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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Cowardly Lyin’

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How much does a lie cost? Apparently, the answer is $787.5 million. That’s the price that Fox News has agreed to pay Dominion Voting Systems for intentionally broadcasting lies about the company interfering in the 2020 presidential election. (To be fair, that’s not the cost of just one lie, but it’s fair to say that it’s the cost of Fox News facilitating the same lie being spread over and over again on its airwaves.)

In stunning fashion, the companies agreed to the settlement mere minutes before their attorneys were to make opening statements in Dominion’s defamation lawsuit against Fox. (The jury was seated and ready.) At issue was the fact that Fox News repeatedly aided and abetted representatives of Donald Trump who lied about Dominion “switching votes” to President Joe Biden in its voting machines. Based upon voluminous internal communication that Dominion had obtained, it was clear that Fox was well aware that such claims were false. Yet, Fox repeatedly facilitated the lie as if it were a fact.  

Judge Eric Davis, who would have presided over the trial, wrote that the “evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that it is CRYSTAL clear that none of the statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true.” (His emphasis.) In commenting on the settlement, Fox admitted that Judge Davis determined that “certain claims about Dominion” that they aired were “false”.

There is no spin in this zone; Fox News lied.

Notably, Fox did not apologize for spreading the hoax that Trump had won the election, which is something that Dominion had sought. Still, it’s a stunning admission from a company that is extremely reluctant to admit intentional wrongdoing. Obviously, Fox’s leaders concluded that having Rupert Murdoch, other executives, and Fox’s high-profile personalities take the witness stand would have been disastrous.

Last year I wrote a column regarding the importance of truth, sharing some of the dangerous consequences of ignoring objective reality in favor of one’s own narcissistic version of the “truth”. I wrote in part:

“When people use the phrase ‘my truth’, they’re saying that their life and experiences are personal, unique, and core to their being. I understand that sentiment. I can have ‘my’ opinion. I can have ‘my’ perspective. I can have ‘my’ experiences. But I cannot have ‘my’ truth. Truth transcends any individual. Thus, if something is genuinely true, it is true for everyone. If it isn’t true for everyone, it isn’t truth – even though it may be a fact for an individual. To deny this is to deny objective reality (which, of course, many people are willing to do).”

Irrespective of whichever party would have prevailed in the civil trial, it is clear that democracy would have lost. If Fox had won, that company (and scores of its wannabes) would have been immeasurably emboldened to continue poisoning the well of truth and decency – both of which are integral to democracy. Yet, even if Dominion had won, the millions of people who are deluded into believing Fox’s multiple lies on multiple topics would have concluded that the jury was simply full of “woke liberals” who wanted to take down Fox. Democracy still loses in that scenario.

The only way for democracy to be strengthened is for media organizations, including Fox, to dedicate themselves to facts – regardless of what they may be. I understand that, in the short term, failing to propagate Trump’s lies would hurt Fox’s viewership (and thus its revenue). But truth is infinitely more important than profit.

In the Gospel of John, after a brief discussion with Jesus Christ, the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate asks Him, “What is truth?” Pilate doesn’t wait for Jesus to answer, but he does declare that he finds “no guilt” in Him. Theologians are not completely sure why Pilate asks the question or what answer he desired. But the question itself still stands as an ontological wonder – one that we must constantly embrace.

At a minimum, truth is the antithesis of a lie. It stands on its own. Admittedly, it is often much more difficult to determine the mere facts, but the pursuit thereof should be the ultimate goal of all human beings. And while news organizations are not the ultimate arbiter of truth, they have a moral obligation to present the truth as best they understand it to be. That responsibility is not too much to ask in return for the privileged perch on which they sit.

As Fox News found out, intentional lies can be very costly. Fortunately, the truth is free.

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