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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

How Will Fox News Settlement Reverberate Politically?

In his Politico article, “Fox News reaches $787.5 million settlement in Dominion’s defamation lawsuit,” Matt Taylor reports “Fox News agreed to pay $787.5 million to Dominion Voting Systems to settle a defamation lawsuit over false election claims on Tuesday, a massive sum that spared some of the biggest names in conservative media the witness stand.”

Taylor explains further, “Dominion, a voting machine company that has worked in over two dozen states, accused the conservative network of deliberately spreading bogus conspiracy theories about its products after the 2020 election in a bid to win back viewers.” As Taylor reports, ““The truth matters. Lies have consequences,” Dominion attorney Justin Nelson said while trumpeting the payout outside the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center on Tuesday. “Over two years ago, a torrent of lies swept Dominion and election officials across America into an alternative universe of conspiracy theories, causing grievous harm to Dominion and the country.”

The bad news is that the public will be deprived of the jolly spectacle of Tucker Carlson, Maria Bartiromo, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs and Rupert Murdock being grilled on the witness stand. The slightly good news is that Fox News will have to carefully frame its election denier rants to avoid future lawsuits.

Among discerning news consumers, Fox didn’t have much respect even before the trial. But the settlement insures that the mere mention of the Network in future reports will frequently be accompanied by noting the $787 million the company shelled out in acknowledgement of its own wrong-doing. Also, as Michelle Goldberg writes in her New York Times column, it is “one of the largest defamation settlements in history and is one that constitutes a humiliating admission of fault by the network, even though, as The New York Times’s Jim Rutenberg reported, the deal doesn’t require Fox to apologize.”

The settlement will be emblazoned in media history accounts as proof of one of the most grotesque examples of reportorial bias ever.

The thing is, the disaster isn’t over for Fox News. As Goldberg notes, “Smartmatic is still suing Fox for $2.7 billion, though no trial date has been announced yet. “Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign,” Smartmatic lawyer J. Erik Connolly said in a statement on Tuesday. “Smartmatic will expose the rest.”

More than any other media outlet, Fox News has stoked political polarization, served Trump’s rise and supported the GOP. But every media company has a shelf life and will eventually be replaced. Newsmax may get a temporary upward bump in its influence, or perhaps morph into a more influential news source for the right.

Amy Watson notes at Statistics.com that “In February 2023, Fox News was the most watched cable news network in the United States and continues to do well in terms of its primetime audience, with 2.2 million primetime viewers in that period. Fox News viewers in the 25-54 demographic reached 299 thousand, whilst MSNBC had just 119 thousand…..Cable news networks like Fox, CNN, and MSNBC are engaged in a monthly battle to hit the top spot during primetime and grab the highest cable news ratings during those precious evening hours. Fox News ratings during primetime are generally higher than its two direct competitors….”

Meanwhile there is no reason to expect a mass maga head exodus by network viewers. Fox had pretty much whittled its regular viewership down to the hard core, which is admittedly large. Some will see the settlement as normal p.r. management, others as yet another example of the vast liberal conspiracy and many of them will shrug it off or not care enough to switch networks. It will likely not be big a game-changer in. terms of public opinion.

The wild card, however, is what happens with the Smartmatic lawsuit. If it results in an equally-large settlement, we may see a more significant dip in Fox News viewers, at least for a while. But even that probably won’t influence many votes in the next election.

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