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Pillows Full of Cash
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Pillows Full of Cash

Fox News pays up to keep any further dirty laundry from being aired in court.

People walk by the News Corporation headquarters, home to Fox News, on April 18, 2023, in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Hi,

There are few ideas, tropes, narratives, myths—whatever you want to call them—more enduring than the notion that very rich people are villainously pulling strings behind the scenes to do villainous things. 

I want to be clear: It’s a bipartisan tendency. But the chief difference between right-wing and left-wing versions is that the left-wing versions are treated as serious theories by establishment journalists, academics, and experts while the right-wing versions are usually dismissed as paranoid or bigoted fantasies by those very same academics and experts. “The Koch brothers are behind this!” is acceptable political rhetoric, but, “Soros is behind this!” is antisemitic paranoia. (Yes, antisemites use Soros as a foil, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t meddling in American politics.)

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren don’t get much pushback for their rantings against the fossil fuel industry or, “Billionaires are why we can’t have nice things!” rhetoric. But, “Woke capitalists are destroying America!” elicits eyerolls and fact checks. 

Marxism, in both its vulgar and subtle versions, depends on this conviction. Similarly, the progressive version of American history—as described in Charles Beard’s Economic Interpretation of the Constitution, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas, Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, and Thomas Piketty’s Capital—depends on some version of this theory as do the plots of hundreds of movies and TV shows. 

Anyway, I’m not saying individual “malefactors of great wealth”—to borrow Teddy Roosevelt’s memorable phrase—don’t exist. I’m just saying that most of these theories suffer from a grandiose excess of abstraction, generalization, and extrapolation that tends to be untethered from the facts on the ground and immune to contradiction. Industrialists, 1 percenters, “oligarchs,” etc. as a class aren’t running everything. If they were, they wouldn’t disagree with each other so much or waste so much money on bad candidates. 

There are few people more self-serious than Marxists and people who think like Marx on the left and the right. They see themselves as prophets and Savonarolas suffering for the righteousness of their moral clarity. As a result, they want their enemies to play the role assigned to them with the same seriousness, which often results in them seeing them as brilliant supervillains, like the Moriarty to their Sherlock Holmes, or the Mr. Glass to their Protector. (A couple weeks ago, a whole lot of these kinds of people explained to me that my friend Harlan Crow’s “Garden of Evil” could only be explained by the fact that he just loves evil so much.) 

But for pillow sales …

This is a really overwrought intro to a far more prosaic bit of punditry, so let me explain how it all came to mind. 

I was trying to figure out a way to explain the size of the Fox News-Dominion settlement. (Disclosure: I got subpoenaed and deposed by Dominion last year. Like getting audited by the IRS, or being probed by aliens with peculiarly prurient interests, it was one of those experiences that can be described as very interesting but not very enjoyable.)

I don’t know what Fox’s ad rates are, but it’s actually hard to figure out from published sources. In 2017, an average 30-second prime time ad cost $8,286, with Tucker charging the most at $13,779. Daytime ads are much cheaper. So, to make the math easier, let’s say the prime time ads average out to $10,000 a pop.  

At that rate, the Dominion settlement amounts to 78,750 30-second My Pillow ads. That’s about 27 days of watching Mike Lindell pop out from behind the medicine cabinet to talk about Giza cotton and whatnot. For perspective, the entire run of all 745 episodes of The Simpsons—viewed back-to-back with no commercial interruptions—would take slightly more than 11 days to watch. 

Now, admittedly, none of that is particularly relevant, I just think it’s funny. 

By indulging claims Fox hosts and executives knew were false in order to “respect the audience”—which one Dispatch commenter summarized as “We Report What You Decide”—and hence maintain its ad revenue, they ended up having to pay the equivalent of a month of round-the-clock My Pillow ads.

Anyway, amid all of this Fox drama, other than Trump himself the character who comes closest to being the kind of malefactor of great wealth so many people hunger for is … Mike Lindell. And I just think that’s hilarious. 

Now, when asked why he let Lindell back on air after deciding he should be banned from Fox, Rupert Murdoch didn’t actually say, “It is not red or blue, it is green.” He merely “agreed” with the lawyers who characterized the decision that way. 

