Is The Tide Turning?

I’ve just finished a really good book by Dan Pfeiffer, “Battling the Big Lie.” Pfeiffer handled communications in the Obama White House and is currently the host of the podcast “Pod Save America.”

One of the many, many important points he makes in that book is that Democrats have a “message over megaphone” problem–“Democrats spend 99 percent of their time worrying about what they should say, and only one percent figuring out how to get people to hear what they are saying.”

Pfeiffer spends a significant amount of time describing the outsized effect of the Right’s media ecosystem, including two chapters on Fox. I’ll undoubtedly have more to say about the book  (okay, I probably loved it so much because his analyses mostly mirror mine…), but today I want to focus on an article about Fox I came across just after finishing it.

The American Prospect’s Kuttner on Tap reports that Fox’s troubles didn’t end when it paid Dominion zillions of dollars for lying about that company.

Fox is both a network and the owner of 29 individual lucrative TV station franchises, including in 14 of the 15 largest markets. Their licenses require renewal by the FCC every eight years.

Fox’s license for its Philadelphia station is currently up for renewal, and several public-interest groups are opposing that renewal.

The FCC’s criteria for renewal include “character,” defined in great detail, a test that Fox flagrantly flunks, especially given its admissions in the Dominion case. On August 23, the Commission agreed to take public comment on this question.

Opponents of renewal include Jamie Kellner, the founding president of Fox News. Kellner’s  letter to the FCC included the following:

Unlike the news feeds provided today by Fox News Channel, our news feeds did not prominently feature advocates like Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell spouting nonsensical lies about a Presidential election … If the character requirement for broadcast licensees is to have any meaning, the FCC must designate the application for a hearing to evaluate the Murdochs’/Fox’s character qualifications…

Others who have filed objections include Alfred Sikes, a former Republican FCC chairman,  Ervin Duggan, a former Democratic FCC Commissioner, and ex–Fox News Channel commentator Bill Kristol.

In yet another filing, the Media and Democracy Project pointed out that:

FOX knew—from the Murdochs on down—that Fox News was reporting false and dangerous misinformation about the 2020 Presidential election, but FOX was more concerned about short-term ratings and market share than the long-term damage caused by its spreading disinformation.

FOX’s lies concerning the outcome of the 2020 election caused a great injury to the American people and the institutions of our democracy. FOX’s willingness to lie demonstrates a fatal character flaw.

It’s hard to see how Fox can get its license renewed if there is a hearing on the merits. There are just too many examples of Fox’s deliberate disinformation. Kuttner predicts that the Philadelphia challenge will be followed by 28 more, as Fox’s other licenses come up for rolling review.

If Fox does get its license, we might as well scrap the FCC as meaningless. As the Media and Democracy petition puts it:

This is not a First Amendment case. Rather the issue here concerns a corporation that, with the full knowledge and approval of its management, lied to millions of Americans. The question before the Commission is not whether FOX had a right to lie, rather it is about the consequences of those lies and the impact on FOX’s qualifications to remain an FCC licensee.

If a blogger or independent Internet source lies, the First Amendment protects them. The government has no legal recourse. But government has the right–and, I would insist, the duty–to ensure that those competing for use of one of the limited public airwaves adhere to certain standards as a condition of the award.

The Dominion lawsuit proved (as if we had any doubt) that Fox  lies to the American public with the full knowledge and approval of its management.

As Kuttner correctly notes, the question isn’t whether FOX had a right to lie. But I disagree with his assertion that the issue is the negative consequences of those lies. The issue I see  is the right of a corporation to use public airwaves to deliver deliberate disinformation in blatant violation of its license with the FCC.

Fox demonstrably violated numerous terms of that license, just as Trump knowingly violated numerous laws. If neither suffers the consequences that less powerful miscreants would suffer, that result would undermine the most basic tenet of the rule of law: that no one is above the law.

As the saying goes, every journey begins with a single step. Opposition to Fox’s Philadelphia renewal represents a welcome first step toward dismantling the Right’s megaphone. Bravo to the opposition!