By John C. Watson
Headlines in early March 2023 implied Fox News mogul Rupert Murdoch had made a damning confession. He had affirmed that some of his most important journalists were reporting that the 2020 presidential election was a fraud – even though they knew they were propagating a lie.
It was an admission during pretrial testimony in a libel lawsuit filed against Fox by a voting machine company that says it was defamed by the lie. For journalism practitioners and devotees, the admission should signal the end of the Fox News empire.
Nope. It didn’t.
Such a disgraceful demise would seem inevitable when journalists – professionally trained truth gatherers, employed by a news organization, which is an institution that exists to provide truthful information – choose not to do so.
That’s because a business that calls itself a news organization actually does not have to be one – but it does have to be a business. Businesses exist primarily to make a profit and doing actual news isn’t essential. Adam Serwer, reporting for The Atlantic, wrote “sources at Fox told me to think of it not as a network per se, but as a profit machine.”
News businesses or profit machines can hire anybody who falls off a turnip truck and label them journalists because the job has no standardized requirements.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists “None” as requirements for work experience and on-the-job training for journalists but indicates a bachelor’s degree is typical. Accordingly, the Fox News business people could choose to spread election lies and insist, as court documents indicate, that it made good business sense to do so because much of their audience did not want the actual truth about that topic.
These are some of the troubling takeaways from Murdoch’s defense of his news business against a libel lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems, the company implicated by Fox’s election fraud allegations. Fox essentially admits to publishing false information about Dominion, but argues it is nonetheless protected from liability. It is a defense grounded in the First Amendment, which protects press freedom so robustly that it also protects the irresponsible use of that freedom.
There’s lying … and there’s defamation
Murdoch’s admission was contained in court documents and was revealed in a New York Times story published on March 7, 2023. The story was about the US$1.6 billion libel lawsuit filed against Fox News by Dominion, the company Fox journalists repeatedly – and falsely – accused of rigging the 2020 presidential election to make sure Donald Trump lost.
Internal Fox communications, reported by the New York Times, revealed that network journalists and their news executive bosses knew the 2020 election was not fraudulent, yet continued to allow lies about the election – told by hosts and their guests – to be spread to the public.
Dominion claimed Fox’s audience recoiled when its journalists truthfully reported that Trump had lost the election. Dominion’s attorneys asserted that Fox feared the audience would switch their viewing allegiance to upstart conservative news organizations Newsmax and One America News.
In a March 31, 2023, ruling, the judge hearing the case cited examples of Fox’s internal communications that demonstrated how journalism values were supplanted by the language and values of business. Among them was this quote attributed to a Fox Corporation board member: “If ratings go down, revenue goes down.” The judge also referred to Dominion’s claim that Fox chose to publish the (false) statements to win back viewers.
Court documents show Dominion’s attorneys asked Murdoch: “What should the consequences be when Fox News executives knowingly allow lies to be broadcast?” Murdoch replied: “They should be reprimanded, maybe got rid of.”
That response aligns with principles widely touted by professional news organizations and established in the ethical practice of journalism. Although journalism scholars and practitioners vary in their definitions of what a news organization is and who can claim to be a journalist, there is firm agreement that reporting facts, or at least making a good faith effort to do so, is an indispensable mandate for both.
Yet Murdoch has not indicated an intention to discipline en masse Fox News employees who violated that ethical principle. Nor is he required to.
Even the Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s foremost advocate for ethical journalism, rejects punishments for those who violate its principles. Its ethics code says in part: “The code is entirely voluntary. … It has no enforcement provisions or penalties for violations, and SPJ strongly discourages anyone from attempting to use it that way.” The organization concedes that news outlets can discipline their own journalists. Because journalists and their employers may be considered to be one entity, any disciplinary action is voluntary self-discipline. Neither journalists nor the news organizations they personify have to be truthful unless they want to.
Lying in the press is unethical but does not necessarily strip liars of the protections provided by the First Amendment. There is an exception to this: the defamatory lie, one that injures a person or organization’s reputation. That is what got Fox News sued.
Murdoch’s surprising statements were revealed in the lawsuit because his attorneys sought what’s called a “summary judgment” by the judge to decide the case without a trial, in order to avoid the prospect of facing a jury. That move makes sense given that some law scholars have found that juries rule against media defendants three times out of four.
By law, summary judgment is available only when the parties agree on the material facts of the case.
