The reputation of Fox News has long been a tattered quilt of purposeful dishonesty and overtly partisan right-wing bias. And the last four years has seen Fox go even deeper into the Mariana Trench of propaganda on behalf of Donald Trump, whose authoritarian aspirations demand unflinching loyalty and obedience.
Now Fox News has affirmed their role as Trump’s Ministry of Disinformation in a court ruling that relied on the rather bizarre argument that their top rated prime time host, Tucker Carlson, can’t be taken seriously. That, of course, has been starkly evident to anyone with a functioning frontal cortex, but this ruling (actually the second such ruling) cements it in a legal decision that rests on Fox’s own arguments.
Carlson, one of Fox’s most prolific liars, was being sued for defamation by Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who was paid $150,000 by the National Enquirer on behalf of Trump in order to buy her silence about their sexual affair. Subsequently, Carlson did frequent stories aiming to discredit McDougal and defend Trump. In the course of those stories Carlson accused McDougal of “extorting” Trump and made representations that he asserted were “undisputed facts.” The only problem is that they were easily disputed and not remotely factual.
This week a court ruled in favor of Fox News citing their claim that Carlson “cannot be understood to have been stating facts, but instead that he was delivering an opinion using hyperbole for effect.” The ruling went on to state that “given Mr. Carlson’s reputation, any reasonable viewer ‘arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism’ about the statements he makes.”
In other words, Carlson is a known liar whose commentaries can be dismissed out of hand as the ravings of an unhinged crackpot. The court concludes that someone with such a pronounced reputation for dishonesty is incapable of defamation because who, other than a complete imbecile, would believe him?
The problem with the “reasonable viewer” standard is that it mistakenly assumes that Carlson has any reasonable viewers. His audience is made up of just the sort of imbeciles who buy into his fallacious babbling. Consequently, defamation is a plausible, almost certain result of Carlson’s unambiguously malicious attacks on McDougal. And therein lies the grounds for McDougal’s appeal.
In the meantime, Fox can no longer pretend that their network provides factual presentations of the news. Not after their lawyer won a defamation suit by arguing that their presenters are clowns performing for an audience that hasn’t yet reached the emotional maturity of stunted adolescents.
As if to confirm his flagrant falsifications, Carlson did a segment Thursday night that brazenly distorted reality to advance a conspiracy theory promoted by Trump about mail-in voting. None of the alleged “facts” presented by Carlson were verifiable. And when Trump tweeted a link to the segment, Twitter slapped a warning on the tweet alerting readers to where they could “Learn how voting by mail is safe and secure.”
Democrats are Rigging our 2020 Election! pic.twitter.com/1FwrJiuSNY
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 25, 2020
Now, anytime someone cites a Fox News reporter as their source, they can be swiftly dismissed for believing the garbage that a court of law ruled “cannot be understood to have been stating facts.” In fact, Fox should be regarded in much the same manner that Carlson once described Trump. “Donald Trump is a salesman,” Carlson began. “He’s a talker, a boaster, a booster, a compulsive self-promoter. At times, he’s a full-blown BS artist.” That may be the one thing that Carlson ever got right.
ADDENDUM: There has been some comparison of this defense to one used by MSNBC in defense of a defamation suit filed against Rachel Maddow by the Trump-fluffing conspiracy crackpots at OAN and elsewhere. However the only similarity is that both argued that their defendant offered opinions.
The difference is that Fox’s lawyers argued that Carlson’s audience did not expect his opinions to be factually based. But MSNBC’s lawyers argued that Maddow’s opinions were “precise factual recitations that indisputably and accurately state the facts” and that her commentary was “fully protected opinion because (a) it was based on disclosed facts.” Big difference.
How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.