No one has given me a riddle to consider for a long time. But I can think of one. What’s the difference between U.S. Rep. George Santos and Fox News? The answer is that there is none. Neither can handle the truth.
Santos is two and a half months into his term in Congress, and even though some of his colleagues have condemned him, there seems to be no possibility that he will be removed from public office in the near future, so the lies will continue until the prosecutors call. With Republicans controlling the house by a very slim margin, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is badly in need of every vote. Even if Santos were a real-life Jack the Ripper, no effort would be made to oust him.
Fox’s case is much more serious. It’s one thing for a candidate to lie his way into office. It’s another thing for a network to knowingly distort the news to millions of Americans and have no one who can discipline it.
The whole world knows what happened on Nov. 6, 2020, and on Jan. 6, 2021. There was a national election, and when the final tallies were in, Joe Biden won the presidency by roughly 7 million votes. The election deniers, led by Fox, ranted and roared, but Congress certified the election. It was done, over. But faced with a potential catastrophic loss of viewers, and profits, the network knowingly and willfully lied about the results, continuing to spread the nonsense that the election had been “fraudulently” conducted.
As if the election denialism wasn’t enough, Fox’s Tucker Carlson, armed with 40,000 hours of security video, now claims that the Jan. 6 insurrection was really a peaceful protest. There are people like former President Donald Trump who want you to believe that, but the footage that Carlson will never show tells the horrible story of the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The next phase of Fox’s big lie was its promotion of the falsehood that Dominion voting machines were manipulated to change votes from Trump to Biden. Fox gave airtime to numerous people who claimed that the voting machines were controlled by the government of Venezuela and other countries, which compounded the notion that the election had been stolen.
Dominion now has a major defamation suit against Fox. The litigation has resulted in the release of hundreds of pages of sworn testimony of Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch, wherein Murdoch states that he knew Fox was falsely claiming that the election had been stolen. Also among the evidence are emails and texts exchanged between Carlson and other Fox voices, admitting they had few doubts about the election results.
It’s one thing for a member of Congress, one of 435, to lie all the way from the campaign to the Capitol. It is a much bigger thing for a federally licensed television network to knowingly spread falsehoods about an election and a subsequent riot to millions of gullible people who are willing to believe those distortions.
It will be extremely difficult, under defamation law, for Dominion to prevail and for Fox to be punished for its deliberate conduct in its zest for profit and viewers. So, when you compare one man’s falsehoods with a television network’s commentators knowingly distorting the truth about issues of worldwide concern, there’s a big difference. Santos will eventually meet his fate, but what will happen to Fox?
Eventually, Murdoch will be forced to write a check for millions of dollars to compensate Dominion for its claimed damages. That will be considered little more than the cost of doing business, and in time the story will fade away.
But, sadly, there is no mechanism to adequately punish a network for its willful neglect of the truth. In the end, the only group that will have any say over Fox’s future is its viewers. If they fail to punish the network, it is a message to all the George Santoses of the world that blatant lying is permissible conduct.
Jerry Kremer was an Assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? firstname.lastname@example.org.