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The Dominion v. Fox News Lawsuit Shows the Only Free Press is a Profit-Free Press
Breaking News: Fox News sucks.
If you’ve poked your head into the madhouse that is right-wing media anytime in the last three years, you’ve undoubtedly heard a lot about Dominion voting machines. Following the 2020 election, Fox News and Newsmax made false claims that Dominion voting machines had switched votes from Donald Trump to Joe Biden, and were therefore the reason Trump lost the election. While these claims were dubious to begin with, we now know they were 100% false, as admitted by the Fox News anchors who pushed them.
Following the fraudulent claims, Dominion sued Fox News for $1.6 billion, citing the network’s coverage as purposeful malice. Dominion is claiming Fox knew the charges were bogus but purported them anyway. The case is currently in the discovery phase of the trial, which has unearthed text messages from Fox News personalities Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity that show the hosts knew the claims were false. Yet show after show these three gave credence to the conspiracy of rigged Dominion machines to placate their viewership.
Rather than beat the dead horse that Fox News is a unique detriment to society, I find this whole episode an indictment of the for-profit model of journalism* (if we can even call it that). As these text messages show, Fox News, the most-watched network in the country, was purposefully lying to its audience to keep them engaged.
Yes, Fox News is one-of-a-kind, but the source of its absurdity is not unique to the Right. As the for-profit model puts every other journalistic entity at risk of similar failings, the press will not be free until the profit motive is eliminated.
The Problems with For-Profit Media
There’s no rational observer who will read these texts and maintain Fox News is an honest actor committed to honest journalism. The network’s “stars” (I call them that because Fox News has repeatedly defended itself in court as an entertainment network, not a news network) are in it for themselves, as evidenced by Tucker Carlson’s ‘stock price” text.
But putting aside the personalities who look like they’re from a more-Fascist remake of The Hunger Games, the core of the issue — the profit incentive that motivates a network to tell its audience what they want to hear — remains. Fox News is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the international billionaire media mogul. Even if Murdoch’s politics weren’t reactionary and racist, it’s inevitable he would still use the network to protect his financial interests. After all, this is what Jeff Bezos did after purchasing The Washington Post.
And though it doesn’t appear Bezos has any interest in steering The Post to the vile culture war and racism present on Fox News, the fact that he could do that with a single phone call is a systemic problem. Leaving such important decisions up to a single individual and crossing our fingers hard enough that our knuckles turn white is no civilized way to disseminate information.
And while for-profit media is inherently flawed, I’ve seen little hope of salvation from state-run media, at least in its current form. While the term “state media” conjures images of the most egregious propaganda of despots and dictators, we don’t need to look to the extremes to see where the fault of this model lies.
A recent study by Cardiff University found that the United Kingdom’s BBC gave the Conservative Party “substantially more airtime” than the Labour Party. Even the former BBC Director General said the network was “part of a Westminster conspiracy preventing radical democratic change.” The network also had to apologize for selectively editing clips of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to make him appear favorable before the 2019 general election.
And while the United States’s National Public Radio is considerably less-consumed than the BBC (over 60% of U.K. citizens watch BBC at least once a week), we can see why media controlled by the national government would immediately turn problematic. After all, the last Republican president spent the final year of his tenure lying to the public about the severity of COVID and the current Democratic administration is doing everything in its power to turn heads away from the East Palestine disaster. Call me crazy, but I don’t see how the American public would benefit from a national broadcast controlled by either side of the duopoly.
Fortunately, there is an antidote to the poisoned heart that is profit. ] Just like any other industry, the corruption caused by the personal interests of capitalists and politicians can be solved by handing power back to the masses. There are two forms this structure of journalism could take.
The first is that of the worker cooperative, in which the workers of a newspaper (or other media entity) own the company and run it as a democracy. They could elect an editor-in-chief who would set editorial standards, ensuring what they deem to be proper journalistic integrity. We can already see how this would improve coverage, as evidenced by the recent open letter signed by one thousand NYT current and former contributors criticizing the paper’s coverage of trans issues.
The other option is to structure newspapers and television news as a community-owned entity. This could either take the form of crowd-funded publications (such as The Lever, which has done exceptional work covering the East Palestine disaster), or they could be owned by the regions they cover.
Though I’m skeptical a national publication could work in the contemporary U.S., towns, counties, and even cities could publicly fund newspapers to provide matter-of-fact coverage to the residents. Such a transition would turn news from a commodity into a public good, similar to how public schools operate. Of course, there’s always the possibility of malfeasance, but residents could correct it with democratic control, similar to the election of local school boards.
I won’t lie, I’m enjoying the juicy tea of the Fox News texts. When added to the fact the Dominion lawsuit holds the potential to bankrupt one of the most insane companies in existence, it’s hard not to get caught up in the feeling some of the worst people in America might finally get their due.
But to focus exclusively on Fox is to ignore the larger issue of the profit motive rotting journalism. After all, if Fox News does go bankrupt, what’s to stop Rupert Murdoch from buying The New York Times and starting his fascist project all over again?
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