We learned this past week that Fox News and its parent, Fox Corp., agreed to settle the defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems. See, https://www.npr.org/2023/04/18/1170339114/fox-news-settles-blockbuster-defamation-lawsuit-with-dominion-voting-systems
Although pundits opined prior to the settlement that the case was likely to “break new legal ground,” Spirited Reasoners never saw it that way. Ever since the landmark case of New York Times vs. Sullivan way back in 1964, it has been settled law that the media can face liability for defamation if they publish an untrue statement of fact “with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” See, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/new_york_times_v_sullivan_%281964%29
Spirited Reasoners also know that corporations, even those the size of Fox, would not agree to a settlement in the stratospheric neighborhood of $787,500,000 if they thought they stood a decent chance of winning the lawsuit. Fox was, after all, the defendant. The burden of proof was on Dominion.
This week’s blog post does not end, however, with the mere assertion that Fox News reporters and commentators lied about the integrity of the 2020 election and must therefore pay for the damages to Dominion caused by those lies. We should also consider the broader harm that such lies do the fabric of our society.
On January 6, 2021, impressionable people were galvanized by what they saw on Fox News about the election being “stolen.” This past week—to cite a different example—we believe it is the case that Fox News has caused too many Americans to feel threatened by any innocent stranger who happens to be knocking at the wrong door or driving up the wrong driveway. These viewers have been led to believe that they are justified in “standing their ground” in the face of what must be an imminent invasion, because that’s the sort of wrong-headed doctrine that commentators on Fox News have been preaching for the past ten years.
When a nightly news program repeatedly implies (or states outright) that each of us needs to be afraid of our neighbors, and that the best way to do that is to own a high-powered weapon and shoot anyone who invades our “castle’s” perimeter, then Spirited Reasoners wonder whether such a news program should bear a measure of indirect responsibility for the consequences. Such a young man being shot just because he knocked on the door of the wrong address. Or a young woman being shot because she drove up the wrong driveway.
If Fox News told its viewers the truth, they would learn that most Americans are good, peaceful, law-abiding citizens. They do not stuff ballot boxes. They do not make it their normal practice to commit robbery and burglary. Is there the occasional armed robber and armed burglar out there? Yes. But for everyone one of those, there are at least ten, probably more like a hundred, innocent people wandering up to door fronts to deliver Amazon and UPS packages (including those that might have been delivered to the wrong address by mistake), solicitors wanting to sell us something, or children wanting to chase a stray ball or toy. Is it wise to be prepared for the chance criminal? Of course it is. Should we assume everyone who comes to our door is a criminal? Of course not.
To those who would say that Spirited Reasoners are taking a Pollyanna approach to what is truly a dangerous world out there filled with cheats and criminals, we should respond as follows: You’ve been watching too much Fox News.