Politics & Media
Apr 26, 2023, 05:57AM

Good Points and Big Mistakes

When populists get sloppy, the bosses get frugal.

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A billion dollars from Fox News, a billion from Alex Jones, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

Ousted Fox News host Tucker Carlson and his producer Abby Grossberg—whose lawsuit alleging a hostile workplace there for women may have been the thing that finally nudged Rupert Murdoch to fire Carlson, right on the heels of the over $700 million Fox paid out to settle a suit claiming they lied about the reliability of voting machines used in 2020—now likely have one thing in common: Carlson and Grossberg would probably both enjoy seeing Fox severely damaged by the various lawsuits it has been losing or settling.

Grossberg thinks they’re callous. Carlson now probably thinks they’re disloyal. Both are probably right, from what I saw working there briefly over a decade ago.

Murdoch’s the sort of business-overrides-everything-everywhere person who Carlson would in recent years likely deride as a globalist, so he may simply have thought Carlson’s big mouth would sooner or later cost Fox even more money, regardless of whether loose comments about rigged voting machines harmed democracy by inspiring the rowdy J6 protest.

I’m torn about Carlson in much the same way I am about Jones. Both say things that are false (I tried to convince Carlson to add a skeptical note to his reporting on UFOs, even though I go back and forth on that topic myself), but they also both manifestly say important true things that few other pundits are competent to explain, mainly populist things the big shots (corporate, cultural, or political) really would prefer to downplay.

I had doubts about the accuracy of vote counts decades before it was commonplace—in every election, really—and regardless of whether one adheres to the most radical claims about the 2020 election, it was nice that Carlson at least provided a prime-time safe space, if you will, for discussing such things. Or for letting RFK Jr., whatever you think of his medical philosophy, explain his desire to destroy the cozy nexus between Big Government and Big Business that has dominated politics for over a century now.

Likewise, I don’t know if Ray Epps is a fed, but it’s almost miraculous that at a place like Fox—so cozy with cops that they take it personally if you condemn SWAT raids and surveillance tactics—Carlson was able to voice damning criticisms of things like FBI infiltration of radical groups, the sort of complaints leftists such as the Black Panthers have rightly been making for decades with little impact until now on the minds of the sort of people who make up Fox’s core audience.

What likely inspired the Fox lawyers to settle the voting machines case brought by Dominion was not so much that Carlson was wrong or that he may have helped encourage J6 but that he made the crucial tactical error, from a libel law perspective, of admitting in private that it might all be nonsense. Never admit you have doubts and, somewhat perversely, you’re in a safer position in a libel suit because you can‘t be said to have been knowingly wrong and nonetheless behaving in a negligent and damaging fashion.

Jones runs into trouble on this front because he has a habit of getting carried away, going into paranoid comedic/performance-art rant mode, and then admitting he got carried away. Carlson’s downfall may in retrospect have been his almost postmodern habit of saying, in effect, “Who the hell really knows?” even while frowny-facedly pronouncing the culture’s certain doom. If he never smirked or made a wisecrack about it all, even in private, Fox might be $700 million richer now.

Needless to say, the Fox lawyers themselves probably don’t much care what the truth is on any of the aforementioned political topics, only which tactical errors might expose the company financially. If they really coached Grossberg to lie, as she claims, they should all be disbarred. That’s not just my opinion. That’s one of the rules of being a lawyer, regardless of what Saul Goodman might tell his clients.

Even at a place like Fox, office politics overrides the interesting, philosophical kind of politics. We may never really know what calculations led to any specific person leaving that place, regardless of ripple effects. We’ll almost always instead have a pile of formal-sounding, vague public relations statements and a flurry of Non-Disclosure Agreements that keep the most interesting participants from revealing any surprising bits.

On the other hand, Carlson does have a big mouth, already has enough money that perhaps he can’t be bribed with any ordinary NDA, and may well have thoughts to share soon about both his own failings and Fox’s that the world will be eager to hear, even as the lying leftists all try desperately to claim that he’s now an irrelevant has-been.

If you’re on the left and think it’s delightful that Fox took a financial hit for smearing Dominion, though—and you’re consistent in thinking the press has a terrible destructive power when it’s wrong—admit this much: Trump was right when he talked about the need to “open up our libel laws.”

—Todd Seavey is the author of Libertarianism for Beginners and is on Twitter at @ToddSeavey


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