. Why not simply insist they do that again?

The best theory I’ve seen is again the one David suggests. Fox isn’t out of the woods yet. This whole drama was always about two voting machine companies: Dominion and Smartmatic. The Smartmatic case is still pending and it’s in New York rather than Delaware. But it is very much coming. And on its face it’s not clear that its claims and alleged damages are any less damaging than Dominion’s. People are treating Smartmatic as somehow an after thought if they’re mentioning it at all. But it’s not clear to me why that is the case.

For the purposes of this discussion the kinds of admissions we’re talking about are ones that would be very hard for Fox to make since they essentially foreclose most of the defenses Fox is likely to assert in its trial with Smartmatic. That’s just a theory of course. But it may be part of the explanation.

The larger point is that we’re still in the popcorn phase of this process. In addition to the suits against Fox, there are still a number of further lawsuits against the Fox personalities who made the claims. But of course those aren’t quite as entertaining since the individuals don’t have deep pockets like Fox.

More broadly I think this is another example that many of us are still waiting for the silver bullet, some final epic reckoning that is total, that forces the supporters of Trump or the viewers of Fox News to have to admit that they were wrong all along, that they were chumps, that they have to make amends. But that is again an unrealistic expectation. To the extent the long arc of history bends toward the good guys — a suspect supposition in itself — it is an incremental and never completed process. If you ever manage to roll the ball to the top of the hill you then need to hold it at the top of the hill, or roll it again when it slips.

There’s nothing wrong with being disappointed of course. Where the urge becomes a problem is when it leads you to experience a solid win, even a thorough thumping, as a deflating moment and a confirmation that we can’t have good things because you were really, really set on it being a cataclysmic blowout.

Latest Editors' Blog
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: