Skip to content
What Does ‘As Long as It Takes’ Mean?
Go to my account

What Does ‘As Long as It Takes’ Mean?

Plus: What the latest Dominion filing says about Fox News’ relationship with its viewers.

Happy Tuesday! Please give a warm welcome to Grayson Logue and Mary Trimble, the newest additions to the Morning Dispatch team!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

What’s Next for Ukraine?

President Joe Biden meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Ukrainian presidential palace on February 20, 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Photo by Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via Getty Images)

Every train ride is special to President Joe Biden, but he took a particularly unique one on Monday, traveling 10 hours from Poland to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky—and send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Emerging from Kyiv’s blue and white St. Michael’s Cathedral as an air raid alarm sounded, Biden and Zelensky presented a united front against Russia’s ongoing attack. “When Putin launched his invasion nearly one year ago, he thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided,” Biden said. “But he’s just been plain wrong. Plain wrong.”

It may not seem like it, but this week does indeed mark one year since Russia escalated its war against Ukraine, trying to overrun the country and topple its government in weeks and instead being rebuffed by determined Ukrainian defenders backed up with Western intelligence, funding, and weapons. That aid remains robust—the Pentagon on Monday announced a new drawdown of about $460 million in security assistance—but Ukrainian and Western leaders know this level of support can’t last forever and are starting to look for an endgame.

Little territory has changed hands in recent weeks as Russia has pounded Ukrainian electric grids and other civilian infrastructure with airstrikes and hurled troops at the costly battle for Bakhmut, a city in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk Oblast. “From Kharkiv all the way down to Kherson, the front line is quite stable,” Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters last week. He described the conflict around Bakhmut as Ukrainians defending in a war of attrition with particularly high Russian casualties. “This is frontal attacks, wave attacks, lots of artillery with extremely high levels of casualties,” Milley said.

This map—from the Institute for the Study of War—explains the state of play as of Sunday:

Seemingly every week, a Western country rolls out a new aid package for the war-torn nation. At his press briefing, Milley cited more than a dozen countries sending tanks, France’s announcement that it would work with Australia to step up 155 mm ammunition production for Ukraine, and Norway’s recent pledge of 7.5 billion euros, or about $8 billion, in military and civilian aid to Ukraine over the next five years. The Biden administration is still reluctant to send long-range artillery and has so far declined to offer F-16 fighters—resisting growing bipartisan calls—but Monday’s $460 million drawdown includes artillery ammunition, Javelin missiles, and night vision goggles, among other equipment.

Biden pledged while in Kyiv to keep supporting Ukraine “as long as it takes,” but his administration has reportedly warned Ukrainian officials the U.S. may not keep up this pace forever. Although dipping public opinion doesn’t necessarily translate swiftly to ending U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts, the percentage of Americans who support sending weapons to Ukraine has slipped from about 60 percent in May 2022 to 48 percent by last month, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll. 

Congress approved about $113 billion of aid for Ukraine in 2022—on par with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) 2022 price tag of $119.5 billion. Military aid to Ukraine since last February has thus far used about $29.8 billion of that, yet analysts warn about the West’s capacity to keep up with Ukraine’s need for ammunition. Eventually congressionally authorized aid funding will run out—and a vocal minority of the Republican-led House opposes replenishing that well. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz led 11 lawmakers earlier this month in introducing a “Ukraine Fatigue” resolution demanding the U.S. stop sending help. (See Friday’s Uphill for a more detailed look at the GOP infighting on Ukraine.)

Still, the war’s endgame isn’t yet clear. We have little insight on whether Russian and Ukrainian officials are weighing compromises, but neither country seems eager to come to the table. 

Based on Russia’s attempts at further offensives, Putin apparently believes Russia can win more ground—betting his determination can outlast Western aid and wear down Ukraine’s smaller population with waves of Russian troops and attacks on civilian infrastructure. And in the meantime, he’s continued his rhetorical attacks on Ukraine’s Western supporters. “The Western elites do not conceal their goal of effecting a strategic defeat of Russia. That is their words. That means that they want to take us off the map,” Putin said in a speech before Russia’s parliament today, around noon Moscow time. “They want to turn the local conflict into a global confrontation. And this is how we understand this, and we will respond adequately.”

Ukrainians, meanwhile, are unwilling to abandon Ukrainian territory and fellow citizens to brutal Russian occupation, and Ukrainian officials likely fear that a ceasefire under the current status quo would allow Russia to regroup and re-invade later.

