Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Fox Viewers Had No Problem With Tucker Carlson Lying to Them

As is usual, what I found most interesting about Fox host Tucker Carlson's firing was not so much that event, but the reaction it provoked from Carlson's loyal viewers.  According to what I have read on Facebook and Twitter (neither of which is the real world), they are OUTRAGED and are turning off Fox News for good. 

Wait a second...the Dominion trial litigation outed Tucker Carlson for LYING to his viewers about the election.  But Carlson's viewers were not mad at him about that.  They were perfectly fine with being lied fact they demanded it.  And it was not just Carlson lying about the 2020 election being stolen.  Carlson lied to his viewers about an assortment of subjects, including most recently the violent insurrection on January 6th.   And I won't even get into Carlson's racist dog whistles, including his promotion of the white supremacist great replacement theory.

The worst contribution of Donald Trump to American politics has been to turn my GOP into the stupid party.  I know that's harsh...but it's true.  So many of the comments from so-called conservatives (Trumpers are often not conservative at all...which is another gripe of mine) just drip of utter stupidity.  We Republicans need to be better.  We need to have morals and ethics and principles.  But we also need to be smarter.

Tucker Carlson made Fox a ton of money.  But his lies also ultimately cost the company a ton of money, $787.5 million in particular, a development that no doubt played a part in his firing.   The response to that lawsuit illustrated how little the public understands about how civil lawsuits are negotiated and ultimately settled.  Several commentators have suggested that Fox won because it didn't have to apologize, or even admit guilt.  One even suggested the $787.5 million Fox had to pay was akin to a "traffic ticket."

A successful civil lawsuit requires TWO elements.  First, that the defendant must have done something wrong.  Second, that the plaintiff must have been harmed by the defendant's wrongdoing. 

Non-lawyers invariably think that if what the defendant did was really, really bad, that means the payout to the plaintiff will be huge.  What they don't understand is the second element is also required...the plaintiff has to quantify how much it was harmed by the defendant's transgressions.

In the lawsuit, Dominion produced a plethora of evidence that Fox News knowingly and falsely implicated the company in a bogus stolen election narrative that Fox broadcast to its viewers.   The weakness in Dominion's case was the damage issue.  Dominion's value as a company didn't seem to be that negatively affected by the alleged defamation.  Even though a jury might well have found in Dominion's favor, the damage award likely would have been much less than what Dominion received in the settlement.  Dominion's ace card was that it survived summary judgment and Fox was careening toward a trial which was going to expose every day its lies and complicity in peddling the stolen election narrative.  Fox did not want its stars, as well as executives, including Fox founder Rupert Murdoch, put on the stand having to admit that they were lying to their viewers.  Not that Fox viewers cared.  But Fox execs did care about having their reputation further damaged with the general public.

Bottom line is that Dominion negotiated a settlement that resulted in the company being paid far more than the damages it suffered.  In 2018, Dominion was valued at $80 million.  It received a settlement nearly 10 times the value of the company.  That's a huge, huge win.  Sure, Dominion could have insisted on an apology.  But that would have come at a price - perhaps reducing the settlement by $200 million. The company owed it to its owners to take the money instead of a virtually meaningless apology.

I may be foolish, but I do believe there is a chance Tucker Carlson's firing is a step toward Fox cleaning up its act.  It would be wonderful if Fox went back to being a conservative network which told the truth to its audience.  One can hope.

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