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Fox News wasn’t required to correct or apologize, and Dominion didn’t take its shot.


Tucker Carlsons abrupt departure of Fox News was a surprising twist that could have been indicative of reform and regret for the company’s deviations from credible journalism.

It wasn’t.

The divorce came just days after Fox’s historic $787.5 million settlement of a libel lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems over lies spread by multiple Fox employees, including Carlson, the primetime star. The lawsuit claimed Fox spread lies promoting a now-debunked claim that Dominion was part of a conspiracy to steal the 2020 presidential election from Donald Trump.

The settlement was a win for Fox and Dominion, even without any connection to Carlson’s departure. But it was an unequivocal loss for ethical journalism, a victory for financial accountability, and a defeat for accountability.

“Money is responsibility,” declared victorious Dominion attorney Stephen Shackelford in a interview with NPR“and we got that from Fox today.”

A few days later, Fox announced it was ending its relationship with Carlson, the news organization’s top celebrity host and one of several Fox employees who Dominion alleged facilitated the spread of false information about his role in the election. to end.

Fox’s announcement of Carlson’s departure was brief: “We thank him for his service to the network as a host and before that as a contributor,” the Fox spokesman said. Because the departure by either company was not linked to the settlement, there is no credible reason to consider it a dismissal based on liability or responsibility.

Accountability and responsibility are not synonymous scholars of business practices and journalism. Usually, accountability in business settings is a punishment imposed for failure to fulfill a responsibility. Dominion forced Fox to account with the monetary settlement.

But while Fox has joined to its responsibility, it has not conceded its ethics responsibility as a self-proclaimed news organization. Her journalistic responsibility includes the duty to admit publicly that she has not told the truth. Journalistic ethics requires news organizations to have a correction when an error is published. It is important to note that news organizations follow ethical requirements only if they choose to or if required by a legal settlement. The Dominion Settlement Agreement did not require an ethics-based announcement.

However, two of Fox’s competitors for far-right viewers, News Max and One America News Network, met the ethics requirement after being charged with spreading similar and related lies about the 2020 election. settlement agreements, they admitted to publishing the false information and publicly apologized. These were examples of the responsibility required by journalistic ethics.

Such a requirement in Fox’s settlement agreement pales in comparison to the massive payment Dominion will receive and, according to Fox stock owner Hootan Yaghoobzadeh, would have been an empty gesture. “These results are much more profound than some disingenuous apology or forced statement that would have no credibility whatsoever,” he said. said in an interview after settlement.

I have for over 20 years investigated how law and ethics shape how journalism is practiced in the United States. While law and journalistic ethics are often at odds, the Fox v. Dominion case was a case where legal proceedings could have established an ethical responsibility.

It didn’t.

Fox News owners Lachlan Murdoch and Rupert Murdoch on September 5, 2018 in New York City.
Adrian Edwards/GC Images/Getty Images

The lawsuit that wasn’t

Dominion served one $1.6 billion lawsuit against New York City-based Fox News in 2021 in Delaware, where the news organization was founded. Court registrations alleged that Fox had repeatedly and falsely implicated Dominion in a plot to rig the election in favor of Joe Biden.

Jury selection for the trial was finalized on April 18, but a last-minute settlement that day ended it all when Fox agreed to pay $787.5 million to Dominion with no apology or admission of wrongdoing.

But as a recipient of more than three-quarters of a billion dollars, Dominion came out on top monetarily, stating that it had held Fox News responsible.

In the world of business ventures where both parties live, money is the essence of accountability. Business leaders who do well receive hefty bonuses. Those who mishandle their responsibilities will not receive bonuses.

Fox Corp. was held responsible by the settlement not only for lying, but also for libel—damaging the reputation of the Dominion Corporation by lying. As such, monetary accountability was entirely appropriate.

Offended people usually demand more.

Defending a reputation

Historically, people in the United States and Europe challenged their opponents to duels if their reputation or character was tainted.

In the most sophisticated form of American duels, the sides stood back to back with pistols and moved several paces apart, turned to face each other and fired one shot. Ideally, no one would be hit. From the offended person reputation would be restored by this ritualized proof of the willingness to die or kill for it. Nor would the slanderers lose character because they, too, showed themselves willing to die or kill to justify their damaging accusations.

In a sophisticated dueling, both had to throw their shot – firing without aiming or aiming for the air. But sometimes – cue Broadway playwright Lin Manuel Miranda – a duelist wouldn’t throw his shot away. Vice President of the US Aaron Burr took aim and, famously, killed Alexander Hamiltona political foe he might otherwise confront again.

Two men in a duel, one shooting the other.
US Vice President Aaron Burr didn’t throw his shot away in a duel with his political foe Alexander Hamilton; he killed him.
Kean Collection/Getty Images

Responsibility is not responsibility

In time, defamation lawsuits became the more civilized alternative to duels and the only ones allowed by “artificial people”, the legal term for companies defending their reputation and holding someone financially liable.

Dominion threw his shot by not requiring Fox News to publish a correction and apologizing.

Publishing a correction – complying with journalists’ duty of transparency, as humiliating as that may be – is the accountability journalism ethics scholars embrace. With for-profit commercial companies such as Fox and Dominion, the responsibility lies primarily in the nature of financial liability, because their primary responsibility is to make as much money as possible – not to lose money.

Making a correction and a confession apparently threatened Fox with a loss of money. According to pre-trial documents, Fox officials feared their audiences would see that admission as treason and switch to other media, as they did when Fox announced that Biden had won Arizona in the 2020 presidential election. Those were some of the factors that came into play during settlement negotiations between the two companies, according to those familiar with “the room where it happened.”

Limited financial accountability was good enough for Fox. Responsibility may have been a step too far.

Dominion could have demanded Fox take responsibility. Instead, the settlement allowed Fox News to rack then to his faithful who said in part, “This settlement reflects FOX’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.”

Dominion, which was ostensibly suing to save its reputation from Fox’s damaging lies, could have demanded a corrective statement as part of the settlement. It could have taken that shot, which would have imposed ethical responsibility on Fox.

But the money had to be made by raising the settlement price. The revelations of Fox’s lies were in court documents that had already been made public, but were published in media not usually frequented by the Fox faithful – and therefore had less bargaining value for Dominion.

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