ConWebWatch home
ConWebBlog: the weblog of ConWebWatch
Search and browse through the ConWebWatch archive
About ConWebWatch
Who's behind the news sites that ConWebWatch watches?
Letters to and from ConWebWatch
ConWebWatch Links
Buy books and more through ConWebWatch

The Fox News Defense Center vs. Dominion, Part 2

When Fox News abruptly settled the defamation lawsuit against it by paying Dominion $787 million, the Media Research Center complained that some thought Fox News hadn't suffered enough, then declared it didn't matter because narratives trump facts.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 6/23/2023

As Dominion's defamation lawsuit against Fox News inched closer to its scheduled trial date, the Media Research Center -- which has struggled to figure out how to defend its favorite right-wing "news" channel (when it wasn't deliberately ignoring the lawsuit, that is) over the revelations that Fox News lied to its viewers by portraying Donald Trump's claims of election fraud as valid when it knew they were bogus -- continued to try and defend its Fox friends.

MRC executive Tim Graham -- whose main comments about the lawsuit thus far had been largely centered about fretting that the lawsuit gave the hated "liberal media" a legitimate reason to criticize right-wing media -- spent his March 31 column complaining that actual journalists called out Fox News for spreading lies:

America’s journalism elite has a nasty habit of associating journalism with liberalism. They only believe in half of a First Amendment. They don’t believe in press freedom for the conservative media...because they think those outlets should be shunned as fake-news factories.

See the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), which claims it “promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens” and “fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.” But when it comes to Fox News, they put those ideals through a shredder.

The Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox News has become deeply embarrassing in revealing internal discussions in the weeks after the 2020 election, a tumultuous period for the leading cable-news network. The Trump army was in full cry against anyone who suggested Joe Biden had won. Fox bizarrely called Arizona for Biden before all the liberal networks did. Then they worried about their audience leaving in droves for Newsmax and OAN.

So Dominion’s lawyers have thrilled the liberal media with texts and emails showing powerful Fox people were worrying out loud about how it was “bad for business” to fact-check Trump allies. Trump lawyers were uncorking wild conspiracy theories about voting machines that they could not prove. It’s plausible to argue these flagrant theories – combined with Trump’s self-absorbed refusal to concede he lost – led to rioting at the Capitol.

This is why the SPJ did not advocate for press freedom, but slammed Fox instead: “News organizations have a fundamental obligation to be honest in the reporting and opinion they disseminate. It is unprofessional, unethical and potentially harmful for a journalist or news organization to deliberately mislead their audience, no matter the motivation or format....No responsible journalist can accept or excuse this behavior.”

Graham didn't explain why it was was "bizarre" for Fox News to call Arizona for Biden, especially given that the call was proven correct. He also glossed over the fact that discovery in the Dominion lawsuit showed that Fox News portrayed Trump election fraud claims as plausible when it knew they were not -- which, of course, is the reason the SPJ criticized Fox News. Instead, it was whataboutism time again:

That sounds great as a principle, but is that applied to all media outlets? Try Googling “SPJ statement on CNN” and see if you can find them ever whacking CNN for deliberately misleading their audience on anything. If someone sued CNN or NBC, do we think we would never find juicy texts like Fox’s?

We can guess liberal journalists would defend other liberal journalists on the “deliberately misleading” part of the statement. Did the SPJ ever speak out against CNN and MSNBC journalists standing in front of raging fires at big-city riots and saying it was “not unruly”? Or was that too obviously misleading to matter?

“Professional journalists” only hate Fox, apparently. On March 25, SPJ also tweeted out an article from the liberal Nieman Lab arguing Fox News was Fake News. Their tweet promoted this quote from radical journalism professor Jay Rosen: “It’s not just journalism schools — the whole journalism profession in the U.S. has been involved in this make-believe game of Fox as a normal colleague. And now it’s slowly beginning to question that.”

