Your correspondent claims no inside sources to add to the many conflicting explanations of Fox News’ twin thunderbolts a couple weeks back: the massive Dominion Voting Systems settlement and the Tucker Carlson debacle. But this commentator is a four-decade veteran of the spin game.
And a dozen-plus spins of the news cycle later, Fox’s handling of these developments and of Carlson’s equally shocking move to Twitter leave one thing clear: someone’s imbibing megadoses of stupid pills at the once-leading cable news network.
The first clue was the message sent by the $747 billion settlement of the Dominion Voting Systems defamation suit. Yes, Fox’s surrender statement included noble references to “the highest journalistic standards” while allowing “the country to move forward from [the] issues” at stake.
But the unmistakable message conveyed to competing media and the public was that Fox News parent NewsCorp was putting disruptions behind its entrenched, embarrassed board and management. The good of the country had nothing to do with it.
Specifically, avoiding further Brobdingnagian dishings of delicious dirt as on-air stars and executives all the way up to Rupert Murdoch would be confronted at trial with crass communications laying bare their feelings about the case, public figures—and most important—each other.
Seeking closure is a sentiment this PR guy has expressed in many a corporate client’s release. But Fox News is no run-of-the-mill corporation manufacturing gizmos, mining gems, or moving goods.
It’s supposedly a journalistic enterprise charged with informing and empowering citizens by reporting the news, as it used to say, “fair, balanced, and unafraid.” And, buttressed by the First Amendment, to represent the reporter’s right to present both facts and perspectives of front-page figures, no matter how controversial.
In fact, in going pure rope-a-dope as Dominion ferociously flailed about in dark corners of Murdoch’s empire, the network’s suits passed up a golden opportunity for some compelling counterpunching on the public’s behalf.
To wit: a chance to poke into the shadowy chambers of “some of the murkiest and inscrutable firms in the civilian private sector,” per Politico, three of which control 90 percent of the market; nether regions mined by progressives including Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.
Fox couldn’t relitigate the trial judge’s previous factual findings. Still, some fascinating topics might have been plumbed germane to the integrity of the voting process, the “issue” at the heart of the allegedly defamatory statements.
Who are Dominion’s private-equity investors? How underinvested, and thus out-of-date and vulnerable to hacking, is a business termed “congenitally incapable of innovation” and alleged by Warren to have “long skimped on security in favor of convenience?” How compliant is Dominion with election laws and regulations? Why does the cost of similar voting equipment vary so much among jurisdictions? And why must the industry engage in anti-competitive practices like suing customers who switch vendors?
All “issues” that might have made Dominion executives equally squirmy on the stand, yet from which Fox is so “amicably . . . allow[ing] the country to move forward.”
Meanwhile, Fox’s terse announcement about Tucker Carlson opened with a brazen insult to the intelligence of his core audience, Donald Trump’s “forgotten Americans.”
“Fox News Media and Tucker Carlson have mutually agreed to part ways,” read Fox host Harris Faulkner.
This said of a host who had uttered the previous Friday his routine promise to return Monday? And who was reliably reported to have been working on that day’s show?
“We thank him for his service . . . ” From the network that days later demonstrated its appreciation, leaking a supposedly “racist” email its board evidently feared would come out at trial, to slime Carlson?
The suits were fairly shouting: we’re racing, full-speed, not just from Carlson but from his anti-ruling class, pro-middle class narrative. And from others he offered a platform, in the best journalistic tradition, to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
People like Julie Kelly, intrepidly unveiling a weaponized federal judicial system’s relentless tracking, torment, and outright torture of January 6 “insurrectionists.”
Or Alex Berenson, disdained and de-platformed in standing up to misrule and misrepresentations by COVID pooh-bahs and profiteers.
Or Christopher Rufo, questioner of critical race theory and decrier of LGBTQ infiltration into corporate America and schools, and his Manhattan Institute colleague, law enforcement defender and DEI-doubter Heather Mac Donald.
Plus numerous voices lamenting the military’s incompetence and wokeness, and trillions of dollars devoted to propping up an antiquated NATO and, now, a corrupt Ukraine regime.
The pièce de resistance? When asked for comment on Carlson’s Twitter announcement, the network pointed back to its initial arrogant, dismissive nonstatement.
In short: “Talk to the hand,” Tucker fans.
The C-suiters may conclude that surviving the departures of heavy hitters Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly means they can cast aside any talent—and their audience. But Carlson is qualitatively different than entertainer O’Reilly and telegenic Kelly. He’s the voice and beating heart of a movement, one whose adherents feel betrayed and abandoned by his ex-employer’s recent actions.
If Rupert Murdoch’s big thinkers believe they can emerge from these scandals with their credibility and heretofore loyal audience intact—then the stupid pills apparently being inhaled on Sixth Avenue are more potent than even this commentator imagined.