That meant Fox and Murdoch had to admit to Dominion’s most damning allegations, including confessing to broadcasting untrue statements and engaging in other unethical journalism practices. Even with those admissions, the First Amendment’s protection could still give Fox a chance to win the lawsuit – particularly if a jury did not hear the case.
Without reaching trial or a verdict, the Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox News lawsuit has already produced some unsettling results. It has challenged journalism disciples’ assumption that news organizations exist to provide the public with truthful information about the most important issues in their civic lives. It has shaken journalism’s faithful who assume that good journalism is never bad for the business of journalism.
Neither assumption is necessarily valid at Fox or anywhere. Anyone can claim to be a journalist, irrespective of their actual function. Any business can claim to be a news organization. Functioning irresponsibly in either role is largely protected by the First Amendment and is therefore optional.
Ethics imposed by independent state bar associations and state medical boards have made professional attorneys and physicians accountable by law as a means of ensuring responsible behavior in their roles, which are considered essential to society. Journalism ethics, which are news organization ethics, are wholly voluntary and can be set aside if they compromise profits.
But if the ethics violations are defamatory, a successful libel lawsuit can impose accountability with a financial cost – money damages.
John C. Watson is Associate Professor of Journalism at American University.
The Conversation arose out of deep-seated concerns for the fading quality of our public discourse and recognition of the vital role that academic experts could play in the public arena. Information has always been essential to democracy. It’s a societal good, like clean water. But many now find it difficult to put their trust in the media and experts who have spent years researching a topic. Instead, they listen to those who have the loudest voices. Those uninformed views are amplified by social media networks that reward those who spark outrage instead of insight or thoughtful discussion. The Conversation seeks to be part of the solution to this problem, to raise up the voices of true experts and to make their knowledge available to everyone. The Conversation publishes nightly at 9 p.m. on FlaglerLive.
Fox News was afraid of its audience and, coincidentally, the Republican Party is afraid of its base. Two spineless entities.
Perhaps the FOX viewers who opine here will now agree they have been fooled and manipulated. . . .
Naw. Who am I kidding? Once the sheep get used to the shearing shed the job of the Judas goat gets easier.
The stronger the bias, the more prolific and fantastical the lies–on both sides of the media fence.
There is no such thing as “objective journalism” anymore…just an endless parade of “Talking Heads.”
That is a false equivalency. Fox media (“news”) lied. That has been proven in court under oath. Their talking heads knew they were lying and still continued with the lies and disinformation. Point out even one “liberal” news source which has done so. Tucker Carlson spouts Russian propaganda almost as though he is a Russian agent.
Most organizations, whether intentionally or unintentionally, exaggerate, distort and spin various facts to support their point of view. The big (huge) difference between them and Fox is that they are still dealing with FACTS.
Try researching a site called honestreporting.com. They had a pretty damning article about some of the reporting that’s being done on certain subjects by CNN. And CNN is much better than MSNBC is.
I refuse to watch FOX news becuase they are so self-serving and atrocious. Their denials about the January 6th. insurrection and their 2020 election results fall into the category of the bizarre.
I did. This is what Media Bias / Fact Check says about it: “These media sources are slightly to moderately conservative in bias. They often publish factual information that utilizes loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes) to favor conservative causes. These sources are generally trustworthy for information, but may require further investigation.”
It is still a false equivalency to equate flat out lying (Fox) with media spin/slant, omissions (CNN).
CNN: “These media sources are moderately to strongly biased toward liberal causes through story selection and/or political affiliation. They may utilize strong loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes), publish misleading reports, and omit information reporting that may damage liberal causes.”
FOX: “A questionable source exhibits one or more of the following: extreme bias, consistent promotion of propaganda/conspiracies, poor or no sourcing to credible information, a complete lack of transparency, and/or is fake news. Fake News is the deliberate attempt to publish hoaxes and/or disinformation for profit or influence.”
I also recoomend that people check out Media Bias/Fact Check. If they do , they will see there are cocnerns noted related to ALL the above mentioned media sources.
Media Bias/Fact Check does find FOX to be most egregious in that regard (as do I) but, by no means, do they give CNN or MSNBC a clean bill of health where objectivity/bias is concerned.
As I also noted, they found MSNBC to be more problematic in that regard than they did CNN. I mentioned CNN in context of a particular problem that was noted in the article I referenced on HonestReporting.com..
The problem with media bias is widespread and, by no means, is it notable on only one side of the political spectrum. That is my point.
