By Jeff Mackler
In an April 18 out-of-court settlement minutes before formal court proceedings were set to commence, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News family and publishing empire agreed to pay $787.5 million to Dominion Voting Systems for its repeated lies that Dominion rigged its machines to steal the 2020 US presidential elections from Donald Trump. The Fox family media empire includes The Wall Street Journal, The Times of London and The New York Post, all of which joined in promoting Trump’s fabrications.
The settlement was a pittance in relation to Murdoch’s family wealth, which Forbes estimates at more than $17.1 billion, placing Murdoch 99th among the world’s richest multi-billionaires. US tax experts reported that some $250 million of the $787.5 million settlement can be written off as a business expense, given a tax cut loophole that allows corporate legal expenditures to be deducted regardless of whether they were incurred to pay off certified verdicts or settlements indicating malicious wrongdoing, a sort of Monopoly game “Get out of jail free” provision for the rich only!
CNN reported on April 18 that the settlement was “the largest publicly known defamation settlement in US history involving a media company.” But FAIR (Fairness And Accuracy in Reporting) noted that the $787.5 million amounted to just “5.5% of total revenue of the Fox Corporation, Fox News’ parent company, for all of 2022.”
Why Murdoch settled
But is wasn’t the money that led Murdoch and Company to settle out of court; it was the fact that the Dominion case was about to expose in depth that Fox and its superstar broadcasters, including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Maria Bartiromo, knew full well that Fox’s assertions against Dominion, including its central thesis that the 2020 elections were stolen, were boldface lies. Fox, the nation’s largest broadcast network, supported Trump’s month’s long drive to literally steal the 2020 elections, if not orchestrate what amounted to a presidential coup to retain his presidency. To date Trump remains free; some three years of still ongoing government investigations have yet to put this wannabe fascist egomaniac crook in jail, albeit his recent arraignment and future trial based on charges of using campaign funds for hush money to pay off a porn star, among other ongoing government investigations, may well put him there.
The April 25 New York Times delights in recounting some half dozen pending legal actions against Trump. But telling the truth all the time, for The Times, as well as most of the corporate monopoly media, is another matter. They were unanimous is pressing the George W. Bush administration’s Iraq War “weapons of mass destruction” lies that were employed to justify the second US war against Iraq in 2002 – a war that slaughtered some 1.5 million Iraqis. Subsequently deemed a “mistake” by Joe Biden, John McCain and most other corporate party politicians, the Iraqis had no access to US courts to sue for “defamation,” not to mention for mass murder. The US remains in Iraq today to ensure US oil corporations’ continued control over Iraq’s fossil fuel resources.
Fox had originally planned to defend against Dominion based on past US Supreme Court free speech interpretations of the US Constitution’s First Amendment. This included the 1964 Supreme Court decision New York Times v. Sullivan holding that a plaintiff who is a public figure must show “actual malice” to prove libel. Dominion had to prove that Fox knew that their defamatory statements were false, or constituted a “reckless disregard for the truth.” Dominion was set to do so, even though Murdoch himself had stated in a pre-trial deposition that “certain claims” Fox had made were false. Yet Murdock himself was scheduled to testify at Dominion’s request, likely along with other Fox luminaries including rightwingers like Tucker Carlson, who was fired by Murdock a week later. We will return to Carlson’s fate in a moment.
Murdock was apparently advised by his attorneys that making or repeating false statements was fully protected under the First Amendment provided only that they were not made with “malicious intent” and were not “reckless.” Indeed, top legal experts, including former US Attorney General under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Donald Trump, William Barr, informed readers of the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal on March 23, 2023 that the case against Fox was without merit because “it isn’t defamatory for journalists to report on newsworthy allegations made by others, even when those allegations turn out to be false.” Barr added, “If the applicable law is faithfully applied the case should be decided in Fox’s favor.”
A host of other “free speech” experts chimed in with the same message. Former Edward Snowden defender and muckraker/journalist “liberal” turned “conservative,” Glenn Greenwald, recently a frequent guest on Fox’s Tucker Carlson Tonight show, complained that “It is virtually gospel among American liberals… along with the corporate media and Democratic Party leaders, [who] are marching in total lockstep, that none has aired any skepticism or questioning of this accusatory framework.” Poor Greenwald was left in the lurch when Fox agreed to pay Dominion $787.5 million, essentially accepting Dominion’s meticulously documented “accusatory framework.”
