With $1.6 billion at stake, Fox News suddenly takes an interest in press freedom

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In an attempt to defend itself against charges of knowingly spreading lies about the 2020 presidential election, Fox News has offered some high-flown ideas about the role of journalism in a democratic society.

“There will be a lot of noise and confusion from Dominion and its opportunistic private equity owners,” the company said in a recent statement, “but at the core of this case remains freedom of the press and freedom of expression, which are fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.” and protected by New York Times v. Sullivan.

The background, of course, is that Dominion Voting Systems is seeking $1.6 billion in damages from the media giant, arguing that Fox News spread harmful falsehoods that the voting machine maker rigged the election to defeat Donald Trump. Dominion wants to show that network officials at the highest levels — right down to Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch — knew this was utter nonsense, that the election was valid, and that their primary concern wasn’t telling the truth, but their disappointed professional to placate – Trump audience.

Do not get me wrong. I believe press rights belong to a wide range of media organisations, regardless of their political leanings.

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But Fox’s reliance on First Amendment protections — though part of a legal strategy that could prove successful in court — is the height of hypocrisy. America’s founders believed it was essential that American citizens be well informed about the behavior of officials and other powerful entities and thus be able to govern themselves.

However, recent revelations from court filings make it clear that such a noble mission has been far from a priority at Fox, not just after the 2020 election, but for years.

Take, for example, one of the network’s biggest stars, Sean Hannity, who ventured well outside the bounds of journalistic norms when he appeared with Trump at a campaign event in 2018. (Fox Brass, usually tolerant of their stars’ excesses, went so far as to chide him.)

Hannity, who has said he is not a journalist, has played the role of a Trump insider — even an informal adviser to Republican officials. Remember his January 2021 text message to former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Republican Congressman Jim Jordan: “Guys, we have a clear path to landing the plane in 9 days,” apparently referring to telling Trump off persuade him to end his presidency peacefully before Inauguration Day.

“When Hannity advised the President on the ongoing insurgency, he did so not as a journalist, but as an ally, confederate, teammate, and not as an arbiter or observer,” famous first amendment attorney Floyd Abrams told me last year, characterizing him as “not.” -journalistic behavior, actually almost the exact opposite of journalistic behavior”.

And given Fox’s clear reliance on the landmark Times v. Sullivan press rights case, Why haven’t his journalists quizzed their new heartthrob, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis about his newsworthy desire to weaken the journalistic protections he offers?

DeSantis wants the courts to reconsider Times v. Sullivan, but somehow that doesn’t catch the attention of Fox News interviewers. According to a Media Matters for America database, his alarming views on the landmark decision that set a higher bar for defamation lawsuits involving public figures have not provoked a single challenge in his 12 Fox appearances this year.

Initially, Fox even banned his own Howard Kurtz, who hosts a weekly news media show, from covering the Dominion case. After Kurtz publicly voiced his opposition to the ban on his behalf, followed by plenty of outside criticism, bosses relented last weekend long enough for him to discuss the case, calling it a test of the First Amendment.

Meanwhile, Fox presenters have been telling their complaint-hungry audiences to despise journalists for years. (Admittedly, over the years Fox has sometimes filed briefs as a “friend of the court” in support of other media outlets.)

Rants against the media are a mainstay for figures like Laura Ingraham, who weaves derogatory phrases like “left media hacks” and “regime media” into her segments.

But it took Tucker Carlson — the face of Fox News — to go further in a 2021 interview, calling mainstream journalists “creeping animals who don’t deserve respect.”

“It just makes me sick. I really hate them,” said Carlson, who has more recently been busy portraying the violent Jan. 6, 2021 uprising as a largely peaceful protest or even a friendly tourist visit.

Yet when it comes time to defend the network’s for-profit willingness to spread lies, Fox News is somehow eager to claim solidarity with these supposedly despicable cowards. Well, you see, it’s all about journalists standing arm in arm for the foundations of American democracy.

I’m all for press rights and for them to be widely applied. But somehow I don’t think this was what the founders had in mind.

Fox News doesn’t deserve the second word in its name.

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