Again, Graham failed to mention that Fox News knew it was spreading that fake news. He concluded by dismissing Fox News critics as nothing but haters while warning about the purported dangers of the Dominion lawsuit:

The SPJ and these other Fox haters are too lost in their negative emotions to appreciate that if Fox News loses in court to Dominion, it opens the rest of the media to lawsuits whenever they pass along allegations that turn out to be false. The legal system doesn’t have a double standard on this. Only the “professional journalists” do.

Of course, one does not have to be a professional journalist to know that Fox News deliberately lied to its viewers and that it falsely smeared Dominion.

Graham wrote a column on April 14 similarly dismissing Fox News critics as a bunch of haters:

NPR is a platform that has demonstrated an incredibly aggressive interest in undermining the credibility of Fox News Channel and the public’s understanding of how it balances out NPR’s relentless liberal bias and censorship.

NPR media reporter David Folkenflik reflects that obsession. He’s filed 13 stories attacking Fox from various angles since February 28, and he’s not the only NPR reporter dropping bombs on Murdoch's castle.

On April 13, NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross devoted an hour to New York Times reporter Jeremy Peters exploiting the negative publicity from Fox’s ongoing legal battle with Dominion Voting Systems. The suit has embarrassed Fox with all kinds of internal messages showing they didn’t believe wild conspiratorial claims of voter fraud, insisting Trump won easily.


In this anti-Fox hour, Peters underlined that Tucker Carlson is an icon of insincerity, a man who privately proclaimed hatred of Trump, but just polished Trump’s shoes in a “historic” one-hour interview. Peters said, “he thinks his audience isn’t ever going to know what he said privately because we all live in such siloed media worlds.” Conservatives are surrounded by a dominant liberal media. The idea that they know nothing about the Dominion fracas is a provocative assertion.

Graham's well-paid job is to undermine the credibility of any media outlet that's not as far-right as he is. He's also misconstruing Peters' words about the right-wing media bubble. The issue is not that conservatives don't know about the Dominion lawsuit, it's that they don't want to admit the truth about what has been revealed -- namely, that Fox News lied to its viewers and falsely defamed Dominion -- so they portray any negative news about Fox News as the product of a biased "liberal media," not something based in reality (as Graham has repeatedly done and is doing here).

Graham concluded with more of the same (and whataboutism too):

Peters says if Fox News loses this case, “it says that one of the most powerful media organizations in the country has to pay for the dishonest way it covered our democracy.” Peters added “I don’t know that those kinds of lessons of accountability will sink in with the average conservative.”

NPR and their liberal friends imagine conservatives are a cretinous collection of mouth-breathing dullards and conspiracy kooks. Inside their silo, they never consider that NPR could be accused of being a “powerful media organization” that can be accused of covering our democracy in a “dishonest way” in 2020. They dismissed the Hunter Biden laptop as a “pure distraction” without moving a muscle to investigate.

NPR prances about mocking Fox for supinely serving its ideologically fervent base in denial of inconvenient facts. But NPR supinely serves its own ideologically fervent base. They are icons of insincerity in claiming they’re courageously independent guardians of democracy who operate without fear or favor.

Note that Graham said absolutely nothing about Fox News needing to be held accountable for its indisputable wrongdoings. And of course, as ConWebWatch has pointed out, if right-wing media wanted Hunter Biden's laptop to be taken seriously before the election, they should have provided independent verification of its authenticity that would have overcome the fact that pro-Trump outlets and operatives were pushing it.

Graham went the whataboutism route yet again for his April 17 podcast:

CBS's Sunday Morning spent nine minutes promoting the dangers Dominion's lawsuit posed to Fox News. It sounded quite similar to a 60 Minutes piece on the same theme last October. But would CBS find it just as newsworthy when Dan Rather sued CBS in 2007 over his phony-documents story? Would anyone be interested in the juicy documents exposing CBS as "corrosive"? Back then, the liberal media professed no interest in this, and the suit was dismissed. Rather wasn't the scapegoat. He was responsible for his mess.

Graham continued that whataboutism by whining that NPR's David Folkenflik claimed that Fox News was creating an information silo and "building a business on serving an ideological base, as if that's not the model for NPR." There was apparently no mention of the fact that Fox News was also doing that very same siloing by trying to censor news about the Dominion lawsuit on its own channel.

