It’s been a momentous week in media — one that executives and hosts at Fox News hope you’ll soon forget.
But the aftertaste from its $787.5-million decision to settle the Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation case lingers. While the Murdochs want to wash away months of monumentally damaging headlines — exposing their efforts to deceive the American public and help overthrow a democratically elected government — there are ways to make sure they and their media company are held accountable.
Until we know the full extent of the company’s deception and abuse and implement policies that prevent one media conglomerate from amassing this much power, Fox will continue to lie for profit in ways that undermine our democracy, poison public discourse and divide our communities.
That Fox News settled for a gargantuan $787.5 million points to how strong Dominion’s case was — and also reveals the network’s desire to prevent further damning facts from coming out during a trial. Yet money alone won’t bring accountability, and it doesn’t correct the ongoing harms Fox News causes across society. For Fox chief Rupert Murdoch, $787.5 million is simply the cost of doing business for a media company that profits from deceiving people and spreading hate.
Thousands of pages of court documents exposed what many already suspected about Fox’s reckless reporting practices and political and corporate biases. But it’s important to remember that the settlement simply holds Fox News accountable for the damages it caused to Dominion’s reputation and bottom line. This one defamation lawsuit was never going to hold Fox accountable for the incalculable harm it’s inflicted on people of color, LGBTQIA+ communities and other groups that far-right hosts like Tucker Carlson routinely target. Nor does the settlement repair the damages Fox has caused by normalizing policies that take away women’s bodily autonomy — or by propping up narratives that inspire gun violence.
And Fox doesn’t plan to change a thing as a result of this costly lawsuit. The evening after the settlement was announced, the network’s primetime lineup was as hateful and misleading as always. That night’s programming included a lead segment from Carlson on supposed “mob rule” in Democratic-led cities. “This is why we used to shoot looters,” he said. Sean Hannity’s program led with a segment where he asked white-supremacist and Trump speechwriter Stephen Miller to “define a woman” as another guest referred to immigrants as “sex traffickers.” On Laura Ingraham’s show, the host led with a segment referencing Hunter Biden’s laptop and leveling unsubstantiated claims of corruption against the Biden family.
At no point during any of these programs did any of these proven liars cover the settlement, let alone apologize for repeatedly and knowingly deceiving their viewers about supposed voter fraud during the 2020 elections.
We can’t return to business as usual
Before Fox writes off its Dominion losses, we need a national reckoning on the harms the Murdoch empire has done and continues to do. We must examine the history of U.S. policymaking and lax enforcement that allowed the Murdochs to amass so much media power. Why is a company that routinely misinforms the public and endangers democracy allowed to use our public airwaves or other public property and communications infrastructure?
Then we must work together to put in place the types of policies that will foster a media system that supports public-interest accountability journalism over the spectacle of deception and bigotry that passes for news at Fox.
We need more of the sorts of policies that Fox, with its lawyers and lobbying dollars, has fought so hard against. This includes much more public investment in civic media — especially in communities that have suffered the most from the Murdochs’ brand of media bigotry. We need real diversity in media ownership, and we need to give consumers the ability to opt out of paying for Fox as part of their cable and streaming bundles. We need federal agencies to stop rubber-stamping massive media mergers — and actually weigh the impact of these deals on workers and consumers. And to get there we need a Congress that will stand up to Big Media lobbyists on behalf of the people they actually represent.
No single company has done more combined harm to our planet (by pushing climate denialism), our society (by spreading racism and hate), and our democracy (by promoting authoritarians and attacking fair elections) than Fox. Fox is hoping with this settlement that we’ll all just move on, and the outrage will fade away.
But its continued airing of hate and lies makes it hard to forget Fox’s destructive legacy, or excuse the lawmakers who helped the Murdochs such a toxic media empire.
The fight to create a healthier media system has had some defeats and victories. While we can chalk up Fox’s Dominion settlement in the win column, it’s only one small step toward building a media system that better protects democracy and holds its enemies fully accountable.