At Fox news, profits trumps truth

BY:Rena Weaver| April 6, 2023
At Fox news, profits trumps truth


The Dominion defamation lawsuit against Fox News isn’t scheduled to go to trial until April 17, but information from Fox internal emails and texts, as well as depositions, yields new shockers every day. By the time the trial starts, proceedings may seem like a rehash of old news. And the sheer volume of startling revelations could possibly bury the deeper story — how media organizations will do anything to support and nurture capitalism. Fox may be a stunning example, but that network isn’t alone. It’s merely the boldest example of how, with the help of the media, we’ve lost our grip on reality.

The lawsuit alleges that Fox network stars and editorial staff conspired to shore up ratings by promoting knowingly false conspiracy theories about Dominion Voting Systems (producer of electronic voting software) in the wake of the 2020 election. Documents submitted to the court by Dominion appear to show the duplicity of “stars” like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson praising Trump on air while denigrating him privately. These messages suggest Trump isn’t the only recipient of their disdain, however. Fox colleagues who tried to fact check the claims and even the network’s audience were equal recipients of scorn.

As the flurry of heart-stopping revelations about Fox grows to hurricane status, some might get the idea that “The Big Lie” is what’s on trial. In fact, this lawsuit is specifically about Dominion’s claim that Fox promoted deliberate or reckless lies about the company, which harmed Dominion’s reputation. So, a judgment against Fox News will not solve the problem of the corrosion of U.S. democracy at the hands of capitalism. As legal experts RonNell Anderson Jones and Lyrissa Lidsky point out, defamation claims are “not designed to challenge the toxic but general lies infecting public discourse.”

It’s not easy to keep track of developments in the case, in part because of all the confusing but sensational distractions, including whether Tucker Carlson is an “anchor,” a journalist, a pundit, an enabler, or just a very successful entertainer. The claim that a judgment for Dominion would irreparably harm the First Amendment raises a lot of eyebrows, but offers little substance.

All of this serves one purpose — to deflect our attention from the evidence suggesting what was really the problem was a desperate bid to protect the network’s enormous economic stake. The documents submitted by Dominion to the court are riddled with desperate hand-wringing about the potential loss of audience. So, the solution was to whip up the people’s popular rage by dutifully spewing the toxic garbage delivered to the assignment desk. What some people will do for the bottom line. As former Fox news managing editor Bill Sammon is quoted as saying in court filings, “It’s remarkable how weak ratings make good journalists do bad things.”

Perhaps even worse, coverage of the spectacle brushes aside the central issue — regardless of who wins, the case is just the latest evidence that what democratic space has been won is rapidly losing ground to the worst of capitalism. The right-wing assault started long ago (some say Ronald Reagan’s to blame), and people have always been at odds over social and political issues. But the inception of Murdoch’s Fox Corporation breached the barricades by boldly revving up the attack on reality.

“The Big Lie” might never have happened if media companies had not succumbed to the frenzy of cut-throat competition required in a capitalist society. Rupert Murdoch, 92, is one of the most influential players. He has a lot riding on capitalism. His net worth today is estimated at somewhere around 18 billion dollars.

He was thrust into the publishing business at age 22, inheriting News Corporation of Australia from his father when he died. Murdoch wasted no time, almost immediately buying newspaper after newspaper in Australia and eventually, the UK. He grew the business quickly by adopting a tabloid style — flashy pictures and sensational stories. By the time he entered the U.S. media market in 1979, he had already mastered the game of pandering — giving the audience “what they want,” or at least, what it took to get them into the big tent, and keep them there.

Keeping the audience is key in Murdoch’s world. Unfortunately, it seems, the truth alone isn’t enough. No sensational contrivance is too brash or too fake. To stay on top, Murdoch manipulates the truth so much that his audience begins to lose its grip on reality. And that’s when conspiracy theories gain purchase, creating irrational fear and unreasoning distrust of people and institutions, and finally, leading to the chaos and paranoia rampant in the culture today.

