Fox News has faced a variety of controversies since its launch in 1996, but the revelations from Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation case appear qualitatively more serious. But while the severity of the media scandal might seem obvious, what’s far less clear is what kind of consequences the network might face.
To briefly summarize, a recent court filing presented evidence that Fox News apparently promoted bogus election claims they knew to be false, on purpose, in order to placate its audience and make money. The public also learned that News Corp. Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch acknowledged under oath that some prominent Fox News hosts “endorsed” baseless claims the network knew to be wrong. (Fox News has denied all wrongdoing and is vigorously contesting the lawsuit.)
But some related details were nearly as striking. The same court filings suggested that a Fox News executive shared propriety internal information with Donald Trump’s political operation, before encouraging a different executive to help specific Republican Senate candidates.
These revelations have, not surprisingly, led to some notable complaints to the Federal Election Commission, based on the idea that this coordination may have run afoul of campaign finance laws. The former president, meanwhile, is publicly pleading with Murdoch to believe the Big Lie, including a new missive published Monday at 2:25 a.m. ET.
Democratic officials, meanwhile, appear to be weighing their options.
Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, for example, told The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent last week, “I don’t think we’ve ever had a moment like this, where a major news network has been exposed as deliberately deluding its viewers or readers. This is a seminal moment in the history of mass media. And we need to treat it that way.”
The Democratic senator’s comments came the day after the party’s top two lawmakers — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries — sent a joint letter to Murdoch. “Fox News executives and all other hosts on your network have a clear choice. You can continue a pattern of lying to your viewers and risking democracy or move beyond this damaging chapter in your company’s history by siding with the truth and reporting the facts,” the New York Democrats wrote. “We ask that you make sure Fox News ceases disseminating the Big Lie and other election conspiracy theories on your network.”
The Biden White House also weighed in, directly referencing the cable network’s scandal twice last week, including an on-air quote from President Joe Biden himself. “We’re finding out now that one of the outlets has decided that they even put things on [the air] they know to be false in order to increase their ratings,” he told ABC News. “So, I think things are a little out of whack.”
To be sure, all of this has helped shine a bright light on Fox’s controversy, but it’s unlikely that the rhetorical pushback rattled any nerves at the network’s headquarters. To raise eyebrows at the outlet’s corporate offices, Democrats would have to go considerably further.
Politico reports that this is a distinct possibility.
The thunderclap of stories showing Fox News’ role in pushing 2020 election fraud conspiracies and aiding Donald Trump’s campaign has intensified calls among Democrats to black out the network. ... For years, Democrats have been engaged in a debate over whether the party should shun the cable news giant or grudgingly use its airwaves to run counterprogramming. But in the midst of the latest saga, a newer type of reaction has emerged: that they should sever all ties, including any money spent advertising on the network.
Ordinarily, when there’s talk of candidates or parties boycotting an outlet, this refers to declined interview invitations or perhaps ignored questions at press conferences.
What the Politico report referred to is a broader strategy in which Democrats would not only stop appearing on the network, but would also stop buying Fox News ads and start excluding Fox employees from hosting/moderating debates.
Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg also raised the question about whether Fox News “can continue to be a member of the White House Correspondents Association.”
At this point, it appears no one in the party leadership has endorsed such hardball tactics, but the fact that the conversation is even happening reinforces the fact that this is not just another controversy for the outlet. Watch this space.