Who cares that Fox News, a cable TV version of the screeds voiced on radio by Rush Limbaugh, the late radio commentator whose outrageous right-wing bluster was immensely popular, is being sued for defamation by Dominion Voting Systems for $1.6 billion?
Very few people. Viewers distrust television news shows as purveyors of truth.
Sad commentary about a country filled with multiple tribal interpretations of news. The tide has turned. You believe only what feeds your existing bias.
I watch little or no TV news. I prefer the printed word. My news providers are the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Maryland Matters, the Baltimore Banner and, of course, the Spy.
I avoid bumptious and boisterous TV commentators. They often resemble entertainers—because they are. They succeed or not by the number of viewers who tune into loud exclamations of certainty. I will not watch CNN or Fox News; they both infringe upon my journalistic sensibilities. They peddle anger and outrage.
The facts presented so far in the Dominion lawsuit against media magnate Rupert Murdoch’s empire portray news executives and its jarring commentators deliberately reporting lies about verifiable voting machines—for three reasons: retain its right-wing audience, retain its advertisers committed to polls and return its commercial advantage over competing, ultra-conservative cable TV networks.
Truth be damned. It mattered not. Support of lies propagated by the former president was the primary objective. Fox wanted to retain its wildly conservative and misguided Trumpian audience—and advertisers.
Fox now faces the consequences of its loose relationship with the truth. If it avoids legal condemnation, its reputation is at risk. Does it matter to Murdoch?
My guess is that the Fox fanatics are so distrustful of what they consider liberal media, they will be reluctant to relinquish their allegiance to a distorted perspective of news. I doubt that Fox will resort to an honest reporting of the news; it does not suit its business model.
Journalism has taken a dangerous turn. Truthful reporting is twisted according to the political slant of a particular news platform. Objective reporting is passé. Clear separation of reporting from editorial comment is muddied.
I have written about the demise of local media, as proved by the number of newspapers that are no longer in business. I worry too about the demise of objectivity, a doctrine drilled into this writer while enrolled in journalism school. Any variation would not be tolerated by the faculty.
While some may question whether objectivity is humanly possible, I believe it is. The Public Broadcasting System’s daily News Hour epitomizes straight-up, fair reporting. I realize, however, that conservative viewers may disagree, sensitive to body language or treatment of guests.
Fox TV, viewed by some friends as the apostle of truth and a bulwark against “woke” culture, engenders distrust of government. Long-serving bureaucrats are viewed and characterized as insidious roadblocks to the implementation of plans and policies proposed by politicians intent on behaving illegally, if not unethically. In my way of thinking, these conscientious civil servants provide necessary checks and balances.
However the defamation lawsuit proceeds, Fox’s credibility as a news source is in serious trouble. Its obsession with pleasing the Trumpian audience, at all costs, is open to question, if not derision. Even Paul Ryan, former Republican Speaker of the House and Fox corporate board member, cautioned against the peddling of lies about unproven election fraud. He was ignored.
Life goes on. Not necessarily civilly. Broadcast and cable news will continue feeding the public all the news fit for differing and conflicting viewpoints.
It would be nice to conclude with an optimistic message about truth or consequences, to opine that our prevalent distrust of institutions and opposing political perspectives will diminish. Just imagine if a new wave of decency enveloped our nation. Improbable, but possible.
Politically slanted media make lots of money by catering to their adamant audiences. Rupert Murdoch and other communication titans could change their modes of operation by viewing the truth as a marketable commodity.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.