Deborah Coffey says
Baloney. There is no equivalency here. TRUTH is TRUTH and FOX LIES, LIES, LIES and LIES some more…for $$$$$.
Speaking of $$$$, there are reports that many staffers at CNN became disgruntled over the fact that some of their concerns over vast differentials in compensation were put aside due to what they were told was an operational need to economize…while, at the same time, Gayle King was just offered a $12 million (to start) contract.
Superificial concerns sometimes take precedence over deeper ones.
Fox Media (“news”) broadcast lies concerning the 2020 election come very close to being a call for the overthrow the government of the United States. It seems to me that Fox knowingly and falsely publishes and “sells” the concept that the election was fraudulent and thus the government of the United States is fraudulent. The Fox hosts intentionally push this narrative to their audience. They push the narrative that action is needed. This results in their audience becoming more hostile to the legitimate government. It contributed to the use of force against the US government on January 6th. Perhaps the most brazen liars should be charged?
In a similar manner, Donald Trump should be barred from holding any public office, based on his participation in the January 6th insurrection. A majority in both the House and Senate during his second impeachment voted that he was responsible. (14th Amendment)
§2385. Advocating overthrow of Government
…Whoever, with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any such government, prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence,….
Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.
Thank you! Perfectly said!
Deborah Coffey says
David Schaefer says
I would like to see Fox being sued for every dime they have and maybe go out of business. Tucker Carleson, Hannity and the rest of those clowns do not belong on network TV at all. They haven’t changed at all still Bull Shi*ing the fools who watch them every day….
We Concede... says
Youre right we should all be glued to the screen and take as gospel every word whoopi Goldberg, Don Lemmon, Karine JP, Chris Cuomo, joy Beer says, we are actually idiots for laughing at these ass clowns. I’d listen to our president if I could get over his hairy legs, showering naked with his 14 year old daughter, nurse giving him head creepy narratives. No wonder Jean Pierre has a job, who can explain things better than her word salads, never seen someone speak so often and say so little.
Fox has been proven to have lied. Their talking heads knew the truth and yet on air lied. This has been documented under oath in court.
As to your Gish Gallop, to which of your insults and allegations should a person respond? Is there any proof that Mr. Biden actually was ever inappropriate with his daughter? A quick web search found that the claim that Biden inappropriately showered with his youngest daughter comes from very questionable sources. Even in a story by Karen Compton, that I found, she qualifies the source of the information as from the “Alleged January 2019 diary entry by Ashley Biden”.
Just as with your family and friends, learn who to trust. If you find that someone is a liar, then NEVER trust them again. Fox media (“news”) is a proven liar. They and their talking heads cannot be trusted. (period)
How quickly you forget trumps purveyor of word salad when she created Alternate Truth. Also keep in mind trumps 30,000 documented lies. Get real.1
Put down your gun, and your weapon too.
Help is available:
I’m far from dumb JIM Bob. I choose to listen to Fox. I haven’t watched the other media stations because for years now they lied. To me they are STATE run ,. No difference between them and the likes of Russia ,China,North Korea. Etc.
@concede. . . Yet another FOX motivated “whataboutism”!!! What Ashley Biden supposedly wrote in her stolen diary has ZERO to do with the outright lies told on FOX daily! If you want to accuse people on other “news” outlets of knowingly publishing false information with impunity . . . please post credible “FACTS” to back up your claims.
Where did you get the age 14 for President Biden’s daughter? Here are the actual facts regarding Ashley Biden:
Ashley Biden, a drug addict, left her personal diary under a mattress in a Palm Beach, Florida halfway house where she stayed during a rehab stint. The diary reportedly details her drug abuse, sex addiction and her being “hypersexualized.”
Ashley Biden also recounts times she showered with her father when she was young, something she allegedly wrote was “probably not appropriate,” says DailyMail.com.
It appears FOX has taught you very well about how to spread complete “disinformation”!!!
Am very glad Fox News is being sued. It is as shame grown tv people can’t stand on their feet and tell the truth. The 2020 election was fair and safe. I would that the company sue Fox News and bankrupt them. In court or out of court I hope this voting machine company will take every penny from Fox News. These grown people listen to lying Trump look what happened. If Fox News and the Republican Party dies today I would be very happy. Reality says that will not happen no time soon or any time, good dreams are good to have.
