Dominion filings reveal Fox News viewers demand to be told lies: columnist
Sean Hannity speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

The Atlantic's Adam Serwer has written an essay on Dominion Voting Systems' court filing against Fox News released last week, and he says it reveals that Fox News' viewers have essentially demanded that the network lie to them.

The most interesting part of Dominion's filing, according to Serwer, is the panicked messages that Fox News hosts sent to each other after seeing their ratings drop because they weren't pushing false election conspiracy theories with the same vigor as upstart cable news networks such as Newsmax and One America News.

In essence, then, Fox News sees its goal not as delivering news, but in delivering pleasing stories that will reinforce its viewers' feelings of self-worth.

"Fox News executives and personalities understand that their own network loses traction with its audience when it fails to tell the lies that the audience wishes to hear," writes Serwer. "There are infinite examples of the mainstream press making errors of omission, fact, or framing. But as the private communications in the Dominion filing show, the mainstream media’s unforgivable sin with this constituency is not lying, but failing to consistently lie the way conservative audiences want them to."

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Fox News, for its part, has accused Dominion of cherry picking messages in its efforts to show malice, and it says its reporting on the 2020 election aftermath is well within the protections of the First Amendment.

"There will be a lot of noise and confusion generated by Dominion and their opportunistic private equity owners, 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," Fox said in an official statement issued last week.

Serwer thinks that Fox News may have a point legally, but he doesn't see how that would exonerate the network morally.

"The network may ultimately prevail; that’s what all those fancy lawyers get paid for," he writes in his conclusion. "But if consciously lying to your audience about election fraud in order to keep them watching your network doesn’t meet the standard for actual malice, it’s difficult to imagine what a powerful media company could do that would."