Joel Mathis is a freelance writer who lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife and son. He spent nine years as a syndicated columnist, co-writing the RedBlueAmerica column as the liberal half of a point-counterpoint duo. His honors include awards for best online commentary from the Online News Association and (twice) from the City and Regional Magazine Association. Read MoreRead More
The Dominion Lawsuit Revealed Why Fox News Peddles Climate Nonsense
Tucker Carlson knows exactly what his audience wants him to say.
If we learned anything about Fox News over the last few months, it’s that the conservative network relentlessly tells its viewers exactly what they want to hear.
Fox on Tuesday settled a defamation suit with Dominion Voting Systems, agreeing to pay a hefty $787.5 million for airing falsehoods about the company’s voting machines in the weeks following the 2020 election. We’re not going to get a trial. It’s hard not to feel a little let down by the news: After all, we’ve been deprived of the spectacle of Fox executive chair Rupert Murdoch and network stars like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity taking the stand to testify — under oath — about what they knew and when they knew it.
Still, the settlement happened after Dominion attorneys were able to uncover reams of embarrassing testimony about the workings at Fox News — depositions, texts, and emails letting us know that while network personalities largely went along with Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election while they were on the air, behind the scenes they knew it was all nonsense.
Why did they then peddle the nonsense? Because that’s what the audience wanted.
With Trump on the ropes in November and December of 2020, the network’s executives and stars worried about losing their audience to right-wing competitors like Newsmax and OANN that assured viewers that Trump really did win the election. Murdoch grumbled about CNN’s superior ratings. Tucker Carlson fretted about the company’s stock price, and tried to get a Fox News reporter fired after she fact-checked Trump’s bogus claims. He even said he hates Trump “passionately.”
The truth didn’t matter. What mattered was keeping hold of viewers, at any cost.
At a $787.5 million cost, as it turns out.
“It’s remarkable how weak ratings make good journalists do bad things,” one Fox News exec reportedly lamented.
The election wasn’t a one-off for this viewer-obsessed approach. The New York Times last year reported that Carlson, in particular, uses minute-by-minute ratings to shape the content and tone of his nightly primetime show — and chooses to give his audience exactly what it wants. “He is going to double down on the white nationalism because the minute-by-minutes show that the audience eats it up,” a former Fox News employee told the newspaper.
What does all of this have to do with climate change, you may ask?
Simple. If Fox News gives its viewers what they want, at any cost, then it’s pretty clear that what Fox News viewers want is news telling them that that climate scientists are power-mad, that climate solutions are tyranny, that climate activists hate nature, that climate change is a Chinese hoax.
Here is Carlson in February, decrying climate science as a screwball religion:
As church attendance and self-identified religious faith have fallen off a cliff in this country, the cult of climate has grown even stronger. Now, even the president United States is warning that the world is ending. Unless we pass the Green New Deal and legalize abortion 'til the moment of birth, Joe Biden says climate change will destroy the world.
There is the climate change agenda and the climate change agenda is the single most ambitious effort to remake human civilization in all recorded history, and it's coming. … So, the question is, why are we still being bullied by these people? It has nothing to do with saving the Earth. They hate the Earth. They hate nature. It's about controlling us, and maybe we should recognize that.
There are still people in this country, for example, who seem to believe that the so-called climate agenda is actually about the climate or about the environment of the Earth or something, and not a coordinated effort by the government of China to hobble the U.S and the West and take its place as the leader of the world, which of course is exactly what's going on.
It’s not just Tucker. Just last week, Fox News host Greg Gutfield claimed that a warming climate is going to make people’s lives better. And if you’re looking for any mention of the climate on sister network Fox Weather, well, you can forget it.
All too often, we talk about our modern misinformation crisis as a supply problem — there’s simply too much B.S. being produced for Americans to know what’s real or not. But very frequently it’s a demand problem. A lot of people want to hear the nonsense. If you don’t give it to them, they’ll simply switch channels to watch somebody who does.
At this moment, I’m not sure we can expect a different approach from Fox News, no matter how large a penalty it is paying for the election lies. After the settlement was announced on Tuesday, the network released a statement praising the “amicable” resolution to the case as a reflection of Fox’s “commitment to the highest journalistic standards.”
That doesn’t sound very apologetic, or like a change in the business model is forthcoming.
Unfortunately for the world, the climate can't be defamed. We're not likely to get a lawsuit that reveals that Fox News hosts secretly believe in global warming and drive Priuses behind the scenes. The work of persuading and educating Fox News viewers of the real threat of climate change will take time, but there are some hopeful signs. A recent poll shows one-fifth of Fox viewers trust the network less after the revelations from Dominion’s lawsuit. And surveys suggest younger Republicans are more worried about climate change than their elders — and more amenable to solutions.
For now, though, Fox News viewers pretty clearly want to hear that climate change is a hoax, or something like it. Tuesday’s settlement suggests they'll probably keep getting that message.
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