Thank you for saying what needed to be said! Whether or not people will listen is another story, sadly. I hope this will be the end of Faux News- they’ve done more than their fair share of damage…
Did everyone drink the Kool-Aid here. Fox news is the only news station that reports actual news word for word. The other stations just report things to benefit the democratic party. They withhold reporting anything that might be seen as damaging to the democratic party. I miss the days when reporters just reported the news and not their version of their belief system. I’m not happy with China being ahead of us, I’m not ok with critical race theory being taught to my children. Teach them math, science, and reading. Goodness we are are already far enough behind in test scores compared to other countries. I’m not ok with the teachers union having total control over my children. Thank goodness covid exposed how corrupt that organization really is. I’m not ok with my children learning about sexual orientation in a public school. That is a private matter that should only be discussed in the home. And protect girls sports for goodness sakes. There should be a category thats fair for everyone. Why is it so hard for people to just love one another. None of us are here for very long…..just love one another. It’s easy.
I think you’d better check your drink. Are you completely unaware that Fox is being sued and multiple texts and emails from Fox hosts and management clearly show that they knew they were lying about the election fraud the whole time they were spouting that stuff? Did you miss that????
CRT is NOT taught in any schools except for college and typically advanced degree classes at that. Since you think it’s being taught to your kids, I’d love to see a SINGLE instance of that proved. Covid proved teach unions are corrupt? Really? Profound statement with NO FACTS to support that.
All your comments demonstrate a profound lack of facts to support them and also shows that you’ve drunk the Kool-Aid on focusing on culture wars while the big issues of taxes, expenditures, voting rights, and all the other things that need to be addressed are just ignored while you rant about non-existent or relatively minor issues.
And that’s a big reason why we’re in the mess we’re in now.
@ surprised. . . so even though Rupert Murdoch (the founder and head of FOX) has admitted that they publish lies, “you” still believe they report “the actual news word for word”. Here is my question. . . who is the complete “dupe. . . drinking Kool-Aid” here? I suggest you switch to true news reporting outlets such as the Associated Press or PBS, or even the BBC.
I believe it is you, “surprised says”, who has consumed the “Kool-Aid”. Fox “news” has been proven under oath to LIE. They do not report the actual news. It is also a lie that Critical Race Theory was even taught in Florida elementary schools.
Instead an anti-LBGIQ conservative activist, Christopher Rufo, created the false narrative that came, in his own words, “from nothing,” and proudly declared, in an oft-quoted tweet:
“We have successfully frozen their brand – ‘critical race theory’ – into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category.”
As a reminder, science includes biology. Biological concepts such as sexuality, disease theory, and evolution.
Edith Campins says
So many pieces of misinformation in one comment. I think the comments from Hannity, under oath, say everything you ned to know about FOX’ lack pf repect for the truth. https://thehill.com/homenews/3785645-sean-hannity-admits-in-deposition-he-didnt-believe-trump-voter-fraud-claims/
Edith Campins says
” the admission, made under oath by Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, that several of his network’s hosts knowingly lied to their audience by embracing conspiracy theories about the results of the 2020 presidential election.”
Edith Campins says
“Fox News host Tucker Carlson privately expressed contempt for former President Trump in text messages revealed in court filings as part of the network’s ongoing legal fight with Dominion Voting Systems.
“We are very very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can’t wait,” Carlson wrote in one text to an unidentified Fox employee on Jan. 4, 2021, according to the filing. “I hate him passionately, I blew up at Peter Navarro today in frustration. I actually like Peter. But I can’t handle much more of this.”
How does this square with the lies Carlson tells on his program?
Say what you will, Alex Pfieffer, Tucker Carlson’s producer, hit the nail on the head in describing Fox’s target demographic as “dumb…cousin fu—-r types.”
Bill May says
Get real. This is BS. You print anything and everything that anyone tells you that is anti-Republican, or that makes the liberals look bad.
Bill May: It is a fact that Dominion is suing Fox. It is a fact that Murdoch admitted the information they provided is false, used only to improve ratings. It is fact that the characters on Fox are spewing bullshit. This information is in court documents. They lied to you for years. How is it you are not angry that they did, and continue to do so?
Tired of it says
So many “good” Republicans….not
Tired of it says
Not only does your comment not make any sense but speaking of making Republicans look bad…
Anything broadcast on “cable” is for entertainment purposes and not to be taken as 100% factual ever. This crosses all party lines.