When Fox News decided the next day -- the day the trial was to start -- to settle with Dominion by paying the company a whopping 787.5 million, the MRC suggested this was a victory of sorts for Fox and complained when others suggested Fox News hadn't suffered enough. Kevin Tober whined in an April 18 post:

On Tuesday, CNN Tonight co-host Alisyn Camerota took to the airwaves during The Lead With Jake Tapper to bemoan that Fox News Channel was able to settle out of court in the Dominion lawsuit for about half of the original $1.6 billion lawsuit without publicly apologizing. She declared that this was a “victory for Fox” and that this was “the best outcome that Fox could ever have hoped for.”

Discussing Fox’s settlement shortly after the news broke, Tapper asked Camerota if she was surprised by the outcome. “I haven't been surprised by any of this. Nor am I surprised by the settlement. I predicted there would be a settlement all along because Fox doesn't want to air its dirty laundry in a court case,” Camerota exclaimed.

She then huffed that the settlement was “half of what Dominion asked for.” Camerota wasn’t satisfied with Fox having to cough up the better part a billion dollars to Dominion, because “It's chump change for Fox. They make more than a billion dollars a year.”

Tober then personally attacked Camerota, followed by a fit of whataboutism:

It’s obvious that Camerota and the rest of CNN was extremely bitter because in their eyes, Fox wad now saved from embarrassing details that could come out if the lawsuit went to trial.

As a former Fox News host, Camerota clearly has a grudge against her former employer. Wouldn’t you feel the same if you ended up at a low rated network like CNN after working at a ratings powerhouse like Fox?

On top of that, CNN was also being extremely hypocritical. You’ll recall that the network settled with Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann after smearing him as a racist for out of context footage taken during the 2019 March for Life rally. CNN pretended that they never botched the story despite settling.

Actually, it's entirely likely that Sandmann received little more than token going-away money from CNN, which did not have to issue an apology under the settlement. He also didn't mention that Sandmann's lawyer was L. Lin Wood, who went on to prove his incompetence by going full QAnon and spouting election fraud conspiracy theories.

(Houck went even further in personally smearing Camerota on Twitter, maliciously calling her criticism of the settlement a "case of a crazy ex-girlfriend.")

Mark Finkelstein complained that MSNBC's Joe Scarborough brought up his own history of being defamed in the media:

Joe Scarborough is notorious for dragging his background as a former Congressman into the Morning Joe conversation at every opportunity. So much so, that his self-centered obsession has become something of a running joke on the show.

In a variation on his solipsism, Scarborough turned much of Morning Joe's discussion today of the settlement of Dominion's defamation case against Fox News into yet another chance to air his grievance against Donald Trump for having suggested that Scarborough could be responsible for the death of a former congressional aide of his.


Perhaps Scarborough's account is accurate. But could it also be that the various lawyers informed Scarborough that he'd be subjected to intense cross-examination about his personal life — in particular, the circumstances that led to his sudden resignation from Congress.

Finkelstein didn't elaborate on what kind of scandal Scarborough is purportedly hiding. Perhaps he should in order to avoid a defamation lawsuit of his own.

Bill D'Agostino also groused that it was argued that Fox News didn't suffer enough (with added whataboutism, of course):

On Tuesday Dominion Voting Systems settled its lawsuit against Fox News, sparing the media company from six very uncomfortable weeks in court. The settlement was a heartbreaking development for the leftwing media, who had been preparing eagerly to cover every moment of the court proceedings.

Talking heads complained that in agreeing to settle out of court, Dominion had cost Americans an opportunity to learn the full extent of Fox’s alleged malfeasance. They also griped that the terms did not require Fox to formally apologize to Dominion.


Over the last 24 hours we’ve heard many impassioned statements about the importance of truth in journalism. And obviously, yes, the truth is the cornerstone of proper journalism. But when those statements come from CNN and MSNBC, it winds up looking like a bunch of TV personalities crammed in a glass room, flinging stones at the walls.

