What if the Dominion lawsuit is successful: Can Fox News ever be destroyed?

Can there ever be a perfect world where Fox News ceases to exist?

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published February 23, 2023 6:22AM (EST)

Activists are pushing back against what they call Rupert Murdoch's right-wing propaganda machine, as Fox News continues to spread misinformation about the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election, and the January 6 insurrection. (Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Activists are pushing back against what they call Rupert Murdoch's right-wing propaganda machine, as Fox News continues to spread misinformation about the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election, and the January 6 insurrection. (Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Fox News is not a "news" network. In reality, it is the de facto propaganda and disinformation warfare arm of the Republican Party. Fox News disseminates right-wing talking points, radicalizes its audience, tells them who to fear and who to follow, and in total conditions them emotionally, intellectually, and physically in service to "the party" and "the movement." 

There is a straight line from Fox News to Trumpism, neofascism, and the democracy crisis here in America and around the world. Fox News is one of the most effective propaganda machines in history. Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels would be in awe of it.

Fox News' slogans and catch-phrases such as "Fair & Balanced", "Real News. Real Honest Opinion", and "We Report. You Decide" are Orwellian newspeak; Fox News is doing exactly the opposite. Ultimately, Fox News is not really in the news and truth business but in the entertainment and money and power and propaganda business. To that point, media and communications scholars have shown that people who watch Fox News actually know less about empirical reality and current events than do those people who consume no news at all. 

Now a new lawsuit by Dominion Voting Machines against Fox News for damages caused by that network's claims related to Donald Trump's Big Lie about the 2020 election has revealed that Fox News and its leaders and various personalities knowingly presented false information to the public. Text messages and other communications also show that Fox News has contempt for its audience as it believes they are incapable of accepting reality and the truth.

None of this should be a surprise. Like most state-controlled media, the management, hosts, and other employees of Fox News are not necessarily true believers in the party and movement's political message. Many of them are just self-interested actors who are chasing money, fame, and other incentives and opportunities. The right-wing media machine is just a trough to feed at, as Salon's Heather Digby Parton  explains:

Last week, America received proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Fox News is a dishonest institution that spread Donald Trump's Big Lie knowing full well that he did not win the election. In a court filing from the defamation case brought by Dominion Voting Machines against the company, it was revealed that all of the top brass and their stars were fully aware that the election had not been stolen yet remained terrified of losing their deluded audience (which they had been instrumental in brainwashing) so they parroted Trump's bogus claims. In this specific case, they spread the falsehood that the Dominion machines were rigged for the Republicans.

How has the mainstream news media responded to these fake revelations?

Of course, there is the liberal schadenfreude and mocking. But what good are ego-aggrandizing reactions that do little to nothing in the struggle to defeat the Republican fascists in their campaign to end American democracy? Elsewhere, the dominant narrative has generally consisted of shock and surprise about the goings on behind the scenes of Fox News.

That any serious journalists or reporters (or any other people who think publicly about news and politics) would be "surprised" or "shocked" or somehow taken aback by Fox News and its propaganda operation is 1) an indictment of such voices because it shows how dangerously naïve they truly are and 2) more evidence that so much of what constitutes the Church of the Savvy and the professional pundit class is a type of cosplay or Kabuki theater where people are playing a role that they think will make them "relatable" to the public and get them more "clicks", "likes", ad revenue and further their careers instead of boldly speaking truth to power about the country's democracy crisis and other serious troubles. For its part, the network has dismissed the Dominion lawsuit and argued that "Freedom of speech and freedom of the press would be illusory if the prevailing side in a public controversy could sue the press for giving a forum to the losing side."

What about Fox News' audience and the broader right-wing echo chamber? Will these "revelations" pull them out of the Fox News orbit-cult and back to some semblance of political sanity and reality?

The answer is no.

Amanda Marcotte offered these details in a recent Salon essay:

And yet, no one expects a single one of these Fox "journalists" to pay for their lies. Worse, no one expects the network to lose a single viewer over it.

To most people, the idea that you "respect" someone by lying to them is nonsensical.

It's not just that Fox News audiences don't care if they're lied to. Lies are what they crave. They tune into Fox News because lies are exactly what they want to hear.

Fox News is a brand that fully captured its target audience by creating an alternative reality for them that satisfies their basic human needs, especially community and validation and a larger system of meaning. In an American society where loneliness is a public health crisis, the importance of such feelings and emotions cannot be underestimated. Fox News is more than just a "news" outlet; it functions as a proxy for a particular type of neofascist white identity politics. 

