Hello and happy Saturday. If you are one of those readers whom we affectionately call our “freelisters”—meaning you’ve given us your email address but not signed up for a paid membership—you already heard from me once this week. From time to time, we send out emails reminding you that we think The Dispatch is a good value and we’d like to have you join us.
In my email, I recalled my own experience of observing how the media world changed as internet publishing evolved: While in the before times there were few options for readers who wanted a conservative perspective on things, what emerged from the primordial soup of the early online years was a bit of a mixed bag. The proliferation of news and opinion sources spawned a race to the bottom in a quest for eyeballs and clicks.
What I was not anticipating was that my point would be made so dramatically and succinctly by one of the big stories of the week.
Dominion Voting Systems sued Fox News for defamation in March 2021, claiming that Fox News smeared the company by elevating false claims of fraud during the 2020 election. The network’s hosts and guests—including Sean Hannity, Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, and Trump sycophant Mike Lindell—made outlandish claims about Dominion machines being used to rig the election in favor of Joe Biden. (If you would like to be reminded of the specifics, please see our fact checks here, here, and here.)
I remember being frustrated but unsurprised by Fox News’ coverage of the election. To say the network had been friendly to Donald Trump throughout his entire presidency would be an understatement. Even before he was president, he would call in regularly to Fox and Friends in the morning, and that continued when he was in the White House. Sean Hannity appeared at a Trump rally during the 2018 midterm campaign. Tucker Carlson often used his prime time slot to defend the president and attack his critics.
But it was hard to know whether Fox News hosts elevated false claims by Trump and his supporters after the 2020 election because they actually believed them or for more opportune reasons. Now, thanks to a court filing by Dominion, we now know the truth. Which is that Hannity, Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro, and others knew the truth all along.
The Dominon filing, made public this week, includes communications between Fox News hosts and from network executives acknowledging that Sidney Powell was lying. (I encourage you to read the whole thing.) Carlson referred to the claims as “ludicrous” and “off the rails”; Laura Ingraham said that Powell “is a bit nuts”; Hannity said, [T]hat whole narrative that Sidney was pushing. I did not believe it for one second.”
If they didn’t believe the narrative, why did they push it? It turns out that cable news is not immune from the same pressures as online journalism: There has been a proliferation of partisan news networks in the last decade, and the competition didn’t exactly bring out the best in everyone, journalistically. Fox was losing viewers to Newsmax.
It’s tempting to chuckle at the poetic justice of it all. Fox News’ affectionate coverage of the Trump administration had been a boon for ratings. The network often touted Carlson’s dominance over CNN and MSNBC. Fox News showed that fan service was a profitable business model, and its competitors took note.
When a Fox News reporter (keep in mind that the news and opinion operations at Fox News are separate) debunked a claim by President Trump days after the election, Carlson told Hannity, “Please get her fired. … It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”
Journalism is a tricky business. In the past, publications sought to maintain a strict wall between the newsroom and the ad side to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. But today we have all kinds of analytical tools at our disposal to see what our audiences are reading and viewing, and those tools are often available to reporters, not just the ad side. Publications often use those tools to decide to assign more cultural coverage, or hire a technology reporter, or to publish content at certain times of the day, etc. But Fox took that knowledge and used it to perperate a false narrative. And we’re all worse off for it.
Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend.
In Boiling Frogs (🔒), Nick has some more thoughts on the Fox News revelations. Pointing to some jarring examples from the filing—a Fox News executive calling longtime host Neil Cavuto a “brand threat” for cutting away from a White House press briefing that featured false election claims; Tucker Carlson trying to get a reporter fired for debunking a Trump lie; allowing Sean Hannity to bring Sidney Powell on his show just to maintain ratings—he writes, “What’s remarkable about the Dominion filing is that it shows the professionals who’ve compromised themselves to protect their livelihoods nonetheless retain a powerful sense of contempt for their populist clientele—and even their populist media colleagues.”
Charlotte, who is based in Istanbul for the next year, reported from Kahramanmaraş province on the recovery efforts in the wake of the devastating February 6 earthquake. She spoke with one man who had fled the Syrian civil war six years ago and finds himself homeless again. “Thirteen seconds,” he told Charlotte—that’s how long it took his home to collapse. After a quake in western Turkey killed 17,000 people in 1999, the Turkish government made a push to tear down substandard buildings and make new construction earthquake-resistant. But years later, a “zoning amnesty” law was passed allowing contractors to pay a fee to spare unlicensed buildings from demolition. She notes that the quake is causing political problems for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who faces an election in May. From unsafe buildings to a lack of sufficient aid, Turks are frustrated. “The fact that relief has been coming in late might eventually destroy the image of Erdoğan the powerful leader, the administrator, the new sultan that Erdoğan has cultivated for about 20 years,” Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Charlotte.
She’s running. David Drucker was in Charleston on Wednesday for Nikki Haley’s campaign debut. The former governor of South Carolina and U.N. ambassador drew a crowd of about 2,000 supporters and a few dozen media members. David talked to some of the rally-goers and found enthusiasm for Haley—unsurprisingly—but also some curiosity about fellow South Carolinian Sen. Tim Scott, who is also expected to make a run for the nomination. “We love Tim Scott; I think we just have to wait and see,” one woman at the rally told David. But, she added, “If Nikki’s still in, I’m sticking with Nikki.”
Have you signed up to receive Dispatch Politics in your inbox? If not, you might have missed David’s enterinaing interview with Chris Christie. Christie spoke about how he doesn’t fear Donald Trump, talked about whether he’ll run in 2024, and shared his thoughts on the man viewed as Trump’s biggest challenger, Ron De Santis. ““He’s done a good job as the governor of Florida. I don’t think anybody can argue with that, but that’s very different than running for president of the United States,” he said. “None of us really know what he’ll be like on the national stage. If he decides to run, I’ll be interested to watch and compete with him.”
And here’s the best of the rest.
- We like our explainers to be a little more explainery, but the best Price could do on the UFO shootdowns is to identify the little that we do know and dig into why there is so much we don’t. As Lousiana Sen. John Kennedy said after a briefing on the matter: “If you are confused, you understand the situation perfectly.”
- In a tweet, Jonah called Scott Linciome’s latest Capitolism (🔒), ‘The most comprehensive evisceration of ‘Buy America’ folly ever in one newsletter.” I can’t do better than that.
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reforms have spurred protests in Israel. To explain what’s going on and why they are controversial, Harvest digs into Israel’s governmental structure, balance of power, and lack of constitution.
- In Uphill (🔒), Haley looks at two recent signs that the GOP is headed for an intraparty confrontation over continued support for Ukraine: Rep. Matt Gaetz introduced a “Ukraine Fatigue” resolution last week and Sen. Josh Hawley made a speech claiming that the military is overextended and our attention is better directed toward China.
- The pods! David French and Sarah discuss libel law and plenty more on Advisory Opinions. On The Dispatch Podcast, the gang wonders why the Biden administration is being so quiet about the spy balloon and other flying objects. Jonah has a fascinating conversation about race and religion with Coleman Huges on The Remnant, and Curtis Chang and David French discuss what young Christians need to thrive and how Christians should interact with politics on Good Faith.