I suppose it comes down to ethics, and the different ethical concerns applicable to different ways of making one’s living.
If I were to open a shop, my primary focus would be on my bottom line. I would certainly be obliged to operate honestly, and to treat my customers and employees fairly, but the primary focus of business is making a profit.
We have the right to expect doctors, lawyers, and other professionals to abide by additional ethical obligations–standards appropriate to the practice of those professions.
Journalism is one such profession–and when major news organizations are owned and managed by entrepreneurs focused solely on the bottom line, citizens are robbed of one of the most important protections of small-d democracy. When a purportedly “fair and balanced” media ignores any obligation to truthfulness in order to make money pandering to the biases of a designated portion of the population, the result is increased polarization leading to civic unrest and even violence.
Which brings me to recent revelations about Fox “News.”
In the weeks after the 2020 election, Fox News faced an existential crisis. The top-rated cable news network had alienated its Donald Trump-loving viewers with an accurate election night prediction for Joe Biden and was facing a terrifying ratings slide, not to mention the ire of a once-loyal president.
Concern came from the very top: “Everything at stake here,” Rupert Murdoch messaged Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott.
The billionaire founder was eager to see the Republican candidate prevail in the coming Senate runoff in Georgia — “helping any way we can,” he wrote. But he also advised Scott to keep an eye on the uptick in ratings for a smaller, more conservative channel whose election skepticism suddenly seemed to be resonating with pro-Trump viewers.
Newly released messages show Fox executives fretting that month over an uncomfortable revelation: that if they told their audience the truth about the election, it could destroy their business model.
It is one thing to protect the Free Speech rights of news outlets and reporters who are simply mistaken, or for commentators to report matters that they believe to be true, even when they aren’t. But Fox folks weren’t mistaken. They knew they were lying. The network abandoned its professional obligations in order to protect its bottom line. It gave its audience the lies that audience wanted desperately to believe.
What Fox’s loyal viewers wanted to watch — and what Fox News was willing to do to keep them — emerged this week as a central question in a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit brought against the network by Dominion Voting Systems.
As it conducted discovery in that lawsuit, Dominion uncovered reams of internal correspondence and other evidence, information that became public last week via a court filing. The evidence showed Fox executives and on-air stars privately dismissing the “wild and false claims of a stolen election” that they proceeded to promote on air.
“Sidney Powell is lying,” prime-time star Tucker Carlson wrote to his producer about a Trump lawyer who had appeared on Fox and spewed baseless accusations. “There is NO evidence of fraud,” anchor Bret Baier wrote to one of his bosses.
The linked article quotes from numerous internal communications demonstrating that Fox willingly and knowingly lied in order to protect its “market share.”
As another article on the disclosures reported, a network executive in charge of prime-time programming warned that Newsmax’s brand of “conspiratorial reporting might be exactly what the disgruntled [Fox News Channel] viewer is looking for.” As a result, he added, Fox should not “ever give viewers a reason to turn us off. Every topic and guest must perform.”
A lawyer who knowingly misrepresented the law in order to keep a paying client would risk being disbarred. A doctor who knowingly misdiagnosed a patient in order to keep the dollars flowing would risk losing his medical license. Although the Society of Professional Journalists has promulgated a Code of Ethics, I am aware of no similar enforcement mechanism.
The primary ethical obligation of journalists–as set out in that Code of Ethics–is to: Seek Truth and Report It. That includes fact-checking, not intentionally distorting information, identifying sources, avoiding stereotypes, and supporting the open exchange of opinions. Most non-MAGA Americans already understood that Fox disdains and ignores those ethical obligations, but it is really stunning to read internal communications showing utter contempt for truth or fidelity to fact.
In the absence of a professional body able to impose sanctions for blatant ethical violations, Dominion’s lawsuit has done America a great service. Whether the unarguable evidence will be sufficient to awaken even a small percentage Fox’s devoted MAGA viewers is, of course, a different question.
21 thoughts on “Business? Or Profession?”
Does a mass media group that promotes insurrection really deserve access to the airwaves? Is that in the public interest?
I hope Dominion cleans their clock. As much as you’ve taught me about free speech, this case should end Fox News once and for all. But, you all know, I’m just a dreamer.
I wonder if this “revelation” will have any effect on the Fox true believers. I have already had one message from an acquaintance who told me that “he has been watching and both sides lie”, using the “Both Sides Do It” argument of Whataboutism to deflect responsibility.