Dominion investigators’ pre-trial discovery allowed it to publicly release volumes of internal communications among Fox executives, hosts and producers revealing Fox’s knowledge that its 2020 stolen election assertions were known to be patently false.
FAIR reported that “Those communications have shown how employees at Fox expressed serious doubts about and, at times, were scornful of Mr. Trump and his allies as they spread lies about voter fraud, questioning the legitimacy of Mr. Biden’s election. Some at Fox mocked Mr. Trump and his lawyers as “crazy” and under the influence of drugs like L.S.D. and magic mushrooms.”
Fair continued, “Some Fox hosts privately described their colleagues as “reckless” for endorsing Mr. Trump’s false claims, acknowledging that there was “no evidence” to back them up. Yet for weeks, Fox continued to give a platform to election deniers, despite doubts about their credibility. Dominion challenged statements made on multiple programs on multiple nights. Typically, defamation cases involve only a single disputed statement.” The stakes were high for Fox, which echoed Trump’s multi-level game plan to steal the US elections.
In the end, at the last minute, Murdoch and his advisers calculated that Fox had qualitatively more to lose financially and politically had it allowed its now meticulously documented election lies, to be aired in public view.
Tucker Carlson’s demise
Tucker Carlson was fired by Fox a week later, likely because he left behind a trail of internal communications revealing that he knew full well that Trump’s stolen election claims, that Carlson repeatedly broadcast to his rapt rightwing audience of some three million, were blatant lies. Carlson, often a guest at Trump’s Mar a Lago Florida mansion, boasted about his friendship and influence with Trump, while privately denouncing him as an egomaniac.
The Times reported: “The Dominion case exposed Mr. Carlson as someone whose polemical pro-Trump persona didn’t always match what he said privately. As he told his viewers after the 2020 election that they were right to have doubts about the credibility of the vote counting, he was telling his producers the opposite.”
“His private messages with members of his staff,” according to The Times, “— in which they denigrated Mr. Trump and his legal advisers after the 2020 election in vulgar and sexist terms — were disclosed as part of Dominion’s defamation lawsuit against Fox. In one exchange with staff, Mr. Carlson texted about Mr. Trump, ‘I hate him passionately.’ In another, he labeled Mr. Trump — whom he often praised on his show — ‘a demonic force, a destroyer.’”
Carlson’s delusions of grandeur included his recorded private statements inside Fox that he was essentially independent of Fox control. “In recent years,” according to the April 25, NYT, “Mr. Carlson led people to believe that he was untouchable. Last year, in an interview with the media outlet Semafor, he boasted that he operated with virtual autonomy at Fox. ‘I don’t clear anything with anybody. I file my script late,’ Mr. Carlson said.”
Fox executives were blunt in their response. “No one person is bigger than the network” they replied according to The Times. Neither Carlson, a one-time millionaire talk show host pretending to be a history maker, nor Trump, a nearly accidental racist, rouge, anti-immigrant, global warming and COVID denier president with delusions that he really ran the country, are bigger than the US ruling class, the tiny core of the capitalist elite who own and control the vast proportion of the nation’s wealth, dominate its media, orchestrate its elections and largely handpick the Congress of the US and the US president. When Biden trailed badly in the early 2020 Democratic Party primaries, this elite suddenly intervened to withdraw or force the withdrawal of most contending primary candidates and poured unprecedented $millions and $billions into Biden’s campaign and various NGOs to assure a Biden win.
Trump’s failed coup
Trump’s legal team filed some 100 spurious lawsuits across the country claiming Dominion and other broad ranging Democratic Party-engineered election fraud. No court in the land approved a single suit! All understood that overturning a US election on the orders of megalomaniacal defeated president was not in the present interest of the US ruling class, even if Trump had a majority at the US Supreme Court.
