Will the Fox-Dominion Settlement Have an effect on Its Information Protection? Don’t Depend on It.


After the 2020 election, the discuss inside Fox Information was all about “a pivot” — a reorienting of its protection away from former President Donald J. Trump and towards the extra standard Republican politics favored by the community’s founding chairman, Rupert Murdoch.

Mr. Murdoch mentioned then that he wished to make Mr. Trump a “non individual.” And as not too long ago as January, when he was deposed as a part of Dominion Voting Methods’ defamation lawsuit in opposition to Fox, his emotions hadn’t modified. “I’d nonetheless wish to,” Mr. Murdoch mentioned.

However Fox’s viewers — the engine of its earnings and the biggest in all of cable — could not let him.

Anybody anticipating that Fox’s $787.5 million settlement with Dominion this week would make the community any humbler or gentler is more likely to be disillusioned. And there most likely received’t be a lot of a shift in the best way the community favorably covers Mr. Trump and the problems that resonate together with his followers.

“How are you going to make an argument to your hosts to not do issues that charge?” mentioned Chris Stirewalt, a former Fox Information editor and on-air character who was fired by the community in 2021 and was lined as much as be a witness within the Dominion case. “You possibly can’t inform folks, ‘Do something to get a ranking, however don’t cowl the most well-liked determine within the Republican Social gathering.’”

After a hiatus from the community that lasted a lot of 2022, Mr. Trump is again on Fox Information. He’s sat for 3 interviews with the community in lower than a month. The latest one, which was taped earlier this month with Mark Levin, will air on Sunday.

Even voter fraud — the problem that resulted in Fox being sued for billions of {dollars} by Dominion and one other voting expertise firm, Smartmatic — hasn’t solely gone away. In Mr. Trump’s latest interview with the Fox host Tucker Carlson, he implied that there was good cause to doubt the legitimacy of President Biden’s victory, saying, “Folks might say he received an election.”

Mr. Carlson, for his half, has additionally dipped again into election denialism not too long ago. “Jan. 6, I believe, might be second solely to the 2020 election as the largest rip-off of my lifetime,” he mentioned on the air on March 14. (His personal textual content messages, revealed as a part of Dominion’s go well with, present him discussing together with his producers how there was no proof the outcomes of the 2020 election have been materially affected by fraud.)

Within the quick time period, Mr. Murdoch appears unlikely to make any main adjustments at any of his Fox properties. Doing so, mentioned three individuals who have labored intently with him, can be seen because the form of acknowledgment of wrongdoing he’s loath to make. The Dominion settlement included no apology — only a glancing reference to a decide’s findings that Fox had broadcast false statements about Dominion machines and their function in a fantastic plot to steal the election from Mr. Trump.

The $787.5 million payout is large — itself an acknowledgment of wrongdoing of types, as one of many largest settlements ever in a defamation case. Nevertheless it didn’t result in the identical diploma of private humiliation because the cellphone hacking scandal involving Mr. Murdoch’s British newspapers. Then, in 2011, he needed to seem earlier than Parliament and atone for a way his journalists had illegally hacked the voice mail accounts of distinguished figures. He had a foam pie thrown in his face and admitted throughout his testimony, “That is probably the most humble day of my life.”

However his signature American information channel is exhibiting few indicators of humility. It devoted two quick segments on Tuesday to information of the Dominion settlement. Its protection then shortly returned to the identical topics it’s been hammering since Mr. Biden was elected.

Its information studies on the surge of migrants on the southern border are introduced underneath the rubric “Biden Border Disaster.” Republican lawmakers’ efforts to cross legal guidelines banning transgender women from college sports activities groups obtain distinguished consideration — when solely a tiny quantity are literally taking part in, and typically none in any respect in states the place the legal guidelines have been fiercely debated. President Biden is variously portrayed as incoherent, corrupt and weak — particularly concerning his posture towards China. Footage of criminals ransacking shops, assaulting cops and attacking unwitting bystanders play on a loop — usually with perpetrators who’re Black.

Even Mr. Trump’s lies about fraud within the 2020 presidential election have cropped up right here and there. Final week, the right-wing commentator Clay Travis appeared on “Jesse Watters Primetime,” which final 12 months changed a extra straight information program at 7 p.m., and declared that Mr. Biden “solely received by 20,000 votes after they rigged the complete election, after they hid the whole lot related to Hunter Biden, with the large tech, with the large media, and with the large Democrat Social gathering collusion that each one labored in his favor.”

Mr. Watters didn’t appropriate or reply to these remarks on the air.

Tales of voter fraud, usually exaggerated and unsubstantiated, have been a part of the community’s D.N.A. properly earlier than 2020. In 2012, Roger Ailes, who based Fox Information with Mr. Murdoch, despatched a workforce of journalists to Ohio to analyze still-unproven claims of malfeasance on the polls after former President Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney there.

There are, nonetheless, some delicate indicators that Fox needs to maneuver previous the Dominion episodes and its embarrassing disclosures of community executives privately belittling the identical fraud claims they allowed on the air. It has not too long ago began a promotional marketing campaign highlighting its workforce of world correspondents in 30-second advertisements. “We’ve got a mission to be on the bottom reporting the large tales,” one says. The tensions between its information division and its prime-time hosts have been uncovered as a part of the Dominion case, with personal messages from late 2020 exhibiting that hosts like Mr. Carlson and Sean Hannity had mocked and complained about reporters within the Fox Washington bureau who would fact-check the previous president’s fraud claims.

And final week, Fox selected to not renew the contract of probably the most vociferous election deniers on its payroll, Dan Bongino, previously the host of a Saturday night present.

A spokeswoman for Fox Information mentioned in a written assertion that the community had “considerably elevated its funding in journalism during the last a number of years, additional increasing our information gathering dedication each domestically and overseas.” The assertion added, “We’re extremely pleased with our workforce of journalists.”

Mr. Trump undoubtedly stays one of many greatest tales of the second, placing the community’s management able it finds lower than ideally suited. In his deposition, Mr. Murdoch acknowledged referring privately to the previous president as “nuts,” “plain bonkers” and “unable to suppress his egomania.” His private politics are a lot nearer to an institution Republican within the mould of Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican chief whom Mr. Ailes labored for as a media advisor a long time in the past.

Mr. Trump can nonetheless draw excessive rankings, even when he’s now not the singular determine he as soon as was within the Republican Social gathering. His interview with Mr. Carlson, after his indictment in Manhattan on felony costs, drew an viewers of three.7 million. An interview that Mr. Carlson did a number of weeks earlier than with Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida drew 3.1 million.

In the long run, the numbers often is the decisive issue about what sort of protection Fox provides the previous president, regardless of Mr. Murdoch’s preferences.

A former Fox government, John Ellis, summarized the conundrum the community has with its viewers in his e-newsletter after Mr. Trump introduced his 2024 marketing campaign — an occasion that Fox Information broadcast dwell. “The facility of Fox Information to affect the outcomes of GOP primaries could be decisive,” he wrote. Fox’s viewers has loads of Trump supporters, in fact, but in addition many others who could choose one other Republican because the nominee. Individuals who determine as politically impartial watch it excess of they do CNN or MSNBC, based on information from Nielsen in January and February.

“Trump most likely can not win the 2024 nomination if Fox Information is set to defeat him,” Mr. Ellis added. “However in an effort to defeat him, Fox Information should have the permission of its viewers to take action.”

Michael M. Grynbaum contributed reporting.