Fox News has created its own reality using “alternative facts” to deceive and befuddle its viewers. I would not be surprised if one day we learn that Tucker and/or Murdoch are discovered to be operators for Putin. They could not be more effective, even if they are simply “useful idiots”.
You make the inaccurate assumption these on-air hacks are “journalists”. They are not. They are “entertainers”.
And our new House Speaker has just given exclusive use to one Tucker Carlson of this soulless entity, of thousands of hours of Capital security footage from Jan. 6. Many knowledgeable people have great concerns about this as it relates to the present security of the area, as it will expose camera locations among other things.
Bu, of course, the ethics of all involved can be counted on. //strong sarcasm//
“LANSING, Mich. — Election conspiracist Kristina Karamo, who was overwhelmingly defeated in her bid to become Michigan’s secretary of state, was chosen Saturday to lead the state’s Republican Party for the next two years.”
Sheila’s opening statement; “I suppose it comes down to ethics, and the different ethical concerns applicable to different ways of making one’s living.”
The election of Ms. Karamo took three votes, she lost her bid for Secretary of State by 14% percentage points. She refused to concede her loss…and Trump’s; her opponent had Trump’s support, he conceded his loss. The Republican’s profession is based on lies; it is their way of “making a living” and they are gaining ground at state levels. The journalist’s “code of ethics” is no more enforced than the Oaths of Office by our elected officials in Senate and House at all levels. They are professionals at running their business of governing based on lies. They are “hand in glove” with Fox News who now are in possession of 41,000 hours of the Capitol Building’s January 6th insurrection videos to edit and display as they see fit to offset the legal investigation results and DOJ action to bring the guilty to the Judicial system. Thanks to McCarthy’s ass-kissing. Just as they did with TWO IMPEACHMENTS of Donald Trump; they are still working to put his MAGA foundation back in the White House.
Much is riding on the Dominion lawsuit effecting the 2023 and 2034 elections. The “Profession” of our elected official’s election campaigns is riding on the “Business” of manufacturing ballot machines. We have the right to expect expect ethical treatment in all we deal with for products and service but their right to deny that treatment overrides our right.
Several journalists and legal analysts on another channel have indicated that the lawsuit against Fox must prove ‘malice’ to win in court. If Fox’s primary concern
was for their profits, is that legally akin to malice?
Regarding journalist reporting; the train derailment on the Pennsylvania/Ohio border is primary news at this time. All fingers pointing and the rail line which is as it should be regarding the actual derailment but an early report, which I haven’t heard repeated, is that the Governor of Ohio ordered the burning of the chemical spill. Was that the correct way to counteract the dangers of those particular chemicals? The EPA is now involved in testing the safety, or dangers, of water and air in that small town; if the burning sending the clouds of smoke and particles into the air and water systems was wrong, that needs to be investigated and reported and blame directed to the proper source.
It’s so hard to prove actual malice in court. But those Fox emails may well prove that malice…that they knew the information they were dispensing about Dominion was false and they did it anyway. If I were Fox, I’d be looking to try to get it settled…without an admission of liability, of course.
Where are the ethics of those corporations that advertise on FOX News ? Do they get a pass because they are simply following their business plan to make a profit by advertising on the network with the biggest audience?
I think with those admissions Fox has lost any shred of hope of counting on NYT v. Sullivan as a defense against the defamation suit. At this point, relying on that defense would be like the guy who killed his parents begging the court for mercy because he’s an orphan. Their lawyers should seek a settlement conference, and Dominion’s lawyers should tell them to jut fuck right off.
Faux News frequently gets out of libel cases with the “reasonable man” argument. Would a reasonable man believe what the host (not reporter) is saying? It’s hard to answer yes to that question, but then their target audience ISN’T the reasonable man or woman or child.
Good catch, Theresa!
It’s the whole corrupt system. Just like voters, the ultimate responsibility comes with the viewers of Fox News. If they stopped watching the lies, Fox would also vanish.
It would also help if our federal government would step up enforcing “intentional disinformation” by the “news organizations.”
When Biden’s administration targeted disinformation, it was plain to see that they targeted any journalist or writer who didn’t follow the mainstream’s story.
For instance, #BalloonGate and #NordStreamPipeline. Even the journalist on the ground in East Palestine, OH, was arrested by the police and placed in jail.