“I’m extremely sympathetic to arguments that a negotiated solution—even imperfect—is better than an indefinite continuation of a war, for Ukrainians as well as everybody else,” said Michael Mazarr, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and former special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “However, given the public positions that Russia and Ukraine have taken on everything from Crimea, to the Donbas, to war crimes, all kinds of things, they are a non-overlapping Venn diagram right now.”

Since the parties don’t seem to be ready for a deal, the U.S. can concentrate on raising the costs of war for Russia with additional military aid to Ukraine and lowering its perceived costs of peace—the administration could promise to drop sanctions if Russia withdraws, for example. But Western officials have limited options, since they’re eager to avoid either provoking a broader war or backing down and convincing Russia—or other countries—that attempted land grabs are without consequences. 

The administration defends its continued reluctance to give Ukraine long-range artillery and other weapons that could help it retake Crimea for fear of provoking nuclear reprisal from Putin as an attempt to balance those priorities. “If you step it up too dramatically, you’re inviting your adversary to do the same, and escalation breeds escalation,” said Laurie Nathan, a professor at the University of Notre Dame who researches peace negotiations and helped mediate conflicts in South Africa and Sudan. “I would, as a mediator, be framing this more in terms of—if the parties are ready for a deal, how could the mediator help them back down without losing face?” 

But hawks on Capitol Hill don’t buy this rationale and argue that what has proven provocative is the U.S. pattern of slow-rolling assistance only to relent after fresh reports of Russian brutality. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, Sen. Tom Cotton, Republican from Arkansas, noted Winston Churchill’s observation that Russians are tempted to test perceived weakness. “Unfortunately, that’s exactly what President Biden did in his first year in office, tempting Vladimir Putin to pursue his long-standing ambition to reassemble the Russian Empire by conquering Ukraine,” Cotton wrote. “Having failed to deter the war, Mr. Biden’s timid approach has now prolonged it.” 

Biden’s Ukraine trip is a bid to make clear to Putin the West’s resolve is steadfast, and Russian officials and analysts reacted, at least publicly, with frustration and scorn. “Just what does this visit show?” wrote Sergei Mironov, a faction leader in Russia’s State Duma. “The West, with its intimidating and demonstrative visits, must realize they have no impact on Russia.”

Still, Mazarr noted, Putin also has a ticking clock on how long Russia can maintain the war effort. “My guess is that Putin does not want to sit in an act of war with the degree of sanctions that are now applied indefinitely,” Mazarr said, though he noted that doesn’t necessarily mean Russian forces will surrender or withdraw entirely. “At the moment, I don’t know quite how we get anywhere other than grinding to an unsatisfying pause, with the assertion that Ukraine will get the rest of its territory back.”

‘It’s Remarkable How Weak Ratings Make Good Journalists Do Bad Things’

Disclaimer: Dispatch co-founders Steve Hayes and Jonah Goldberg were Fox News contributors during the time period mentioned below, and Dispatch contributor Chris Stirewalt was fired by Fox News shortly thereafter. Dispatch senior editor Sarah Isgur’s husband is a lawyer involved in the defamation case. None of these people had any editorial input on the following item.

It’s probably been a while since you last thought about Dominion Voting Systems, but the voting machine manufacturer’s suite of defamation lawsuits against purveyors of 2020 election lies—each seeking more than $1 billion in damages—have been plugging along beneath the surface for nearly two years, capable of exploding onto the scene at any moment and commandeering the news cycle. It finally happened late last week—and the developments don’t paint Fox News in a good light.

A redacted version of Dominion’s motion for summary judgment in its suit against Fox was released on Thursday, spilling the results of a lengthy discovery process out into the open for all to see. Citing internal communications and the depositions of top executives and anchors at the network, the nearly 200-page document makes a compelling case the network’s top brass—facing competition for viewership after the 2020 election from Newsmax and other far-right outlets—knowingly platformed people they knew were spreading lies in an effort to keep their customers satiated.

As Kevin noted last week—and we noted last year—the bar for success in a defamation suit is exceedingly high, with Supreme Court precedent dictating the plaintiff must prove any defamatory statement was made with “actual malice,” either “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” The private messages revealed in last week’s filing, however—from Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch and CEO Suzanne Scott to anchors Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity—come pretty close to doing just that.

Fox, of course, disagrees, arguing in a statement Dominion’s legal case is not nearly as strong as it thinks given the aforementioned Supreme Court precedent. “There will be a lot of noise and confusion generated by Dominion and their opportunistic private equity owners,” a company spokesperson said, “but the core of this case remains about freedom of the press and freedom of speech, which are fundamental rights afforded by the Constitution and protected by New York Times v. Sullivan.”