The Trump-instigated January 6 right wing coup mobilization saw tens of thousands of his rabid supporters in Washington, D.C. yelling “Hang Mike Pence,” marching to the Capitol to prevent the formal certification of the election results. US Senator Pence, who declined to publicly state his agreement with Trump’s immediate post election statement that he had won the election, was formally in charge of these proceedings. Washington, D.C. police and the National Guard were mysteriously disappeared while Trump’s racist, neo-fascist, and Proud Boy thugs and other extreme rightwing fanatics stormed the Capitol premises!
Trump’s full court coup effort, included his demands that Georgia officials “find the votes” to reverse the state’s election totals. Indeed, his team, according to the April 21, 2023 New York Times, actually sequestered some Dominion voting machines and copied their internal contents, perhaps to alter the results in Trump’s favor. Again, Trump no doubt counted on his appointed Supreme Court majority to lend a “legal” hand down the line.
All came to naught, however, when the US ruling class decided that the time was not propitious for a US coup to end the formality of US “democracy,” a capitalist duopoly system wherein two billionaire-controlled parties and their kept corporate media monopolies periodically “compete” in national presidential election campaigns with the annual price tag of serious entry today exceeding some $8 billion.
The 2020 election saw the great majority of the nation’s 800 US billionaires supporting Biden, no doubt a key signal that the super rich were uncomfortable with the “moron” Trump – the term coined for Trump by his former and resigned Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson – becoming the first formal dictator.
US free speech myth and persecution African People’s Socialist Party and Julian Assange
For this writer the simple fact that Trump has been caught lying, cheating and stealing, (elections among other things) and that he walks free today stands in disgusting contrast with the Biden administration Justice Department filing ludicrous conspiracy charges last month against the African People’s Socialist Party, charging this group and its associated Uhuru [Freedom] Organization, with conspiring with “Russian agents” to defraud the US via the APSP’s City Council election campaign a few years ago in St. Louis, Missouri.
The Biden administration indictment alleges that “the Russian agents, [now living in Russia] recruited, funded and directed U.S. political groups to act as unregistered illegal agents of the Russian government and sow discord and spread pro-Russian propaganda; the indicted intelligence officers, in particular, participated in covertly funding and directing candidates [APSP candidates] for local office within the United States.” Imagine that! Yesterday, it was the Democrats and Hillary Clinton that charged the Russians with interfering with the US elections on behalf of Trump. Today, it is Biden’s Justice Department accusing the Russians of interfering in a local St. Louis city council election on behalf of a very small Black-led socialist party with ballot status no where else in the country!
And further, the US government’s APSP frame-up, based on the lie that APSP and the Uhura Organization are “unregistered foreign agents” of Russia, charges that:
“One focus of Ionov’s [the supposed Russian “directing” the APSP] alleged influence operation was to create the appearance of American popular support for Russia’s annexation of territories in Ukraine. For example, in May 2020, Ionov allegedly sent a request he stated was from “Russia, the Donetsk People’s Republic” – an apparent reference to a Russian-occupied region in eastern Ukraine – to Yeshitela [APSP National Chair] and members of other U.S. political groups to make statements in support of the independence of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, a Russian-backed breakaway state in eastern Ukraine. Ionov later allegedly touted to the FSB [Russia’s Federal Security Service] that Yeshitela’s video-recorded statement of support was the first time that “American nonprofit organizations congratulated citizens” of the occupied region.”
Framed for telling the truth about the US-instigated Ukraine War
Biden’s Justice Department indictment continues: “Ionov’s use of the APSP to promote Russian propaganda relating to Ukraine allegedly continued after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On the day Russia invaded Ukraine, Feb. 24, 2022, Ionov allegedly emailed Nevel an “URGENT MESSAGE” which contained pro-Russian talking points in support of the invasion. Thereafter, throughout March 2022, the APSP repeatedly hosted Ionov via video conference to discuss the war, during which Ionov falsely stated that anyone who supported Ukraine also supported Naziism and white supremacy, and Yeshitela and another APSP member allegedly made statements of solidarity with the Russian government.”
While the government’s indictment concludes with the pro forma statement, “An indictment and a complaint are merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” government officials made sure to state that if convicted the APSP defendents faced jail sentences up to 15 years.