All the mainstream media has been ignoring Seymour Hersh’s article about the U.S. sabotage of the Russia/German pipeline. Why are they all reluctant to further investigate (seek the truth) this international crime?
So, sorry, James, both sides lie and are disinformation outlets and are allowed to operate as long as they don’t hold the government accountable. Fox News is just especially annoying for Democrats. 😉
My concern is that by the time Dominion wins the lawsuit and the truth becomes more public, will Fox have brainwashed their loyal viewers into believing that Fox never lies and is the victim of a wrongful lawsuit?
I see this lawsuit being drug out for years and ending up at the supreme clown court where Fox gets a slap on the back of their hands.
If it hasn’t been clear why Australia kicked Rupert Murdoch out for using a similar “business” model to sow hate and suspicion, this case certainly does. Oh, and when Murdoch applied for U.S. Citizenship, the Republican president Reagan fast-tracked its approval.
If DeWine ordered East Palestine, OH to become a major polluter by burning the vinyl chloride, he should be jailed for reckless endangerment. Nobody could be that stupid, could they? Did you see the interview with the Norfolk Southern CEO? A study in fear. Railroads have made obscene profits while letting their safety measures go begging. Imagine that. Profits. Only profits.
Marx was right. Can you hear his laugh from the grave: Capitalism will destroy itself from within.
These hot messes, of course, are directly caused by Republicans seeking power and money. Ethics? Never going to happen with these bastards. McCarthy is dumber than a bag of doorknobs. Greene is a seditious dolt yearning for another civil war. It’s so easy to see: EVERYTHING REPUBLICANS TOUCH DIES. These fools can’t even manage their own lies.
Maybe journalism should be more like investment rules.
IE – if you’re labeled a “fiduciary” you’re required to invest your client’s money in a way that’s most helpful to the client. (I can’t believe there’s another option, but… hey. Welcome to US capitalism)
If you’re not a “fiduciary” and market yourself as a “money manager” or some other thing – you don’t have to invest your clients’ money where it will your clients the most good. You’re allowed to just invest wherever makes you (the money manager) the most commission, regardless of the success of the investment/fees assessed/etc.
Maybe journalism needs a “fiduciary” type label to indicate who actually is talking about facts and who is just out making money?
God Bless America
The Big Guys can only go to jail if you can prove “malice” or “intent”. Ordinary folks who get caught go to jail. Hmmm. See “The Duck” and his history of crime.
Media is a mess.
Why? They don’t have to identify whether their mission is to serve or merely entertain the public. So they sort of do both. They inform the public of some of the news in a way that also entertains their brand of audience and they let that fall where it may. There is no difference between Fox and Facebook that way. Or for that matter, Tik Tok. Entertainment builds and holds an audience, news legitimizes the media. Their product is relatively inexpensive to produce and distribute and commands a solid hold on our attention spans.
It’s not in any way a profession anymore that stand-up comedy is.
Speaking of ethics, today’s report on the major Ohio political corruption federal trial points to an huge ethical void among the politicians and lobbyists who pushed a billion-dollar bailout of a failing Ohio utility:
Here’s the first paragraph of the astonishing report:
“CINCINNATI — Tens of millions didn’t just go to pay for a spate of nasty, xenophobic ads to stop a repeal of a corrupt utility bailout in 2019. Some of that money also paid people to stalk, harass and even assault workers who were gathering signatures to get the repeal onto the ballot, the head of the company that was gathering them testified on Tuesday.”
Let’s go back to EVERYTHUNG TRUMP TOUCHES DIES, and connect that to his touch/hold on the GOP,
not that they were above screwing with any ethical issues before he came along.
BTW, the start of the Grand Old Party, despite Lincoln’s involvement, was a lie to begin with, as they labeled
themselves that way as soon as they were created.
“I see this lawsuit being drug out for years and ending up at the supreme clown court
where Fox gets a slap on the back of their hands,” wrote Vernon, and I think you are right.
This country “has a problem with stupidity,” another with greed, and, yes Fox is just
there for entertainment.
the billionaire shareholders,(murderdoch,and board) telling the millionairs(carlson,o rielly,ingals) what to say and promote, is not journalism. its joe goebbles and company..welcome to the news world of hate.
imagine if the fairness doctrine was still alive and well.
Todd: Liberal outlet TPM re Seymour Hersh: https://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/whats-the-story-with-seymour-hersh.
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