Politics & Media
Mar 02, 2023, 05:57AM

Fox and the Unsavory Urinals of Truth

Thoughts on the latest Dominion filing.

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Paul Ryan, analyst: “Fox was trying to navigate this dynamic between a core group of Trump loyalists who were ignoring the truth and the truth itself.” The truth as a pitfall, a hazard to be avoided in the functioning of a news operation—that’s a nice way of looking at things. The former Speaker of the House now sits on the board of Fox Corp. As a result he had to testify in the prelims to Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation suit against Fox. So did Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox, and Murdoch offered much the same take on Fox’s news goals in the aftermath of the 2020 vote: “to straddle the line between spewing conspiracy theories on one hand, yet calling out the fact that they are actually false on the other.”

I’d say this middle ground approach outraged extremists on both sides, those who want lies and those who want truth. Often enough it got brushed aside, with Rudy and the others getting plenty of airtime to smear the election results. In general Fox kept its trousers clear of the row of dirty urinals known as the truth, but it toppled over into the toilet known as Sidney Powell. The audience wanted the toilet: no election lies, watch everyone switch to Newsmax.

For decades Murdoch fed viewers lies he found convenient. Now he found he had to give them the lies they found convenient, not to say psychically necessary. He had to do so without regard to his resulting legal liability. Waiting for court, he wonders what hit him. He comes off as a complex figure, in some ways Shakespearean. Well, no, not really. He seems like Wile E. Coyote, someone who has run very energetically in one direction and then discovered that the ground stopped a while back. He thought he could keep whipping the folks up, and he did so until the folks became ravening marauders indifferent to truth. Stop whipping them up now and they’re gone; keep whipping them up and you’re sued for $1.6 billion. Next the ravine’s rushing up toward you while your lawyers try to grab branchlets hanging from the cliff face.

Twisted values.  Fox’s chairman puts news gathering a few rungs below audience manipulation and political maneuvering. When the 2020 returns showed that Biden had won at last, the channel’s election team wasn’t allowed to make the call. “We should and could have gone first but at least being second saves us a Trump explosion,” Murdoch texted his son. But you notice that he regretted the necessity. Murdoch doesn’t resent news.

By contrast the person he put in charge of Fox Business News has little tolerance for the gathering and reporting of accurate information pertaining to crucial national events. “[D]on’t know how we work here. Honestly,” she texted a colleague, her professionalism appalled. “We are going to look back at this week and know this was when we lost a significant part of our audience who won’t come back.” Fox News had beaten everyone by calling Arizona for Biden, and what was that going to do to market share?

Damp trousers. Paul Ryan’s always been demure; under oath, he’s very demure. Fox’s board met after the election. Probably it discussed how the channel was covering the election fallout and Trump’s lies. Almost certainly. But Ryan wouldn’t testify to that effect. His replies stuck like glue to a bland, elaborately casual unhelpfulness: “wouldn't surprise me” featured, as did “Not that I can recall, but it’s not implausible at all” and “This is November 11th, so it would surprise me if we were not talking about the news today.” I don’t know what row of dirty urinals the ex–national leader was avoiding, but I wish him luck.

In his congressional days, Ryan had to deplore or demur Trump and his presidency. Now he’s stuck as the in-house deplorer and demurrer regarding Fox’s coverage. Another parallel with his old career: trying to sell Murdoch on dumping Trump, Ryan pretended the move would unleash prosperity. “I see this as a key inflection point for Fox, where the right thing and the smart business thing to do line up nicely,” he said implausibly. That was early-December, when figures on pro-Trump audience flight were already known. In the middle of cataclysm, Ryan has to go into one of his high-minded con jobs.

  • I've never seen an argument that Murdoch micromanages what his viewers or readers are "fed." As usual that seems like projection by the other side. I am much more certain that Nicole Wallace, Joy Reid, Al Sharpton, Don Lemon, Joy Behar etc. are told what to say and what not to say by their producers via earpieces, and may find themselves shifted to less preferred time slots if they do not comply. Many FOX personalities - Tucker Carlson for example - did not have on specific proponents of election rigging - like Sidney Powell or Dinesh D'Souza, while still discussing problems with no voter ID or ballot harvesting. FOX bashing has always been clearly motivated by fear of what Murdoch actually did do, which was provide a news and commentary platform that spoke to the 50%+ of the country the Democratic media was ignoring. Democrats have been plotting how to use government regulation to end this for years. Back in the early 2000s I belonged to the expensive Equinox/LA Sports Club gym in the Ritz Carlton in DC. I had been persuaded by a friend who ended up being an Obama/Hillary political appointee in the State Department, to make a 5 figure donation to the Gore campaign, and as a reward I was invited to go to the 2000 LA nominating convention with delegate level credentials that allowed me everything buy voting, and inclusion at a non-stop party in Andrew Tobias's sky box for major gay and lesbian donors, as well as parties all week where people like Ellen (and Betty) Degeneres and then partner Anne Heche were hosts. Coming back to DC I used my sturdy, large canvas convention bag (I still have it) emblazened with logos from groups like the SEIU, as my gym bag. This led someone else at the gym, a mortgage broker who headed the credentials committees at Democrat nominating conventions, to chat me up at the gym almost daily (I was also a realtor and referred loans to him.) He assumed we were of the same political cloth, when in fact my donation and attendance at the 2000 convention was a silly expensive lark. My gym friend would tell me almost daily that the most important mission for Democrats was to use the FCC to eliminate FOX news. That's been their whine and their mission for decades.

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