At the center of Dominion’s assertions is the trio of Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Lindell—two on-again, off-again members of outgoing President Donald Trump’s post-election legal team and a mustachioed, Midwestern pillow magnate. In many ways, the members of this motley crew couldn’t be more different—but they agreed on at least one false thing: SmartMatic and Dominion Voting Systems engaged in a plot to rig the 2020 presidential election for Joe Biden. In some versions of the story, the companies’ misdeeds involved Hugo Chavez and Germany; in others, Chinese computer hackers.

All the iterations were absurd, of course—as even Fox execs and talent willingly conceded at the time. According to Dominion’s filing, Murdoch noted in private communications on November 16, 2020 Giuliani’s claims “should be taken with a large grain of salt,” and he described the former New York City mayor’s rantings as “really crazy stuff” three days later. Hannity argued on November 11 “Rudy [was] acting like an insane person,” and, in January, a Lou Dobbs Tonight producer argued Giuliani was “so full of s—.”

The real-time indictments of Powell were arguably worse. Ingraham called her a “complete nut” on November 18, and Fox Corporation Senior Vice President (SVP) Raj Shah emailed top executives on November 23 to say Powell’s claims were “outlandish.” Hannity admitted in later testimony he “did not believe [Powell’s narrative] for one second,” but Carlson had perhaps the most disdain for the lawyer, labeling her a “crazy person,” “lunatic,” and “poison” over the course of November. “I’ve got a high tolerance for crazy,” he said on November 22. But Powell, he continued, was “too much.”

To Carlson’s credit, he eventually became one of the network’s only opinion hosts to question Powell on air, noting on November 19 she didn’t appear to have the goods. “We took Sidney Powell seriously,” he said, “but she never sent us any evidence, despite a lot of polite requests.” He didn’t let down his viewers’ expectations entirely, however. “Maybe Sidney Powell will come forward soon with details on exactly how this happened and precisely who did it,” he concluded. “We are certainly hopeful that she will.”

Notably absent from Carlson’s monologue was the much blunter assessment he shared with his producer three days earlier: “Sidney Powell is lying. F—ing b—-.”

The rest of the network’s opinion hosts had far fewer reservations about putting these people on the air. Hannity conducted a credulous interview of Powell on his show as late as November 30, and she continued to appear on Lou Dobb Tonight well into December. “We will gladly put forward your evidence that supports your claim that this was a cyber Pearl Harbor,” Dobbs told her. “We have tremendous evidence already of fraud in this election, but I will be glad to put forward on this broadcast whatever evidence you have, and we’ll be glad to do it immediately.” Nearly a full month earlier, one of Dobbs’ producers, John Fawcett, texted others at Fox he believed Powell was “doing lsd and cocaine and heroin and shrooms.” On November 27, he had texted Dobbs directly that Powell’s lawsuits were “complete bs.”

Why did so many Fox hosts go along with that “complete bs” for so long? Fear that if they didn’t, they’d continue to bleed viewers to Newsmax, an even more irresponsible network that had no qualms providing a platform for the lies of Trump & Co. Immediately after the election, Newsmax experienced a nearly 500 percent surge in viewership and bested Fox in certain ratings metrics for the first time ever. “[Newsmax’s] type of conspiratorial reporting might be exactly what the disgruntled [Fox News Channel] viewer is looking for,” SVP of Primetime Programming and Analytics Ron Mitchell wrote to Scott and Fox News President Jay Wallace on November 18. Carlson also understood the threat Fox was facing. “Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience?” he texted his producer. “We’re playing with fire, for real….an alternative like newsmax could be devastating to us.”

So bit by bit, Fox’s primetime hosts amplified the crazy to meet their Newsmax counterparts and stem the flow of viewers seeking to have their views affirmed. “It’s remarkable how weak ratings make good journalists do bad things,” Bill Sammon—the managing editor of Fox’s Washington, D.C. bureau—lamented to Chris Stirewalt in early December.

Fox did have a number of good journalists through this period—and it continues to—but several of those journalists became targets of their more ratings-focused colleagues. When reporter Jacqui Heinrich fact-checked a Trump tweet about Dominion that mentioned Hannity and Dobbs’ broadcasts, Carlson immediately texted Hannity. “Please get her fired. Seriously,” he said. “What the f—? I’m actually shocked. It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”

After Fox aired the entirety of a press conference from Powell and Giuliani—a press conference that prompted Murdoch’s “really crazy stuff” comment—White House correspondent Kristen Fisher fact-checked some of the claims the president’s lawyers made. She immediately received a call from her boss, who relayed that the company’s “higher-ups” were “unhappy” with what she did and that she needed to do a better job of “respecting our audience.” 