D'Agostino provided no evidence that CNN or MSNBC engaged in a systematic campaign to lie to its viewers the way Fox News did.

When the co-hosts of "The View" raised concern about how Fox News' lies might affect members of the military who watch the channel, Nicholas Fondacaro flew into a rage:

In the wake of Fox News’s defamation settlement with Dominion Voting Systems on Wednesday, the vicious liberals of ABC’s The View lashed out and bashed America’s brave men and women in the armed services for daring to watch Fox News on base, even going so far as the call them “racialized” dangers to the country.

During their opening segment where the cast whined about the settlement and said the $787.5 million payout was not enough, co-host Joy Behar proclaimed that “If Rupert [Murdoch] wanted to maintain any integrity, he would fire Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson – what’s his name, Sean Hannity.”

Specifically targeting Carlson, Behar called him “a sick pathological liar that cannot be controlled.” And rhetorically sneered at his viewers, suggesting, “His audience likes to be lied to.” “You know that song; tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies,” she began to crudely sing.

Shifting her ire to our service members, Behar warned that “Fox is broadcasted on military bases.” She tried to couch her demand to censor Fox News on military bases by repeatedly shouting: “Those are tax-funded facilities. They should not be broadcasting lies to our military. We are paying for that.”

“Those boys and girls are going out there, defending this country, risking their lives, and they’re being fed lies on a regular basis! That needs to be changed immediately!” she insisted, urging the elimination of their right to watch what they want.

Fondacaro didn't explain why Fox News must be allowed to feed lies to people, nor did he explain that members of the military are subjected to military policy, which does not necessarily include the ability to be able to watch channels that feed them lies. Instead, there was even more whataboutism with Fondacaro huffing that the show "continued to proudly be a home for 2016 election lies."

An April 22 "flashback" post by Rich Noyes played the victimhood card, lamenting that poor Fox News has always been a target of the "liberal media" and suggesting that good ratings excuse the lies:

Fox News’s liberal competitors are happy at this week’s news that the network will pay nearly $800 million in damages to settle a lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems, but they are sad that the settlement means they won’t be able to jab Fox with the daily negative headlines they could hope for from a trial.

“Capitalism won. Dominion won. Did democracy get anything out of this?” CNN’s John King whined on Wednesday’s Inside Politics. By “democracy,” of course, King was referring to CNN’s (and the larger liberal media’s) anti-Fox agenda.

This disdainful attitude has been a feature of the media’s treatment of their rival since Fox News debuted in 1996. That year, Los Angeles Times TV writer Howard Rosenberg sneered at Fox News boss Roger Ailes for building a news organization around “the ditsy notion of the media having perverted the United States by being a cesspool of lefty ideologues.”


A quick reminder: For 85 consecutive quarters (21.25 years), Fox News has been the most-watched cable news network in prime time.

Of course, "liberal media" critiques have nothing to do with Fox News choosing to lie to its viewers about election fraud, and popularity does not equal moral superiority as Noyes seems to suggest.

Mark Finkelstein spent an April 24 post complaining that a Dominion lawyer said the settlement doesn't restore the company's reputation that was destroyed by lies from right-wingers (like Fox News):

Cry me a river—788 million miles long!

On Katie Phang's Saturday show on MSNBC, Stephen Shackelford, a lead lawyer for Dominion Voting Systems, echoed the claim by the company's CEO that the settlement payment of $787.5 million from Fox News was "bittersweet."

In a New York Times op-ed, the CEO, John Poulos, in addition to calling the settlement "bittersweet," actually wrote:
"If we could, we would trade it all in a heartbeat to go back in time to get our reputation back. "
Riight. The entire company was most recently valued at $226 million. The $778 million settlement thus represents more than three times that valuation! And as for CEO Poulos wanting to get Dominion's reputation back, the company got untold millions in free publicity supporting its reputation. This will turn out to be a windfall for Dominion that goes beyond the huge settlement.

Moreover, the majority owner of Dominion is Staple Street, a private equity firm. They're in the business of making money, not of serving as social-justice warriors. Odds they would have traded $788 million for a more profound apology from Fox News? Precisely zero.

