Now that Fox News has agreed to pay Dominion Voting Systems $787.5 million to settle a highly publicized lawsuit, the key question is: will one of the biggest defamation settlements in history inflict any long term damage on the Fox News Channel and what changes can we expect to see?
If you’re concerned and curious about the effects that the highly publicized case will have on the No. 1-rated cable news channel, let me set you straight about what the outcome will mean to Fox’s news coverage.
In a word: zilch.
In fact, Fox head Rupert Murdoch and Fox executives, who know all of the operation’s secrets, may secretly think they got off easy by writing a check, albeit a huge one, and putting this whole mess behind them.
Fox may see two silver linings: a) Murdoch and Fox’s major personalities, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham won’t have to testify in court about highly sensitive, embarrassing and damaging conversations, much of which was already disclosed from texts, emails and depositions released in the pre-trial stage. But at least now they won’t have to re tell what they really though about the Donald Trump’s election fraud claims under oath. and b) Fox’s prime time hosts won’t have to go on the air and admit to their uber-loyal audience that Fox screwed up and acted highly unprofessionally and didn’t tell the truth.
Sure, Fox’s brassy prime time hosts and guest analysts will be chastened by the large amount of money involved (while Dominion originally asked for $1.6 billion, most thought that was going to be a reach.) Maybe the on air personalities won’t be as reckless in the future.
But they WILL be just as loud and one-sided and outspoken against Fox’s real and perceived political and business enemies. The network won’t suddenly get religion and conclude that it will have to cool it and represent the, well, ironic, credo of delivering “fair and balanced” news coverage.
As pre-trial disclosure of documents revealed for all to see, Fox cares only about pleasing its audience. It is a bottom-line operation and sees itself more as a corporation than a traditional news entity.
I covered Fox and the media industry as a reporter and a columnist for MarketWatch.com from 1999 to 2013. I literally watched Fox become a media force.
To me, much of the media ecosystem has missed the point about Fox. Yes, it is surely right-leaning and always will be. But Fox is more about making money than adhering to a political message. Politics is merely a means to an end.
When Fox meets for its strategy sessions, I suspect that they talk more about increasing profits than pursuing Peabody Awards, those statues for journalistic excellence in broadcast news.
The brilliance of Fox’s late and ultimately disgraced leader, Roger Ailes, was that he intuitively understood that back in the 1990s the “Clinton News Network,” as furious conservative viewers liked to call CNN during Bill Clinton’s presidency had no appeal for the large and potentially lucrative community of right-wing voters. They wanted to find a television network that spoke to their needs.
Media magnate Rupert Murdoch came to the same conclusion. Murdoch and Ailes proceeded to launch the Fox News Channel in 1996. They correctly reasoned that a news network devoted to conservatives would flourish, first building a big audience and then capitalizing on it with advertisers. And that’s exactly what happened. Fox soon passed CNN as the most popular cable news operation.
That’s why Fox won’t suddenly begin to change its stripes and become fair and balanced and–heaven forbid–cuddly. It has too much invested in its brand to shift its strategy and too much to lose.
Like any industry leader, Fox understands that it is vulnerable to a competitor who can seem new and fresh and dynamic. Complacency is Fox’s biggest enemy. But just as Fox raced past CNN, an opportunistic rival can do the same to Fox.