Dominion projected confidence in last week’s filing that its suit will overcome any legal hurdles in its way, arguing “this case differs from nearly any defamation case before it.” But even if it doesn’t, the previously obscure voting hardware and software company has dealt a significant reputational blow to one of the most powerful media outlets in the world, shining a light on real-time, behind-the-scenes deliberations. That’s probably why its lawyers filed a 40,000-word motion for summary judgment despite knowing full well a judge is almost assuredly not going to rule in their favor without first going to trial. “They know that the media is covering the story,” Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor who focuses on the First Amendment, told The Dispatch. “This is a case that’s drawing a lot of media attention. So, the parties would be foolish not to think about how it’s perceived.”

Barring any last-minute settlement—unlikely, given Dominion’s aims—the case is slated to head to trial on April 17. And it probably won’t be the last one: Dominion and Smartmatic—a voting machine manufacturer subject to similar false election fraud allegations—are also suing Newsmax, One America News Network, Powell, Giuliani, Dobbs, and several others who leveled allegations against the companies. “The truth is our only hope and our best defense,” the companies wrote to the judge. “It’s how we’re different from them: We care what’s true and we know you care, too.”

Just kidding, that’s a line Tucker delivered in November 2020, moments before expressing hope Powell comes forward with details on “how this happened and precisely who did it.”

Worth Your Time

  • How does a surprise presidential trip to war-torn Kyiv come together? Very, very carefully. “Never in Mr. Biden’s lifetime had a president ventured into a war zone that was not under the control of American forces, much less on a relatively slow-moving locomotive that would take nine and a half hours to reach its destination,” Peter Baker and Michael Shear write in the New York Times. “The trip had been in the works for months, aides said, as just a trusted few officials at the White House, Pentagon, Secret Service and intelligence agencies weighed the threat assessments.” The final decision was made on Friday, ahead of Biden’s planned trip to Poland. “The president played his part in the ruse,” Baker and Shear write. “On Saturday evening, he and Jill Biden went to Mass at Georgetown University, then stopped by the National Museum of American History and finally went out to dinner at the Red Hen restaurant, where they enjoyed the rigatoni, widely considered the best in the nation’s capital. When the couple arrived back at the White House, most people might have assumed they were in for the night. But a few hours after midnight, Mr. Biden was spirited out of the mansion and taken to Joint Base Andrews in the Maryland suburbs, where a small coterie of aides, security agents, a medical team, a White House photographer and two journalists awaited him.”
  • There’s nothing like the Pinewood Derby—that time-honored Boy Scout tradition of racing little wooden cars down a little metal track—to bring any suburban dad’s competitive side. “I was researching tungsten putty when I realized I might be headed down a dark path,” Scott Hines writes for his Action Cookbook Newsletter. “There’s a tipping point, it would seem, in between one’s second and third orders for aftermarket Pinewood Derby car accessories—a point when the algorithm senses that you may be possessed of a sickness of the mind and opens the floodgates. Suddenly, my recommended products—once a mixture of kitchen supplies, books, and children’s toys—were all for Pinewood accessories.” Resisting the temptation, Hines and his son raced a humble, sixth-place-finishing, age-group-winning yellow Pikachu car. “As we got home, my son looked at his age-group medal, and mused that he wished he’d gotten one of the trophies that went to the overall finalists. ‘I had fun. But next year I want to do even better!’ I was already opening my laptop. ‘I have some ideas.’”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • The Dispatch is getting back out on the road! Members located in Denver—or able to travel to Denver—are invited to join Steve and Jonah at Lone Tree Brewing Company at 6 p.m. MT on March 7 for a great night of Q&A and casual conversation. Come meet fellow Dispatch members in the area, and feel free to bring any friends or family who might be interested in joining. We’ll cover drinks for the first 90 minutes of the event, and then it’ll be a cash bar. Expect an email later today with more details on how to register.
  • No Dispatch Live tonight. Our crew is taking a one-week break but will return for another lively, members-only discussion next Tuesday evening.  
  • In the newsletters yesterday, Kevin wonders what Machiavelli would make of our modern ruling class (🔒), Nick revisits the Fox-Dominion story from a new angle (🔒), and Andrew, Audrey, and David report on South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s recent trip to D.C. as she mulls a presidential run. “Outside of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis,” they note in Monday’s Dispatch Politics, “no Republican politician saw his or her star rise faster during the COVID-19 pandemic than Noem.”
  • On the site today, Kevin reflects on Biden’s trip to Kyiv and discussions about the president’s mental state, Andy Biggs looks at what insolvency would mean for the future of social security, and Sinan Ciddi considers the political repercussions of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s poor earthquake response. 

Let Us Know

What’s the best way for a media company to “respect its audience?” We’re asking for a friend.

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.