Shackelford added to the farce by saying that the $788 million settlement represented "some measure of compensation" for Dominion. Some?

And then there's the "measure of compensation" for Shackelford and the other Dominion trial lawyers on the case.[...]

It's fair to assume that the lawyers will receive tens of millions in compensation. Hopefully, that will be sufficient to assauge poor Shackelford's "bittersweet" feelings.

Finkelstein didn't explain where Dominion should go to get its reputation back, or why his fellow right-wingers won't do their part by admitting they were wrong to spread false conspiracy theories about the company.

In an April 25 post, Clay Waters complained that critics wanted to see evidence that Fox News had learned something from falsely defaming Dominion:

Before the Tucker Carlson stunner, the Jeremy Peters “Media Memo” on the front of Monday’s New York Times Business section was headlined “Will the Fox-Dominion Settlement Affect Its News Coverage? Don’t Count on It." Peters went beyond the embarrassing particulars of the Fox News settlement with Dominion Voting Systems to hint racism at the right-leaning network, and also chided it for not showing “humility” by bowing to Democratic President Biden after the settlement.


Peters’ desire for Fox News to be “humbler or gentler” sounds like code for “tacking leftward.”

Waters then got mad at the Times writer for calling out Fox News for continuing to give airtime to election fraud conspiracy theories:

Peters lamented that Jesse Watters didn't push back on Clay Travis when he claimed Biden “only won by 20,000 votes after they rigged the entire election, after they hid everything associated with Hunter Biden, with the big tech, with the big media, and with the big Democrat Party collusion that all worked in his favor.”

Trump lost the popular vote by seven million votes, but why can't the Times admit they were on the team hiding all the Hunter Biden laptop developments with the Democrats? The Times has admitted the laptop contents were real, so don't Republicans have a reason to complain about suppression?

Peters added "Stories of voter fraud, often exaggerated and unsubstantiated, have been part of the network’s D.N.A. well before 2020. In 2012, Roger Ailes, who founded Fox News with Mr. Murdoch, sent a team of journalists to Ohio to investigate still-unproven claims of malfeasance at the polls after former President Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney there."

The paper did not address how it has sent teams of journalists to investigate suspected election fraud in the presidential races in 2000, 2004, and 2016.

All of Waters' whataboutism obscured the fact that he wouldn't criticize Fox News for still spreading lies and conspiracy theories.

Graham spins again

Graham spent his April 19 podcast rehashing what his minions put out the day of the settlement -- that is, lots of whataboutism and lots of complaining that some were disappointed that Fox News didn't have to apologize to spreading lies about Dominion. It was a bit of an echo of the February podcast in which he similarly played whataboutism as lawsuit filings reveal just how deliberately Fox News lied to its viewers.

Graham's podcast guest was Dan Schneider of MRC's Free Speech America division -- you know, the one that insists that misinformation cannot be defined objectively in such a way that social media can try to counter it without being accused of "censorship." Graham did admit that "it's certainly a bad day for Fox's reputation, it's kind of a bad year for Fox's reputation." Schneider. who claims to be a lawyer, went on attack against "the left" by weirdly arguing: "If you ask any of those people what Fox did, they're not going to tell you -- it's just that Fox lied. How? What was the actual accusation? They don't know, they just want punishment of this media outlet they hate." In fact, the exact evidence has been well documented. Still, Schneider tried to minimize Fox News' actions, which even Graham felt the need to push back on, only to play whataboutism instead -- and then to admit some uncomfortable truths after all this time:
SCHNEIDER: What did Fox do that was so horrible, so horrible that was worth 7.8 or ... Lou Dobbs tweeted out that his guest, Sidney Powell, said that she has no doubt that Dominion was able to manipulate the vote. All he did was quote that he will have a guest who says this. And that was really worth $787 million.

