OPINION: The $787M settlement for Fox News isn’t enough

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

In what feels like a previous life when I lived in Washington, D.C., I used to appear frequently on all three cable news networks as a political analyst.

Before Donald Trump ever ran for president , I had already gotten to know most Fox News hosts professionally.

All were unfailingly friendly when the cameras were off, but two, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, became animated and combative when the cameras turned on. Even then, among all cable news hosts, Hannity and Carlson were the ones who seemed to be performing, playing characters they knew their audience wanted to watch.

So it was not a surprise to me when text messages, released recently as a part of Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News, showed that Hannity and Carlson, along with News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch, never believed the 2020 election conspiracies they aired as former President Donald Trump wrongly insisted the election had been stolen from him.

Dominion’s defamation case was resolved earlier this week when Fox agreed to pay the company $787 million to settle out of court. But $787 million isn’t nearly enough for the damage that Fox News did, including here in Georgia.

Trump’s insistence in the days after the 2020 election that the election had been stolen from him put the state’s elections in chaotic limbo for nearly two months.

Elections officials received death threats. The Georgia House and Senate held special hearings on the election, which were broadcast live from the state Capitol.

By state law, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger ordered a machine recount, followed by a hand recount, a forensic audit, and a signature audit of Georgia’s results.

All confirmed that Joe Biden won the state , but Trump continued to wrongly insist, as he does to this day, that the election was rigged against him.

Why were some Georgia voters so convinced otherwise? In part because of the conspiracies that viewers were seeing on Fox News every night, even as the Fox hosts airing them privately said they never bought a word of it.

A perfect example came from Hannity two weeks after the election, when he invited Sidney Powell, a lawyer for the Trump campaign, on to discuss her claims that Dominion voting machines had been manipulated to steal votes for Biden. Dominion machines are used in Georgia.

After Powell claimed she had government whistleblowers who could testify that the Dominion machines “shaved” “trashed” and “injected” votes from Trump, Hannity thanked Powell and said, “Now we have to ask, why did we use them?”

Did Hannity believe any of the conspiracies that Powell and Trump’s other lawyers were pushing? Not according to his testimony in the Dominion case.

“I did not believe it for one second,” he said under oath last year in a deposition.

It wasn’t just Hannity who called the Trump claims nonsense privately, but fed them to viewers anyway.

Tucker Carlson did a lengthy segment about Powell’s tales of 7 million missing votes the day after she appeared on Hannity.

He said that he’d “always respected” her work and detailed the false claims, but noted that she’d refused to send evidence of the claims she was making on Fox and elsewhere.

“Why are we telling you this? We’re telling you this because it’s true, and in the end, that’s all that matters,” he said.

Is the truth all that matters? What Carlson didn’t say that night was that he had been texting about Powell in the days leading up to that interview, variously calling her a “lying ...crazy person,” and a “lunatic,” even though he said on air that he respected her that night.

And on his show the next day, Carlson concluded, even without that missing evidence, “Voter fraud is something that is real, that just took place two weeks ago. Our media class doesn’t want to talk about it.”

Over the next several weeks, Trump attorneys continued to appear on Fox programs, including with Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo, pushing the conspiracies that Fox’s leadership did not believe.

As I and other reporters covered GOP events in Georgia, we heard over and over from Georgia voters who did not believe the election was legitimate, weeks after it had been certified. They restated the same claims that Fox News had been airing about the Dominion voting machines. Some did not believe Biden would ever be inaugurated.

The damage to voters’ trust in Georgia’s elections was so profound that lawmakers, eager to mollify angry Trump voters, passed an election law overhaul the next year, with multiple changes to prevent “another stolen election” when the 2020 election was never stolen in the first place.

But when News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch was asked under oath in his deposition if he believed the election had been fair, he said yes. “The election was not stolen.”

The cost to the company for its role in all of that was not enough for the damage done, and Fox did not apologize for any of it.

It’s hard to say what dollar amount could compensate the country for the lies the Trump team told and Fox News’ failure to report the truth when they knew it. But without an apology, $787 million hardly seems enough.