Division and acrimony avoided!
So Fox settled with Dominion Voting Systems and paid a company with a valuation of about $226 million (in 2020) the sum of $787 million. Why didn’t they settle earlier? Why didn’t they settle as soon as the damning evidence was revealed? Who can tell? One thing is for sure. Fox’s valuation is measured in billions (Murdoch himself made $622 million out of it last year).
Dominion is a minnow, so this really was David taking on Goliath, and in court malice would have had to be proved, and even a judgement in their favour could have been appealed. However given that the settlement was effectively made on the stairs to the courtroom, Fox clearly had realised that Dominion meant business, and there was no way it wanted to subject its leading lights to the humiliation of cross examination. Publicly no heartfelt apology was given, just this very grudging admission that a deal had been done:
“We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems. We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false. This settlement reflects FOX’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards. We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues.”
This statement has been carefully written and is deliberately ambiguous. Fox merely acknowledges that the judge ruled that certain claims made by Fox about Dominion were false. Acknowledge is a strange word – in this context it can be taken to signify that Fox accepts the truth of a finding but it can also mean that Fox merely accepts that someone has said something which may or may not be true. Fox could have accepted the court’s rulings (in private it did accept them) but it merely acknowledged them (I hear what you say!). Thus Fox supporters may infer that there remains an element of doubt in the matter (anyway, the judge was probably a Democrat). The statement does not say ‘We admit that we made dishonest claims about Dominion for which we are truly sorry.’ There was no way Fox was going to say that because that would have made assertion that the settlement reflects Fox’s “continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards” sound even more absurd than it already does. Fox has to at least pretend that it is a serious news organ.
For that reason Fox could admit no wrongdoing. Essentially it was saying: ‘We are very rich and we want to put an end to this nonsense so here is a large wad of cash’. That said, it was also an implicit admission that Dominion had played its hand extremely well, although I don’t think the MAGA crowd does ‘implicit’. The statement is aimed primarily at them of course; their ego is what counts. Thus the power and benevolence of Fox are asserted: ‘we decided to resolve the matter amicably’. There was of course nothing amicable about the settlement, which came as a reaction to the brinkmanship of the Dominion legal team. Normally large settlements are subjected to a confidentiality agreement but this time Fox had to admit to handing over a tidy and significant sum, which will make a lot of difference to Dominion finances and which will be regarded as an admission of guilt by most people. Many of Trump’s supporters will feel uncomfortable, even if they will be loth to admit it.
Most interesting for me was the claim that this thoroughly decent – even selfless – decision to pay up was done for the good of the nation in order to avoid an acrimonious and divisive trial. This is yet another attempt to hint that the matter remains unsettled. The word divisive implies that the question of election fraud has still not been settled, that it remains a matter of opinion, but the reality is that the only people who would have been made to feel angry and bitter by a trial are Trump’s supporters. It would only have been divisive in the sense that the MAGA crowd would have been made to feel even more aggrieved and stupid.
Divisive is a favourite word of the far-right. Anyone who challenges their point of view is ‘divisive’ – it is essentially a boo word applied to those who think differently. It means ‘unpatriotic’ and malicious, implying that we can all live in harmony provided we all pull together and do not rock the boat – their boat. ‘Moving forward from these issues’ are the words of a bully urging us to keep stumm about the dishonest behaviour of Fox News so as not to distress Trump’s supporters (the true Americans). This, of course, is the eternal victim / tough guy narrative of all populists. They encourage their supporters to feel forever put-upon so that all criticism is taken personally, whilst encouraging them at the same time to believe that they are the chosen ones, better than all the rest (and insulting their nasty opponents is just fine).
Here in Britain liberals are constantly urged not to be ‘divisive’ and to ‘move on’. Even journalists will use the notion of divisiveness as a reason to shut down discussion, somehow seeing disagreement as at best tedious and at worst harmful to the national good. This notion of ‘fake harmony’ lies at the heart of all populism. The right has encouraged the belief that to talk about the damage done by Brexit is unpatriotic, undemocratic and ‘unhelpful’ – it creates division when we should be moving forward together. It upsets those humble Leave voters who cling to the belief that all is well, and we members of the sneering elites mustn’t be unkind to them. Liberals must show them respect they deserve by not subjecting them to mean-spirited criticism, by not being ‘divisive’!
We must be happy with the Dominion result – it will make it harder if not impossible for Trump to claim that the election was stolen, but out there in the sticks the belief will linger on and there will always be other manufactured grievances. Ur-fascism never goes away.
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