OP-ED: Maybe the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit of Fox could be good thing for journalism

David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
News headlines on the impeachment trial of Donald Trump are displayed outside of the Fox headquarters on Feb. 9, 2021, in New York. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/TNS)

I never thought I would cheer for a lawsuit against a media company with the word “news” in its title. But then, despite use of the word by Fox, there is very little that could be called news on Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing channel. From the moment of its birth in 1996 it was more a political tool of the right than a journalistic enterprise. That was the way founder Roger Ailes built it, and that is mainly how it has remained.

But just how dangerous a political tool it could be was not fully understood until the profoundly corrupt Donald Trump used it to get elected president in 2016 and create chaos the next four years. Trump’s reign culminated in an epic act of insurrection against the government itself on Jan. 6, fueled by his Big Lie that he won the 2020 election but it was stolen from him.

And now comes Dominion Voting Systems, a voting technology company, with a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit filed against Fox on Friday in part for the network’s role in supporting the Big Lie and claiming Dominion provided rigged voting machines to allegedly steal votes from Trump.

More:Dominion Voting sues Fox for $1.6B over 2020 election claims

Dominion alleges that Fox News “sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion in the process,” according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by The Associated Press.

“The truth matters. Lies have consequences,” Dominion’s lawsuit added. “If this case does not rise to the level of defamation by a broadcaster, then nothing does.”

“Fox News Media is proud of our 2020 election coverage, which stands in the highest tradition of American journalism, and we will vigorously defend against this baseless lawsuit in court,” the channel said in a statement on Friday.

The “highest tradition of American journalism” line is just too much.

I think that Fox became emboldened the last four years by the way Trump lied and lied and lied, and thought their hosts and guests could do it, too. As new competition from One America News Network and Newsmax cut into Fox’s audience, the network went all in with Trump’s lies to try to curry favor with him and his millions of followers. But this lie about the election being stolen contributed to the Jan. 6 violence that left five dead.

I did not come easily to this point, but I hope Dominion wins in court. The one thing Murdoch seems to care about it money. Maybe $1.6 billion will make him rethink his business model for Fox, that right-wing propaganda and Trump-backing lies equal good business.

— David Zurawik is The Baltimore Sun’s media critic.