June 6, 2023


Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Murdoch’s puppet
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift         
          WASHINGTON — It is hard to blame Dominion Voting Systems for accepting a $787.5 million dollar settlement from Fox News for spreading false claims that the network knew were untrue about the 2020 election. But it would have been nice if patriotism outweighed capitalism, and Dominion’s case had gone to trial, exposing the inner workings of Fox by putting its founder, Rupert Murdoch, on the witness stand along with its roster of celebrity hosts.
          However, we live in the real world and holding Murdoch to account for spreading lies is going to take more than one lawsuit from one company. This is just the opening salvo.
          Next up is Smartmatic, a voting technology company, which filed a $2.7 billion dollar lawsuit against Fox for defamation by claiming the company’s voting machines were used to rig the 2020 election for Joe Biden. No trial date has been set, but Smartmatic must be happy over the precedent set by Dominion in reaching a settlement.
          If Fox can be taken down a peg or two, we have a chance to reclaim our democracy. Fox isn’t a news organization, or it hasn’t been for a long time. If we can bring Fox’s cult-like status down to human size, we have a chance to get back to having two political parties, respect for truth in media, and a First Amendment that doesn’t act as a liar’s shield.
          It's a tall order but the stage has been set. Murdoch didn’t want to take the stand, and at age 92, was willing to pay whatever it took to keep him from having to testify in public about his business model. When Fox lawyers won the concession that the network did not have to make an on-air apology, the deal was sealed.
          The Fox business model can be summed up as this: tell lies for money. The more lies they told, the happier their viewers were, and that happiness translated into eyeballs on the screen and the highest viewership of the cable networks during prime time. If they backed off from the good news their viewers demanded and reported that President Trump did not win reelection and Joe Biden was the legitimately elected president, Fox viewers fled to other much smaller conservative networks, Fox ratings fell, and Fox News hosts sought to silence the network’s fact checkers. The Fox producer who was first to call Arizona for Biden was fired.
          Trump would have been nowhere without Murdoch openly rooting for him in 2016, and then in 2020. The Trumps of the world have always been among us. They come and they go. But it takes the person behind the curtain to make a president out of a Trump. And once created, the puppet takes on a life of its own. So, although following the 1/6 insurrection, Murdoch communicated his wish to “pivot” away from Trump, a pivot that was short-circuited when viewers rebelled.
          Now Murdoch will have a front-row seat at a cage match between Trump and his nearest competitor, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Other competitors are expected to join the fray, notably former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who says the only way to take down Trump is to challenge him directly.
          The same can be said of Murdoch. He is riding high but there are cracks in his armor. Smartmatic is upping the ante financially and may be willing to take its case to trial and finish what Dominion started. What’s happening is emblematic of the McCarthy era when Senator Joseph McCarthy, R-Wisc., led a series of investigations and hearings in the 1950s to expose an alleged communist infiltration of the government.
           “Have you no sense of decency?” Army special counsel Joseph Welch asked McCarthy in a dramatic confrontation that signaled a turning point for the senator. A resolution to condemn McCarthy passed the U.S. Senate later that year in 1954 by 67 to 22.
          When McCarthy fell, he fell fast and hard. May Murdoch follow in his footsteps. 
          See Eleanor Clift’s latest book Selecting a President, and Douglas Cohn’s latest books The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2023 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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