Surfgod: No sir. You are stating that “cable” is the culprit. Last I checked, we still have over the air broadcasting. Why should the lies of Fox be acceptable? I grew up watching the best of the best. Does your generation care so little about its country and the truth?
Expect more, and demand more.
Looking for credible facts. . . try the Associated Press, PBS or BBC.
G A says
What should be earth shattering news is completely disregarded by certain trumpers here on this list, and elsewhere across the country. They have made up their minds that trump is the messiah and Fox (news) blows Gabriel’s horn and that’s that. How very sad. This has been brain washing 101 and scary as hell. This isn’t watching some scary movie, but scary real life. I always wondered how the Jonestown people could have been so gullible…but we are seeing it daily here across the country. Approximately 1/3 of our population has indeed, drunk the Koolade. People long into the future will look back and shake their heads and wonder what on earth possessed people.
As to all media are garbage?? Hmm…that sounds like the broad brush is in action again. Remember Brian Williams from MSNBC lost his job over telling an exaggeration. Real news media cares very much about accuracy…something Fox (news) isn’t familiar with…BY THEIR OWN ADMISSION!!
Those of you that still have your head stuck in a very dark place…I truly do feel sorry for you. I wonder who ties your shoes for you every day?
And FOX has now added obstruction of justice to their list:
The judge overseeing Dominion Voting Systems’ massive defamation case against Fox News said Wednesday that he plans to appoint an outside attorney to investigate whether the right-wing network lied to the court and withheld key evidence, and sanctioned Fox over the matter.
“I am very concerned… that there have been misrepresentations to the court. This is very serious,” Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis said Wednesday at a pretrial hearing in Wilmington, where he repeatedly expressed exasperation and frustration with Fox’s attorneys.
Fox has for years touted its false reporting by the network’s talking heads as news, and when they got caught and held accountable for the very obvious and intentional lies they pretended to be real news, Fox executives did something remarkable… they publicly stated that anyone should know their talking heads are entertainers, NOT journalists. All anyone with at least one brain cell between their ears has to do is listen to that infotainment network for a short time in order to see and hear for themselves the overwhelming number of outright falsehoods and utter nonsense that spews forth from the idiotic mouthpieces, which include the blonde barbie wannabes with their perfect makeup and hairdos but who are dimmer than a 25W lightbulb. Just laughable from beginning to end! For the life of me, I cannot fathom why there are so many sheeple who seem incapable of comprehending the con game being played out on live TV while they watch themselves be taken for fools believing the flood of sewage being spewed forth as “news”. But then I reflect on what Mark Twain had to say: “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.” I guess he was right.
Regardless of the network, CNN, MSNBC, FOX, NPR, basically all the majors and local news sources do not have news journalists anymore, we have opinion pieces that fit their required narratives.
freddy65: I totally disagree with you. I do not watch CNN, MSNBC or Fox. NPR (National Public Radio) is, and has been reliable for many years. Like PBS (Public Broadcasting System), if there is a misstatement, they bring it up and correct it as soon as possible.
They have many REAL journalists, my favorite being Lisa Desjardins. Others include:
Laura Barrón-López, White House Correspondent
Geoff Bennett, Co-Anchor
William Brangham, Correspondent
Jeffrey Brown, Chief Correspondent for Arts, Culture, and Society
Nicole Ellis, Digital Anchor and Correspondent
Amna Nawaz, Co-Anchor
Miles O’Brien, Science Correspondent
Nick Schifrin, Foreigns Affairs and Defense Correspondent
Paul Solman, Business and Economics Correspondent
Stephanie Sy, Correspondent and PBS NewsHour West Anchor
Judy Woodruff, Senior Correspondent
John Yang, Anchor, PBS News Weekend; National Correspondent, PBS NewsHour
Yamich Alcindor recently left to further her career.
There is none of this emotional, what if, my side, your side drama crap, thank goodness. Try it sometime. The PBS News Hour is on M-F, at 7 pm and S,S at 6:30 pm.
@freddy65 . . . You are quite wrong. . . here is a list of top journalists who have journalism/communications studies at university level, and are therefore experts in their field:
It’s interesting to note where the majority have been practicing their profession. . . and, it is NOT FOX!
William Moya says
There are lies, distortions, omissions, and journalism, above all politics.
William Moya: There is no excuse. In my book, what Fox does is flat out treason.
Right On Laurel! The entire management team of FOX should be criminally charged for treason!