GRAHAM: I think most of this was them putting on guests who said things they couldn't prove. That is certainly true. Now, I would say this -- Jim Geraghty has a piece at National Review to respond to this in a sense is that, yes, Lou Dobbs on December 10, 2020, tweeted, not on air, "Cyber Pearl Harbor! Sidney Powell reveals groundbreaking new evidence indicating our presidential election came under massive cyberattack orchestrated with the help of Dominion, Smartmatic and foreign adversaries." So to me, yes, "Cyber Pearl Harbor," I mean, you could see where you'd say, well, now you're overdoing it. But the whole problem with all of this is, this is all the same stuff they said about Russia in 2016.

SCHNEIDER: Right. So, I don't want to sound like I am flacking for Fox, because Fox basically did the same thing that harmed Donald Trump's own re-election bid, they started reaching out to people like Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis and people who have law degrees but have never actually -- well, Sidney actually did -- was a federal prosecutor for a time, but if you ever hear her legal analysis, it is thin to say the least -- ridiculous, yes. Jenna Ellis, never -- as far as I know she's never actually practiced law, sand he spouts things that cannot be supported. But Fox and then Trump surrounded themselves with people who got them in trouble.

GRAHAM: Yes. And -- I mean -- this was the line that really made sense to me from Jim Geraghty. He said if you choose to believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen, you must believe Fox News agreed to pay $787 million to Dominion in a settlement rather than present any of that evidence.

Not only did Graham nor anyone else at the MRC raise these concerns about Powell, Ellis and the election fraud claims emanating from both the Trump campaign and Fox News -- to the contrary, it uncritically embraced those falsehoods -- it manufactured its own conspiracy theories about the election to claim it was stolen from Donald Trump. We've also documented how the MRC tried to insert Powell into its victimhood narrative after she was suspended from social media for spreading election misinformation, so it's a bit rich for Graham and Schneider to finally get around to disavowing her.

Graham went on to dismiss all of that truth-admitting, arguing that Fox News didn't suffer much "reputational damage" from the settlement because "people who think Fox News doesn't do news thought that before, have been thinking that for decades," while "conservatives see this as the latest attempt by the liberal media to undermine Fox News, so there's going to be a rally-around-Rupert effect." He then added: "This won't damage Fox's reputation -- or let's put it this way: It won't damage people's reliance on Fox to try and balance out what the liberal media does."

In other words, Graham is saying that pushing the correct narratives is more important to conservatives than being told the truth. And people wonder why anyone should trust Fox News or any other right-wing media outlet, or why the MRC whines so much when NewsGuard points out how untrustworthy right-wing media is.

That was followed by Schneider uniroinically rehashing his employer's conspiracy theory about the 2020 election, which involved buying biased polls from Trump's campaign pollster and the polling firm founded by Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway to complain that not enough people knew about Hunter Biden's laptop. Graham was happy to echo that conspiracy:

GRAHAM: This is the interesting part, where they'll say we took a poll -- Geraghty says this -- you know, you take a poll and say, "did Biden legitimately win?" I think the key there is the word "legitimately." Because anybody who looks at these polls and says, if there's the risk that if these people had actually reported in real time on the Hunter Biden laptop, that this could have changed the election. Obviously, this election was in some states very close, and so, yes, it's quite possible that just by these voters by not voting for Biden, whether or not they voted for Trump, could have affected the results. So I would say, did Biden win? He did, but he won, as we've tried to demonstrate, by suppressing damaging information.

Graham then went the whataboutism route again, complaining yet again about Anita Hill and women who accused Brett Kavanaugh of untoward behavior, as well as bringing up the CNN settlement with Nicholas Sandmann.

Graham's April 21 column didn't comment much about the Fox News-Dominion settlement despite that being the news peg it was based on; instead, it was almost entirely whataboutism -- mostly whining about BuzzFeed publishing the Steele dossier (while downplaying the fact that BuzzFeed never presented the dossier as fact), huffily insisting that those who promoted the dossier have no moral standing to criticize Fox News. But if Graham is going to give a pass to Fox News' lies, what moral standing does he have to criticize others?

Send this page to:

Bookmark and Share
The latest from

In Association with
Support This Site

home | letters | archive | about | primer | links | shop
This site © Copyright 2000-2023 Terry Krepel