The tail wagging the dog, in this instance, is when something important (The Fox News viewing audience) is being unduly influenced by something far less important (the Fox News primetime bloviators).
While settling for fifty cents on the dollar usually isn’t a bad deal, blowing off the equivalent of more than two years’ net profit isn’t exactly chopped liver either. Fox News could have survived the financial hit had they gone to trial and lost as long as their advertising revenue and, more importantly, their licensing fees kept rolling in. They couldn’t afford to have their primetime dog waggers exposed in court as the frauds they turned out to be.
The odds were not insurmountable that Fox would have prevailed at trial, maybe close to 50/50, given how high the bar is to prosecute a press defamation case in America successfully. After all, Dominion would have had to win a unanimous jury verdict to prevail in this federal trial.
Fox’s lawyers would not have had to prove that the network’s primetime bloviators believed that Trump had won the election in 2020. They would have merely had to convince one juror that there was so much conspiracy noise from so many different sources about the election being rigged and that the Fox bloviators believed that Trump was convinced the election had been stolen, that they gave him the benefit of the doubt. They could have argued that they covered the story from the former president’s point of view. Fox had actually argued that Dominion's lawsuit violated the free speech provisions in the First Amendment because newsworthy figures, including a sitting president, were insisting that the election was stolen. In America, we give the press enormous latitude to be dead wrong without being guilty of defamation.
But here’s the thing: Fox News knew it could win the case at trial and still be (justifiably) destroyed. The drip, drip, drip of devastating disclosures would have been (and are) potentially ruinous to Fox News, especially if cable and satellite providers decide they are no longer going to pay the enormous fees they have to charge subscribers to have the privilege of carrying Fox News whether or not their subscribers ever watch Fox News (and most don’t).
Fox News could lose all of its advertising revenue and still be profitable as long as it can continue to burden satellite and cable users with a monthly fee, even if the cable subscribers never watch Fox News. That’s because satellite and cable providers who include Fox News in their lineup of available shows currently pay Fox News $2.00 per month per subscriber whether or not those subscribers ever watch Fox News. Just having Fox News in their lineup of available shows has, in the past, been deemed that important.
There are reports that Fox News is hedging its potential loss in viewership and advertising revenue by insisting on a substantial increase in carriage fees that satellite and cable providers will have to pay going forward. While only a relatively small number of satellite and cable viewers watch Fox News, these carriers feel they still need the availability of Fox News in their lineup. As long as the carriers feel that way, Fox News will milk the carriers’ spinelessness for all it’s worth.
So why, then, did Fox settle?
Fox settled because the network’s investment in its primetime human capital, that is, its accumulated investment in Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham, would have deteriorated to roughly the value of a bad joke had the case gone to trial. The glib-of-tongue, but vastly irresponsible threesome to whom Fox was doling out, cumulatively, a reported $100 million a year in salaries, were all on record wagging the dog. In the grand scheme, three relatively unimportant bloviators were whipping millions of people into a frenzy about a fair and secure election having been stolen when they knew perfectly well that there was no evidence to support their stolen election harangues.
Why did they do it, then? They believed that wagging the dog about the election having been stolen when they knew that there was not a sliver of actual evidence that there was anything wrong with the election was what their audience needed to hear if they were going to continue watching Fox News. It is really that simple.
For example, when Fox White House Correspondent Jacqui Heinrich accurately reported that there was “no evidence” for Trump’s absurd assertion Dominion’s voting machines stole the election, Tucker Carlson texted the other primetime bloviators: “Please get her fired. Seriously… What the fuck? I’m actually shocked. It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.” Carlson had no interest whatever in the accuracy of Heinrich’s reporting, only that she wasn’t supporting the election lie conspiracy.
Sean Hannity had given conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell a forum on his show to claim that Dominion was using their machines to “trash large batches of votes that should have been awarded to President Trump” and to “inject and add massive quantities of votes for Mr. Biden.” When asked during his deposition whether he believed Powell, he replied, “I did not believe it for one second.” But Hannity didn’t question what she said for one second, either. Laura Ingraham referred to Powell, privately, as a “complete nut”… "Ditto with Rudy Giuliani.”
Fox News most respected on-air talent, political anchor Bret Baier, referred to the Fox News assault on the election as having “no evidence of fraud. None. Allegations – stories. Twitter. Bullshit.”
And that’s why Fox News settled. They were all wagging the dog. It was all, as Bret Baier warned, “Bullshit.”
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So pragmatic. Yes, they were smart to settle. Thanks for giving me some wisdom on a Sunday morning!