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Fox News finally reveals its kryptonite: the bottom line

Fox News is not news and should not be treated as such. Let’s call it what it is: a right-wing variety show where ratings outnumber the truth.

That’s certainly not a revelation to the millions of Americans shocked by the network’s lack of journalistic integrity or to those resigned to the dystopian nightmare that democracy will fall before Tucker Carlson’s ratings do. But the Dominion Voting System’s $1.6 billion defamation case against Fox News has exposed a vulnerability at the heart of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire — and increased pressure on his conservative crown jewel to change its destructive course.

Dominion hit Fox where it hurt, and I’m not talking about his moral compass. As the executive chairman of News Corp. Murdoch himself said in a statement, the central factor in his decision making is “not red or blue. It’s green.” In other words, not necessarily politics, but money, profit and ratings are the basis of Fox’s reporting. If a fact finds its way into the mix, so be it.

The fear of losing viewers to upstart Newsmax and its far-right brethren has clearly influenced programming decisions at Fox News. Take the days after the 2020 election. Alex Pfeiffer, producer of Tucker Carlson’s internal communications program, warned the host about straying from their most popular topic of conversation: “A lot of viewers were angry tonight that we didn’t cover election fraud. … It’s all our viewers care about right now.

Court documents show that Carlson, like his boss, panicked about the bottom line. When Fox News White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich checked Trump’s election lies in a tweet, Carlson wrote in a text chain with fellow hosts Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity: “Please get her fired. Seriously… Who cares? I’m actually shocked… It has to stop immediately, like tonight. It hurts the business measurably. The stock price has fallen. No kidding.” Everyone knew that the allegations of election fraud were a lie.

Indeed, reams of internal communications within Fox News show that leadership and management fully understood that Dominion voting machines were not part of a nefarious plan from Venezuela to steal the election from Trump and hand it over to Biden. In his bombshell statement, Murdoch threw Fox News’ star anchors under the bus. When asked if he “know now that Fox sometimes endorsed this false idea of ​​stolen elections,” Murdoch said, “Not Fox. But maybe Lou Dobbs, maybe Maria (Bartiromo) as commentators. … Some of our commentators endorsed it. They endorsed.”

In the tense days following the 2020 election, with the deadly events of January 6 and the fate of the union teetering on the cutting edge, Fox doubled over and attacked whoever or whatever it took to to stay black. But attacking Dominion, an entity with the resources to fight back, was a bad idea. Legal analysts have said there is enough evidence to prove in court that Fox had unfairly targeted the maker of the voting machine, whether the ulterior motive was to help Trump and the Republican Party stay in power, viewers more of the giving them red meat that the network itself had given them addicted, trumping competitors, or all of the above.

Media watchdog groups have called for Fox to be punished for its creative use of the word “news,” but those campaigns have been about as effective at creating real change as Robert Mueller’s report on Russian collusion in the 2016 election. Fox News on moral or ethical grounds assumes that the network values ​​basic principles of journalism, such as avoiding conflicts of interest that would erode its credibility. But that ship sailed long ago, perhaps from the flat end of the earth if we are to believe the extreme elements that inevitably court the conspiracy of the network.)

Even before the Dominion trial, litigation was the only effective weapon against Fox News’ dangerous excesses. After all, two of the network’s most influential — and seemingly untouchable — figures were brought down by lawsuits. News of multiple settlements, which in turn led to more lawsuits, eventually pacified the top blazer, Bill O’Reilly, and his too-big-to-fail CEO, Roger Ailes. And make no mistake, it was a deluge of multimillion-dollar payouts that overthrew them, not the embarrassment or embarrassment that preyed on their colleagues and subordinates.

Fox News’ loose relationship with the facts, and its unholy alliance with the most unhinged characters in the Republican Party, has finally hit home, and now the network is about to pay a huge price. But it won’t be the revelation that it’s a partisan propaganda outlet that will see it through. As with O’Reilly and Ailes, what could always succeed in silencing the network’s worst instincts will be what has always been its kryptonite: the almighty dollar.