WORDS: 955 —  It’s been nearly a week now since the lawyers of both sides, Fox and Dominion, reached a settlement of $875 million to avoid a court case.  As the news cycle is already drifting to other “breaking news” we should look with caution at a larger elephant shaking the room before the outcome drifts completely away… free speech.

A brief recap.  The story with larger detail is HERE.  But to paraphrase….

Dominion Voting Systems alleged that Fox stars, executives, journalists and guests defamed the election tech company for segments in which wild and spurious conspiracies held it had switched votes for then-President Donald Trump to Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

Then the evidence piled up against Murdoch’s FOX.

Primetime stars Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity privately trashed the people who lied about Dominion on their network’s airwaves and yet also trashed the reporters who sought to hold them accountable for those lies.

Hannity didn’t believe “for one second” the lies being peddled by Trump and on Fox itself, even though, as Murdoch put it, the star endorsed them “a bit.”

Yet the hosts continued to sell their lies of election fraud and fraudulent Dominion voting machines on the air despite all of them admitting through texts and emails that the lies were themselves also lies.  The hosts, in spite of not being supporters of their own on-air lies, were just schtick-for-money.

In the end FOX settled.  Within the last 24 hours of this being written Tucker Carlson, the primary instigator of the on-air lies of voting fraud and tampered Dominion voting machines, has left FOX, perhaps as a result of a secret deal related to the settlement.

Then There’s This Thing About Free Speech

In general, the public opinion leading up to the settlement was preferring the suit went to a jury so that all of the FOX media stars in question would be held up to public reticule as their court testimony would finally reveal them as purveyors of the lies that led to the events of Jan. 6th, thus discrediting them to their MAGA base of listeners.  Of note… there has also been murmurs of how to prevent media, ostensibly through legislation, from knowingly amplifying lies in order to sway voters or instigate violence.

At the outset of the suit it was thought that “fake news” itself might be on trial.  When the early text and email evidence reveals showed that the FOX hosts didn’t believe their own lies and were doing it just for the money (and/or encouragement from above), there was hope that finally the purveyors of media lies that brought you Jan. 6 would come to judgement.  Following the settlement one could perceive the media reporting by various news sources seemed to imply a disappointment in that FOX, Murdoch, and/or their media hosts had escaped not being held to some accountable on-air public apology for knowingly broadcasting lies leading to Jan. 6.

While public vengeance and vindication of lying naysayers allegedly threatening our freedoms may be sweet, we don’t really need to go there.  Why?  Glad you asked.

The Dominion Case Was Not Ever About Freedom Of Speech

It was a libel case., pure and simple.  FOX, et al, had told lies about Dominions product, a voting machine, that were simply not true, and that affected Dominion’s status in the marketplace and earnings potential.  The original 1.6 billion was for damages to Dominion’s reputation from false claims made from the lies.  The idea that the lies being broadcast (by media hosts who didn’t believe in those lies they were telling) had contributed to the proliferation of “fake news” and thus the Jan 6 insurrection, was never the issue.  Could these lies have been part of the lawsuit and “fake news” been put on trial had the lawsuit progressed?  Perhaps, had the court and judge received evidence and testimony to sway procedural decisions.

Who Is Then Responsible For The Proliferation Of “Fake News”?

Perhaps the better question to ask ourselves here is, “What makes “fake news” such a danger?”  The answer is simple… what makes “fake news” so effective is that many people tend to believe it and take it to heart, and even act on it.  So is the threat then the expression of fake news or in the vulnerability of so many people buying into it without any scrutiny?  Given that then, do we engage in legislation to place limits on what can be said, and possibly setting constraints on free speech.. or… do we figure on how we can vet the speech being said as truth or not?  Because in the end it seems all about mediating our own vulnerability to our own gullibility.  One could even go a step further to suggest, why to we need to legislate freedom of speech restrictions to MY freedom of speech because YOU are so gullible?

Fake news is nothing new.  We are entering the 2024 election cycle and the political ads of the candidates are again making us all trying to look like complete idiots by presenting lies, stretches of truth, exaggerations without context.  But they do that, and have done that, from the stump in the village green to our big screen TV’s in our living rooms, since the country’s founding… and why?  Because it works on so many of us.

This question also extends to other areas of free speech like audio, video… and especially now with the entry into convincing artificial intelligence and its increasing difficulty to determine authenticity.  Right now there’s a wide ranging human tendency to only believe in that which supports our own presumptive bias.  Conformational Bias is an obstruction to objectivity.  I will dive deeper into critical thinking concepts to discuss all this, and more, in an upcoming post.