Oh, wait. They actually didn’t.
When companies make mistakes, I analyze their apologies. So I headed over to Fox News to see what the network was saying about its recently settlement with Dominion Voting Systems. Fox and its on-air talent were accused of knowingly lying about the nonexistent failures and fraud in Dominion machines in the 2020 presidential election. The parties settled the lawsuit for $787.5 million, a defamation settled second only to the $1.4 billion judgment against Infowars’ Alex Jones for lying about the shootings in Sandy Hook.
In a statement, Fox News said “We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.” But that was the extent of Fox’s admission of wrongdoing. (The full text of the statement does not appear to be online anywhere, but this same quote — and very little else — appears in coverage on other news sites.)
So how did Fox News cover the settlement?
The settlement against the network was a top headline on nearly every other news site, because of both the massive amount and its status as the rare defamation case against a major news network that appeared likely to be successful.
But Fox didn’t deem it especially newsworthy. The top story on the Fox News website this morning was “Lawmakers make alarming admission about Congress’ ability to handle rapidly evolving AI.” The top story about Fox News on Fox News was “Fox News Digital finishes first quarter as No. 1 news brand across key metrics, topping CNN, New York Times.” The top business story was “America’s retirement preparedness score drops: Fidelity.”
Fox News’ own story is only available by doing a search — it doesn’t appear in the list of stories on the home page at all. The only quote in the story is from the judge in the case, Eric Davis: “I have been on the bench since 2010. … I think this is the best lawyering I’ve had, ever, . . . I would be proud to be your judge in the future.” Read that, and you’d think that everybody is happy here and Fox did nothing wrong. There is also a short video segment in which Fox News’ media expert mentions the quote acknowledging that they were judged to have made false and defamatory statements.
Unlike every other news organization, Fox News has still not acknowledged the dollar amount of the settlement.
How other conservative outlets covered the settlement
Dominion has also sued conservative news networks Newsmax and One America News for the same sort of defamation over their coverage of supposed voting machine irregularities 2020 election.
Newsmax featured the settlement as one of its top stories, running a Reuters wire service story that featured the settlement amount and this Fox statement quote: “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.”
One America News also ran a Reuters story with a similar quote and the settlement number.
The Wall Street Journal, which, like Fox News, is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, featured an extensive and balanced story reported by its own reporters. It featured quotes from independent observers like this one: “Doug Arthur, an analyst at Huber Research, said the settlement total was higher than close observers of the case expected. ‘This is a shocking number given the size of Dominion,’ Mr. Arthur said. Though Fox has the cash on hand to pay it, ‘nobody can make light of an $800 million payout,’ he said.”
Are Fox News’ lawyers making editorial decisions?
At historically independent outlets like the Wall Street Journal, the business side rarely gets involved in editorial decisions. I couldn’t imagine the Journal downplaying this historic story, because it is fiercely competitive with news organizations like the New York Times and the Washington Post and wants to defend its reputation for independence.
I can also understand why the Fox official statement is so weak. Fox News is still in the midst of another huge defamation lawsuit with a different voting technology company, Smartmatic. This is why the closest they can get to admitting wrongdoing is to “acknowledge” that the judge ruled that they lied.
But the choice not to include their organization’s own quote in their story, not to mention the settlement amount, and not to feature the historic story on their home page is a pure editorial decision.
If you read some of the quotes from Fox personalities and executives that the lawsuit revealed, you know that Fox News knows it screwed up. But the same forces that led it to lie in the first place — fear of Trump, of telling its own viewers the truth, and of further-right networks — is still driving decisions at Fox. It’s afraid of telling its own viewers that it knows it lied, a fact that’s out there in every other news site. And that’s just naked cowardice.