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Even the writers of Succession couldn’t get away with this Murdoch storyline

Trump is back, Carlson is gone - it’s all about the money for Murdoch. The real-life Logan Roy is bigger than fiction

Rupert Murdoch denies that Fox News “as an entity” endorsed lies, despite shelling out a settlement figure of $787.5m. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Gett

I and millions of other Americans screamed the same thing that late-night TV host Steven Colbert did at the news of the settlement between Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems over accusations that the latter had rigged election machines in favour of Joe Biden in November 2020. Colbert raged: “Damn it! I want my trial! I want it! I wanted to see Rupert Murdoch put his hand on the Bible and burst into flames!”

But he and I and millions of others were denied the sight of Murdoch on the witness stand.

There is one thing that Rupert Murdoch and I have in common: neither of us have ever seen Succession.

Succession is fiction – albeit fiction based on an elderly media magnate who runs an “alternative facts” news channel and whose empire has no clear successor – but I doubt that the writing room for the series would have come up with the idea of the kind of settlement that was reached between Dominion and Fox.

Fox News agreed to pay Dominion Voting Systems $787.5m – around £663m. Dominion had asked for $1.6bn. Even so, they settled for a big number. Very big.

In his deposition, Murdoch acknowledged that some Fox hosts had indeed endorsed false claims about the 2020 election, ie that it had been stolen. However, he rejected the allegation that the network “as an entity” had endorsed the lies of Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer. But he did concede that the channel’s hosts, including Sean Hannity, Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro and former host Lou Dobbs, had promoted 2020 election falsehoods.

OK, but what are these people in relation to Fox News if Fox News “as an entity” is not guilty? Again, could the writers of Succession make this up? And get away with it?

Murdoch has got away with it. In real life. What’s $787.5m when you’ve got another $20bn to spare, as he has?

The settlement was covered everywhere. Even on Fox News itself, but not for long. The “entity” soon moved on to other things like Hunter Biden’s laptop, illegal immigration, the possible origins of Covid-19 and vicepresident Kamala Harris’ supposedly inappropriate laugh. And don’t forget Hunter Biden’s laptop.

The first amendment to the US constitution, part of that assemblage known as our bill of rights, protects freedom of speech, among other things. So it is not easy to bring a libel case in the US, unless real harm can be demonstrated. That Dominion was able to make the case that Fox News’ broadcast of lies about its machinery harmed its stock price, let alone posed a real threat to employees, would not have been its only hurdle. The plaintiff also had to prove real malice. Subject to jurisdiction, most Americans would prefer to pursue libel in Britain, for example, where it is easier.

Some have called the settlement “chump change” as far as Murdoch is concerned. For him, the cash is tax deductible because it was spent defending the company and its brand. Most of all, the big problem for Fox News is that a trial would have harmed its reputation. Not with the readers of this paper, but with the folks who inhabit Maga nation – the people who stormed the Capitol on January 6 2021 to “take back our country”.

For them to have heard a lawyer read out loud in open court that Murdoch thought that the entire “the election is a hoax” thing “really crazy”; that the now-departed, outwardly pro-Trump host Tucker Carlson “passionately hates Trump”; and that Fox fact-checkers and senior executives privately considered the promotion of election deniers as “dangerous” and “mind-blowing nuts” may have made those viewers in the Maga universe and elsewhere feel like what they looked like: hoodwinked, outright fools. Played by the network they trust. And that the 20 Fox News broadcasts from late 2020 contained information that was untrue.

But Fox will not have to formally admit this. It released a statement that read: “This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards. We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues.”

They went on to claim that Fox News and Fox Corporation had never defamed Dominion Voting Systems and that the case was an assault on the first amendment and had no merit. So back to “news” as normal.

On a recent night, that meant Carlson swinging at Black Lives Matter and a new target, transgender violence, painting these two besieged communities as violent un-American entities. It was business as usual, until Monday’s surprise announcement that Fox’s most popular host would be departing.

Carlson was the fountainhead for the network’s controversies over the stoking of what can only be called “white hate”. He also was accused of maintaining a toxic workspace which included a poster of Nancy Pelosi in a swimsuit, causing one female staffer to quit. But is it these things which have led to his departure? Or because he secretly said he didn’t like Trump?

Carlson’s going will be some consolation to a family member, who is transgender, Black American and living in a MAGA state, but not much. They tell me about what happens on Fox and it’s chilling. Viewers are warned that criminals, BLM activists, transgender people, Hunter Biden and China are all out to end the American Way Of Life, and then reassured it is they who are “the normal people”.

When host Laura Ingraham appeared with Hannity the other day, she told her audience that if they could, the Democrats “put you in a camp, or put you – send you away somewhere so you’re never heard from again”.

That this fate won’t happen to Ingraham is a measure of how important the first amendment is. And why many news organisations, in spite of what they reported, gave a sigh of relief. News reporting, even fake news without evidence of malice, has a protection under the constitution.

Trump is back, Carlson is gone, and why not? It’s all about the money for immigrant made good, Keith Rupert Murdoch.

The real-life Logan Roy is bigger than fiction.

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