But that doesn’t change the overall picture very much. He also let other election-deniers on air for fear of losing his audience. For those who hate the profit motive, Murdoch’s decision is a perfectly valid data point. But it also concedes that if there was more money in not “respecting the audience” he would have done that, too. (I’m not sure you could say the same about Tucker Carlson or some of the others.)

But Lindell & Co. were clearly motivated by more than mere greed. They are true believers. The ancillary monetary value of feeding that true belief cost Fox dearly. It also cost the country dearly. 

And, looked at very narrowly, that’s hilarious to me. It couldn’t be Big Pharma or Big Oil who waged war on truth and democracy and all that jazz. To paraphrase Don Corleone, it was Big Pillow all along. 

Lessons unlearned. 

While Fox paid a heavy price, it doesn’t seem, so far, like it’s learned many lessons from it. Howie Kurtz—who I like personally and who must be extremely frustrated with the position he’s been put in—went on Special Report last night to report on the settlement in one of the “most heavily covered media lawsuits in the modern era,” which was ironic given that until recently he’d been barred from covering it. And his scant coverage was virtually the only coverage by the network. 

Kurtz said, “Dominion had sued Fox, charging that the network damaged its reputation by reporting on false claims that its machines were somehow stealing votes from Donald Trump and flipping them to Joe Biden, citing internal messages that key figures at Fox did not believe those conspiracy theories.”

Now, I understand that Fox’s defense was that it was merely “reporting” on a newsworthy event. But that’s spin—spin which the judge himself rejected in pretrial rulings. The reporting side of Fox actually reported on those claims and found them to be bogus. The opinion side of Fox peddled those claims and was furious at the news side for contradicting them. There would’ve been no lawsuit in the first place if the news side of Fox’s reporting was the only issue. 

Kurtz also refused to repeat the dollar amount of decision. “A Dominion lawyer gave reporters a dollar figure for the settlement, but I have not been able to independently confirm that.”

Really? I mean, leave out that Kurtz has sources inside Fox News who could have confirmed it; if the number announced by Dominion lawyers had been false, we’d have heard about it almost instantaneously. 

No, it turns out that the “cannot confirm” is “will not confirm.” Because repeating the number might tip off the audience that Fox really was lying to them. 

This morning, Fox digital reporter Joseph Wulfsohn wrote up the settlement of one of the most important defamation cases in American history as if it were a gentlemen’s agreement between civic-minded lawyers. So bereft of newsworthiness, the whole write-up was a mere 235 words. Wulfsohn’s previous story, “Bill Maher invokes Clinton in warning to Dems about Trump indictment: ‘Sex scandals don’t work on presidents’” was three times as long. Because, y’know, newsiness. 

He begins, “FOX News Media and Dominion Voting Systems have reached an agreement following a lengthy legal battle between both parties.”

Wulfsohn quotes the judge saying, “I have been on the bench since 2010. … I think this is the best lawyering I’ve had, ever.” Well, isn’t that heartwarming. That’s the real news for a media reporter. 

Wulfsohn also doesn’t mention the $787.5 million number either. But he does inform us that the lawsuit “stemmed from coverage of the post-2020 presidential election.” Whose “coverage”? Well let’s not dwell on that. Let’s also not dwell on the fact that there was no “post-2020 presidential election.” That’s not a thing. There was the presidential election. And there was the effort by Trump and his enablers—Fox hosts and Fox guests alike—to overturn the 2020 election.

This is all tea leaf reading. And I’d like to think that, when he returns to his desk, Bret Baier will be more fair, balanced, and unafraid when he addresses all this. But it’s hard not to conclude that Fox paid three quarters of a billion dollars not so much to own up to its mistakes but to prevent further airing of them in open court. You can’t do anything that might disturb the sleep of all those people enjoying the best night’s sleep they ever had thanks to My Pillow. 

Such respect for the audience is the business Fox has chosen. 

Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, enormous lizards roamed the Earth. More immediately prior to that, Jonah spent two decades at National Review, where he was a senior editor, among other things. He is also a bestselling author, longtime columnist for the Los Angeles Times, commentator for CNN, and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. When he is not writing the G-File or hosting The Remnant podcast, he finds real joy in family time, attending to his dogs and cat, and blaming Steve Hayes for various things.