Murdoch’s personal maxim might as well be “Dominate at all cost!” And his sole reason for dominating is to make more obscene profits.

It’s not unreasonable to lay this full-throated attack on reality at Murdoch’s feet. His personal maxim might as well be “Dominate at all cost!” And his sole reason for dominating is to make more obscene profits. He cares not about objectivity. He’s not committed to fair and balanced coverage. If he discovered that he could get more eyeballs by pushing a radical left agenda, he’d hop on board the left train in a hot minute.

But the left-wing doesn’t buy ad time because it doesn’t attract consumers the way the salacious, sordid shrieking from the extreme-right does. Young Murdoch, at 22, assuming the helm of the modest Murdoch estate, seized on yellow journalism, so popular in the late 19th century. With his influence, it made a comeback, heralding the sensational over truth and bias over objectivity. Just looking at his media empire, it’s easy to see that the notion of the fourth estate — a watchdog over the constitution and democracy — has gone the way of manual typewriters and smoke-shrouded newsrooms.

Using capitalism as his sword, Murdoch set about laying waste to democracy, leading the way to fascistic authoritarian rule. He does it by assembling a vast monopoly of media outlets — publishing holdings, broadcasting and cable, movies and video production. His footprint is enormous in Australia, where he owns more than 150 national, regional and local newspapers. He owns three major newspapers in the U.K. In the U.S., he owns The Washington Times, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. Also in the U.S., he owns 27 stations in the Fox Television Stations group. And, of course, he owns Fox News. It’s impossible to name all his holdings here, but most sources agree, he owns hundreds, yes hundreds of media outlets.

Technically, the Murdoch empire is not a monopoly. But a look at the holdings world-wide is breathtaking. The most important thing is with this boundless estate, Murdoch can influence media messages that in turn influence the social and political discourse, which allows Murdoch to have an out-sized voice among both elected and appointed power brokers who can steer public policy and laws favorably for Murdoch’s continued dominance. This is why he doesn’t care about democracy. In fact, if he could use capitalism to replace democracy with autocracy, he could create an even friendlier climate for his growing wealth, as long as his media empire remained.

Make no mistake. His campaign involves more than just manipulation of the media. It involves manipulation of the political power base he needs to continue his domination, his quest to have more and more and more.

The first of the Society of Professional Journalists’ four principles of ethical journalism is “Seek Truth and Report It” followed by “Minimize Harm.” Looking at it now, SPJ’s code of ethics seems almost quaint. Ethical journalism “should be accurate and fair … honest and courageous.” Journalists should “take responsibility for their work” and “verify information before releasing it.” They should “take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify.” Those are just the highlights pertaining to seeking truth and reporting it.

Under “Minimize Harm,” the SPJ code says “Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public … with … respect.” It’s followed by “avoid pandering to lurid curiosity” and “consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication.” That’s just the first half of the principles. The list also exhorts journalists to act independently, and to be accountable and transparent.

Finally, it’s important to recognize that capitalism does not value people. People are only useful as puppets. There is no respect for people who are in distress due to homelessness, hunger, or poverty. And there is no concern about the mental anguish and panic people experience when they begin to lose grip on what is real or not, or true or not. No, capitalism does not value people. It exploits them, chewing up their lives in order to assure the powerful remain that way.

The last sentence in the preamble of SPJ’s statement of principles says, “An ethical journalist acts with integrity.” Unfortunately, as Murdoch and his ilk seem to think, integrity doesn’t buy you wealth and power. At least, not under capitalism.

Images: Money, Money, Money, Money by Austin Kirk (CC BY 2.0) / Rupert Murdoch – World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2009 by World Economic Forum (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) / Tucker Carlson by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0) / Sean Hannity by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0) / Laura Ingraham (52586805818) (cropped) by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)


    Rena is a journalist, educator, and media critic.

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