That the Fox network generally aligns itself with conservative and Republican thought in the United States is nothing new.
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However, its reputation as a media outlet received a tremendous blow last week after it was revealed that owners, managers and journalists promoted the lie of alleged fraud in the 2020 presidential elections. knowing that many of the allegations made by then-President Donald Trump and his lawyers were false.
And, even, that they would have done it not necessarily to defend an ideology but for money.
The disclosures are part of a defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting System, a voting company. software electoral leader who served in some states during those elections and ended up being targeted by Trump’s lawyers, including Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell.
Both, like the former president, alleged that Dominion had altered the results to favor Joe Biden.
According to them, the company had put together a whole conspiracy, since its founders had origins in the Venezuela of Hugo Chávez and therefore wanted to favor a socialist.
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Those accusations, like many others made in that period by Trump and his supporters, eventually made their way to the courts where they were thrown out for lack of merit.
In 2021, Dominion filed a lawsuit against Fox for echoing the allegations, interviewing Giuliani, Powell on multiple occasions. and others without questioning the arguments.
The company seeks reparations for up to US$1.6 billion for the damage that the media caused to its reputation. The start of the trial is scheduled for next month and is expected to last 5 weeks.
In total, Fox faces defamation lawsuits totaling more than US $4.5 billion because, in addition to Dominion, there are other companies that have gone to court seeking compensation.
As part of the pre-trial process, documents have come to light that leave the company in a very bad light.
Among them a series of emails and WhatsApp messages in which star commentators for the network such as Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, Jeannine Pirro, María Bartiromo and Laura Ingram make it clear that the accusations by Trump and his lawyers against Dominion and about voter fraud were a fabrication.
But, despite this, they continued to repeat them in their broadcasts.
Powell is lying. This is insane. But our viewers are good people and they believe it.
“Powell is lying. This is insane. But our viewers are good people and they believe it,” Carlson tells Ingram in a text message. To which she replies, “Powell is a raving nut, no one will ever work with her again. Same with Giuliani.”
In another text, one of the producers of the Ingram program maintains that “the Dominion hoax is going to cause me an aneurysm and I keep insisting to Laura that there is nothing there but she keeps talking about it.”
Others referred to Trump and his lawyers as “lunatics” and “out of control.”
But the real bomb was the testimony that Rupert Murdoch, owner and president of Fox, gave during his sworn statement before the court that is advancing the process.
In his statement, Murdoch acknowledges that Carlson, Hannity, Pirro, Dobbs and Bartiromo openly “endorsed” and “promoted” the fraud lies despite knowing they were not true.
When the magnate was asked why he allowed Carlson to continue to invite the likes of Mike Lindell – a friend of Trump who also fanned false conspiracy theories – to his show, Murdoch replied: “This is not red or blue (the colors that identify Republicans and Democrats in the United States), but green” (alluding to money).
In fact, in multiple internal communications between executives and journalists, the concern they felt about losing an audience if they did not continue to give Trump and his lies a platform is clear.
Dominion, in addition, has compiled other texts in which Murdoch himself tells associates that Trump’s accusations about fraud are “pure m…and dangerous.”
In his deposition, the tycoon admits, by way of mea culpathat it was a mistake not to have been “more forceful” when denouncing the falsehoods.
But he defends himself by saying that, in any case, the error was not made by Fox as a whole but by some of its presenters.
A defense that Dominion’s lawyers reject by arguing that both Murdoch and senior managers had the power to prevent the spread of lies, but did not do so because their concern was only economic.
“From the top to the bottom at Fox, I knew that Dominio was total bullshit. Yet despite knowing the truth, or at least recklessly ignoring that truth, Fox spread and endorsed these outlandish claims of voter fraud. despite the fact that internally they recognized that the lies were crazy, absurd and irresponsible,” says Dominion in a 192-page document that was filed with the Court.
The central argument that Fox makes in his defense is that the version of Trump -as president of the country and a national figure- and of the lawyers who represented him, was in the public interest and they were obliged to represent him.
Likewise, punishing them for doing so would harm the right to freedom of expression of the media.
Despite the strong revelations, experts debate the feasibility of the case.
This is because the standard set by defamation laws in the United States are very high and require proof that there was “true malice” in the actions sued.
In other words: Fox either knew that the statements it was airing were false, or that it let them pass with reckless disregard for the truth.
Rebecca Tushnet, a professor of law and free speech at Harvard, believes that the evidence Dominion has presented is “very strong” because it “clearly draws the difference between what Fox was saying publicly and what the top people at Fox were admitting to in private.” “.
However, according to Lee Levine, an expert media lawyer, proving an institutional deception of this magnitude is not easy, since it requires a coordinated effort in the face of a situation that was experienced in real time and in which many people participated.
For Levine, it is one thing to demonstrate it before public opinion – as has been made clear in the documents presented by Dominion – and another with legal arguments that are very demanding.
For Fox, in any case, it is an existential battle. Not only because of the value of the lawsuit, which could sink them financially, but because of the reputational cost that is at stake.
Something that, to a large extent, is now in the hands of the nine jurors who will soon announce their verdict.
SERGIO GOMEZ MASERI
EL TIEMPO correspondent
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