The APSP’s history supporting freedom and liberation for Black working people goes back to its founding four decades ago. Its adopted positions on Ukraine today are similar or parallel to the stated positions of leading US scholars and intellectuals as well as the country’s major antiwar coalitions, including the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) to which APSP and some 100 other antiwar and social justice groups are associated. Socialist Action is a founding UNAC organization.
That the US backed and helped instigate the February 2014 fascist-led military coup that overthrew the elected Ukrainian government is a matter of historic record, attested to by leading scholars from Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges and John Meirsheimer, not to mention the taped leaked remarks of then Assistant US Secretary of State Victoria Nuland. The “facts” on Ukraine that the APSP is charged with advancing, including during its local St. Louis election campaign, are in accord with the truth about this US-instigated war, yet another US “resource war” aimed at substituting the expensive fracked liquefied natural gas of US fossil fuel corporate oil monopolies for cheaper Russian gas previously servicing much of Western Europe. But the APSP’s free speech right to present these facts, disputed by few serious scholars, is weaponized by today’s modern day Biden-unleashed witchhunters. The government’s charge that the “facts” of the Ukraine War were provided to the APSP by “Russian agents” has zero basis in reality. Free speech for the APSP was literally abolished in a single blow, with the government’s red-baiting guilt by association charges that APSP had “associated” with Russians, in the same manner that scores of other US individuals and organizations have done so over decades. [For a detailed account of the origins of the Ukraine War see: “Ukraine in Turmoil” By Jeff Mackler and Michael Schreiber, published by Socialist Action, August 2014.]
Free speech denied for Julian Assange
The same Biden administration is currently seeking the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his imprisonment for some 175 years for releasing thousands of pages of redacted US Iraq War Logs that documented US war crimes against Iraq. Assange, currently imprisoned in London’s top security Belmarsh prison, faces prosecution under the 1919 Espionage Act that was employed during the infamous Palmer Raids to imprison and deport thousands of US socialists and radical immigrant activists for their beliefs only. Assange, a leading journalist and Australian citizen, is deemed a threat to US “national security” because he exercised his free speech right to print the truth. The grasping hand of the US censors today reaches across oceans in pursuit of free press, free speech journalists.
Edward Snowden too, self-exiled in Moscow after US authorities revoked his passport, is sought by US witchhunters for revealing that the US national security state spies on virtually every citizen, using its state-of-the-art technology. Indeed, this same US “national security” monstrosity literally employs, via its 18 government agencies, some six million personnel with “national security” clearances. And if a single one of these individuals steps out of line to reveal the truth about US war crimes, coups, covert actions, secret wars, planned assassinations, drone bombings, etc. they are prosecuted to the high heavens.
The fiction of free speech in America
In truth, free speech in the US, as originally envisioned in the US Constitution, and as a product of a revolutionary war against British colonialism, barely exists today. The historic “Fourth Estate,” or news media, long considered an independent institution of a free people, outside the formal control of the state, no longer exists. Today’s news media is increasingly under the direct control of ever-monopolized and billionaire-owned media outlets, from the nation’s newspapers to the online Twitter behemoth, purchased last year for $44 billion by Elon Musk, among the world’s richest men. US election laws and financial constraints largely eliminate participation of any party outside the control of today’s two-party duopoly. The corporate media essentially bans coverage of issues and events outside the framework of capitalist politics.
While Trump’s claims that the 2020 election were stolen from him were without merit, in a larger sense all US elections are stolen, but from working people, because they are conducted in the exclusive purview of the multi-billionaire-controlled capitalist system. That system and all its twin-party candidates are the embodiment of the inherent racist, sexist, warmongering, climate catastrophe engendering, anti-LGBTQI rights, capitalist system itself. It’s a system that can only be effectively challenged by the organized and united actions of the vast majority of the American people. This requires the leadership of a mass revolutionary socialist party deeply embedded in all critical struggles of our time. Join us! socialistaction.org
[Jeff Mackler is the National Secretary of Socialist Action; the Director of The Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal/Northern California; a founding member and administrative committee member of UNAC (United National Antiwar Coalition) and a Steering Committee member of Assangedefense.org. He can be reached at socialistaction.org firstname.lastname@example.org]