Fox Cries Uncle, the Afghanistan Whitewash, and Trump's Easy Path to Victory
A potpourri of Daly analysis.
Hi all. A number of things are on my mind today, so I figured I’d bounce around a bit…
The extraordinary cost of “respecting the audience”
On Tuesday afternoon, mere minutes before the defamation lawsuit Dominion Voting Systems filed against Fox News was set to go on trial, the two parties reached a settlement. The amount Fox agreed to pay Dominion was extraordinary: $787.5 million.
It was the largest media settlement in history, which is even more amazing when you consider the very high legal bar required to successfully prove defamation. Fox clearly believed that Dominion’s case, concerning the network’s conscious airing and promotion of numerous lies about the company and its voting machines in the wake of the 2020 election, was strong enough to meet that bar. Rather than allowing some of its top stars and executives to answer questions under oath about their roles in the fiasco (beyond previous testimony and incriminating behind-the-scenes conversations identified during the discovery process), Fox bit the bullet.
Imagine how much embarrassment (and of course a crap-load of money) Fox could have spared itself by simply reading the on-air apology Dominion asked for two years earlier.
Next on Fox’s legal docket: dealing with the even larger lawsuit filed against them by Smartmatic, the other voting-system company the network allegedly defamed. Good times ahead.
Will Fox learn anything from this very painful experience? Beyond perhaps educating employees on not leaving digital evidence behind of their non-kayfabe discussions, I doubt it. One thing strongly confirmed by the details of the Dominion lawsuit is that ratings trump everything at Fox, including basic journalistic integrity and the simple truth. Behind the scenes, people at the network rationalize this practice as “respecting the audience” (which of course perverts the true meaning of the word “respect”). And as long as their audience wants to be lied to, Fox will assuredly serve up those lies on a silver platter (just in a less legally-actionable way).
Passing the buck on Afghanistan
Last week, the Biden White House released a 12-page assessment of what they say went wrong with the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2021.
In short, it was everyone’s fault but Joe Biden’s.
Donald Trump screwed things up, as did U.S. military and intelligence leaders, the U.S. Congress, and of course the Afghans themselves.
Also of note, according to the assessment, was that the withdrawal wasn’t really all that chaotic in the first place — you know, despite all of that stuff we saw on television… including desperate Afghans trampling each other outside airports, pleading for their lives, handing their babies over fences to U.S. soldiers, and in some cases falling to their deaths from evacuation planes.
“For all this talk of chaos, I just didn’t see it, not from my perch,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, commenting on the report. He also insisted: “First and most critically, the president’s decision to end the war in Afghanistan was the right one.”
Kirby didn’t address the airstrike that killed 10 civilians (most of whom were children), following the suicide bombing that killed 13 U.S. service-members.
I guess all's well that ends well. Right?
No, not really.
The report and Kirby’s words were a shameful attempt to whitewash the issue, which received condemnation from both sides of the aisle. Congressional Republicans are promising additional oversight, as well they should.
Unsurprisingly, the administration saw Donald Trump as an easy scapegoat in their assessment, and it’s true that the former president got the ball rolling on our withdrawal through negotiations with the Taliban. Those negotiations included releasing thousands of Taliban prisoners and reducing U.S. troop levels. But Biden was under no obligation to follow through with a total withdrawal. He wanted to do it, and had for a long time (similar to Obama’s ill-advised withdrawal from Iraq). The Doha agreement Trump had signed with the Taliban included a provision that allowed the U.S. to drop out of it if peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government broke down (which they did).
Biden pulled the trigger on the withdrawal anyway. We all saw what happened next, and we continue to hear horror stories from the country, including widespread human-rights abuses toward women.
Let’s hope Republicans take seriously their promise of seeking additional accountability for what was one of the biggest U.S. foreign policy blunders of my lifetime.
You can’t beat Trump by promoting his greatness
Bernie wrote a piece the other day citing recent remarks from political pollster Frank Luntz, who offered advice to the Republican politicians challenging Donald Trump for their party’s 2024 presidential nomination.
I think some of what Luntz said makes sense, including what he calls the “best message” Trump’s GOP rivals could present to Republican voters:
The Trump of today is not the Trump of 2015. In other words, “Donald Trump had my back in 2016. Now, it’s all about him. I didn’t leave Donald Trump. He left me.”
To be clear, I don’t think that’s an honest framing, nor do I think Luntz thinks it is. Trump is the same guy he was in 2015, he didn’t have any of these people’s backs in 2016, and it’s always been “all about him.” But for purely political purposes, I get it.
Luntz also recommends this message, specifically for talking to very old Trump fans (of which there are many):
“We mistake loud for leadership, condemnation for commitment. The values we teach our children should be the values we see in our president.”
Again, this makes sense. Even most Trump enthusiasts acknowledge, at least at some level, that Trump is a man of poor character. In the past they’ve overlooked this glaring deficiency, perhaps thinking they needed to for the greater political good. But they aren’t blind to it, nor are they terribly offended by hearing it aloud.
Here’s another suggested talking point from Luntz:
“Donald Trump was a great president, but he wasn’t always a great role model. Today, more than ever, we need character — not just courage. We don’t need to insult people to make a point or make a difference.”
And that’s where I think he gets it very wrong — not all of it, but those first six words.
If you’re serious about becoming president, you can’t cede that the former president you’re trying to defeat for the nomination was “great” in the role. Because if he, despite all of his warts, was “great” as the leader of the free world, you’re essentially forfeiting your most compelling, comprehensive argument for challenging him.
It would be like the eventual Republican nominee saying “Joe Biden has been a great president” in the general election. Whatever “but” came after it would be meaningless.
Believe me, I understand that most Republican voters probably agree that Trump was a great president. It doesn’t matter that by any objective measure, a president who tried to overturn U.S. democracy to stay in power, and caused a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol through months of lies, was not “great” at the job. In fact, one could reasonably argue that those violations alone make Trump the worst president in U.S. history.
Of course, I don’t expect anyone on a GOP debate stage to say that. But any Republican presidential contender willing to grant Trump the mantle of greatness shouldn’t even bother running.
The politically smarter play would be to say something like this:
“Donald Trump did some good things as president. He signed the House’s tax-reform bill into law, as any good Republican would have. He nominated conservative judges, as any good Republican would have. Nice work. But while showing up and towel-snapping these boilerplate Republican initiatives through the door was absolutely good policy and good for the country… our party and country need strong leadership over the next four years to achieve the hard things — to meet the hard challenges we’ve been unable to address because our party keeps losing elections. That includes the last presidential election. Here’s how I intend to get us back on track…”
Someone who says something like that in the primary would at least stand a chance of defeating Trump for the nomination. Flattering the former president as “great” would only serve as an admission of self-irrelevance.
Fox News will do exactly what you describe above going forward - that is, continue to "respect their audience", by telling them what they want to hear, whether it's true or not, or whether they believe it or not. They'll just tread more carefully to avoid legal liability. Most likely, the legal department will be very busy reviewing stories before they go to air, to screen for potential legal exposures. Other than that, business as usual. And as you and Bernie discussed earlier on this weeks' No BS Zone, they will likely not lose a single viewer - at least not any hard core viewers.
Why? Because the hard core gets all their news from Fox and other right wing media, which haven't covered the lawsuit at all. So most die hard FNC viewers may not even know the lawsuit exists, and if they heard about it through the grapevine, they'll dismiss it as the Left Wing witch hunters just out to get Fox, as usual.