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On a practical level, Fox News fans will likely not be exposed to the facts about the Dominion lawsuit and what it has revealed so far. And because they have been programmed by Fox News, like other cultists, most will reject any unpleasant or disconfirming information as lies by "the liberals" and "Democrats" designed to cause trouble by attacking their trusted Fox News hosts. As an example of what psychologists describe as "the backfire effect" Fox News viewers may actually become even more loyal and trusting of the network and its personalities after being told about the Dominion lawsuit emails and other potentially troubling information.

In a 2021 conversation here at Salon with Jen Senko, the director of the documentary "The Brainwashing of My Dad", she explained the hypnotic power that Fox News has over its viewers:

My father was seduced by the anger and the excitement. People know that something's wrong, that the system is rigged somehow, but they don't give much thought to how. My father was also retiring from his job, and he found the right-wing media. This gave him something to occupy his mind and thoughts.

Now, suddenly, there's all this excitement in his life. There is some right-wing media person telling him that the government is in his personal business too much. There are very persuasive big personalities pushing my father's buttons and those of the audience in general. And you know what? That feels good. There is an addictive quality to anger like that. It was exciting for my father. It also provided him a group to belong to.

I believe that a lot of white men feel like, "Well, what am I supposed to do? And who am I?" They needed help in figuring themselves out, and the right-wing media and that world provided it. Too many such men developed a victim mentality, telling themselves, "I'm a victim, I'm mad, I've always wanted to fight back."

On Twitter, a lot people will say to me, usually Democrats or liberals, "Oh, these people, they were always like that. They're just finding a port to park their boat in now." I do not believe that is necessarily true.

My dad hadn't been racist. He hadn't been anti-"illegal immigrant." After listening to Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, he got brainwashed. When I made the documentary, I did not know if I believed in brainwashing. Now I know that brainwashing does exist, it is real.

There's the brainwashing that happens through force, what we were all familiar with from movies. But what Fox News and the larger right-wing are doing is brainwashing by stealth. I believe this to be more insidious. There's only one type of information going into the brain. There's isolation. There is repetition. That is how they brainwash their public.

I feel like there has been a massive brainwashing campaign, something unlike anything we've ever seen before in this country. That's what's happened in America through Fox News and the right-wing media and movement.

In a particularly sharp and brave new essay, Thom Hartmann argues that Fox News may actually be guilty of sedition given that their owners, hosts, and other key personnel knew that their claims about the Big Lie and "election fraud" were in fact lies – lies that directly inspired the attack on the Capitol by Trump's followers as part of the former traitor president's coup attempt on Jan. 6:

There's a thin but entirely appropriate line between hateful, lying, racist, or bigoted free speech — which a free and democratic society protects — and direct incitement to violence.

Which raises the question: when people tell lies that lead straight to the death of other people — or to another serious crime like sedition committed while trying to overthrow an election and thus our nation's government — should they face criminal liability?

Fox "News" hosts, just like Alex Jones, lied hundreds of times on the air, echoing Donald Trump's claim that Democrats had stolen the 2020 election from him. They knew they were lying, according to reporting from The Washington Post based on internal communications released by Dominion Voting Systems' attorneys, and Dominion asserts those intentional lies — which they allege were done simply to make money for the network — measurably harmed the company's reputation and business.

Like Jones, Fox and its parent company News Corp, are being held to account in civil court.

But was what Fox did merit criminal prosecution? And, if so, what about the hundreds of other Republican politicians, media figures, and news sites who went along with and echoed Trump's lies, knowing full well they were not true?

What if the Dominion lawsuit is successful and Fox News is destroyed?

In that perfect world where Fox News ceased to exist, its viewers and the larger neofascist and antidemocracy movement would shamble on like one of the undead.

The Fox News audience is worth many billions of dollars. So, of course, another version of Fox News would soon rise to take control over that already captured and propagandized public and feed them the excitement, comfort, lies, hate, rage, and other negative and pathological emotions that its predecessor did for decades.

So, no. Fox News — as represented by the larger right-wing disinformation hate echo chamber — is not going away any time soon. It is a fixture of American life and society because the deep rot and other cultural and institutional poison that birthed today's version of the Republican Party and "conservative" movement have not been purged. Moreover, Fox News is increasingly viewed as passe and boring by Trumpists. Those neofascist diehards are increasingly flocking to podcasts, Youtube and other parts of the right-wing extremism radicalization machine.

When Fox News is viewed as too "friendly" to "the Democrats" and "the liberals" (meaning insufficiently loyal to Trump, his successors and the larger white right and anti-democracy movement) that is a sign of how severe America's political and larger cultural crisis really is.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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