Medved: What the Fox-Dominion deal means for Trump’s prospects

Apr 21, 2023, 1:57 PM | Updated: Apr 24, 2023, 9:45 am

Fox Dominion Deal...

A logo of Fox News is displayed outside its headquarters in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)

(AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)

In a March CNN poll of more than a thousand Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, an overwhelming majority (63%) believed that “Biden did not win enough votes to legitimately win the presidency.”

In other words, nearly two-thirds of the opposition party remained convinced that the president of the United States has no right to the office he has already occupied for more than two years.

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In this context, the recent decision by Fox News to negotiate a quick, costly surrender in its defamation battle with Dominion Software raises a series of uncomfortable questions.

First, why would the most powerful news organization on cable television give up the effort to defend its reputation and save nearly a billion dollars before a trial even began at the time that the great bulk of its loyal, core audience still believed that the presidential contest of 2020 had been rigged and riddled with fraud?

Second, would Fox’s decision to acknowledge broadcasting “lies” concerning the stolen election narrative serve to undermine or alter belief in those charges of cheating, embraced by the big majority of Republicans who agreed with them as recently as a few weeks before the settlement with Dominion?

And finally, would Donald Trump continue to insist that he had actually won the 2020 election in a landslide, even after his most prominent, powerful media ally had visibly abandoned any such claim? And would the former President’s insistence that he had been victimized by a criminal conspiracy to overturn his rightful victory serve, in the end, to help him win the Republican nomination and the White House in 2024?

The answers to these uncertainties range from the obvious to the unknowable.

In terms of the reason for Fox to agree to an embarrassing settlement rather than engage in a protracted and hyper-publicized court battle, the decision reflects an inescapable lack of confidence in the case they expected to present. In a pre-trial statement for the record, Judge Eric M. Davis unequivocally declared: “The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that it is crystal clear that none of the statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true.”

This meant that even under the defendant-friendly “Sullivan Standard” developed by the Supreme Court in 1964, Fox could easily have lost the argument based on “reckless disregard for the truth” even without the conclusive proof of “actual malice” that plaintiffs are otherwise expected to display in such situations.

While diehard Trump loyalists might be expected to keep watching Fox regardless of the outcome of the Dominion defamation trial, a very possible loss for the network would have profoundly undercut the mainstream respectability important to the Murdoch family and other executives, who had built their operation on the proud (if frequently anomalous) slogan “fair and balanced.”

As to the impact of the Fox News refusal to go to the mat to defend the rigged election storyline, there’s no reason to expect that such a decision would shake the worldview of its true believer audience. Those who insist that the outcome of the election had been fraudulently pre-determined by a ruthless and all-powerful establishment could easily believe the same set-up applied to the Dominion defamation trial had it been allowed to proceed.

As it happened, the Fox deal to settle the matter by paying half the funds initially demanded, and without a requirement of a public acknowledgment of guilt, might be understood as a draw of some kind rather than an outright surrender.

Most importantly, the last-minute arrangement to settle the argument over Fox’s post-election coverage preserved Trump’s room to maneuver on the one issue that has seemed most essential to him in his third pursuit of the presidency: his unwavering assertion that he won the last time and has been victimized by a conspiratorial and malevolent effort to ignore the will of the people.

This conviction represents the single most obvious distinction between the former president and all of his present or prospective challengers, who express either skepticism or discreet silence regarding the stop-the-steal creed that continues to obsess at least a plurality of the Republican base.

The notion that Trump himself would abandon this cultish conviction seems far-fetched; even the desertion of Fox News from that creedal commitment only serves to make the fearless leader seem all the more unshakable and singular to his devotees and, it would seem, in his own mind.

In the same way that Trump’s indictments appear to strengthen his position within his own party but may damage his prospects for November 2024, the split with Fox News over the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s last victory may mean little for Trump’s chances at the nomination but could still influence waverers or independents in the general election campaign, and help the aging Democrat to yet another decisive win in the final tally.

Listen to Michael Medved weekday afternoons from 12 – 3 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3).

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Medved: What the Fox-Dominion deal means for Trump’s prospects