During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump's bagman—Michael Cohen—paid off Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about sexual encounters with his boss. Karen McDougal took a similar story to the National Enquirer, which paid her $150,000 and then spiked the story, as they had promised Trump they would do.
Two years later, Tucker Carlson claimed that Trump was the victim of extortion by these two women.
Carlson first told viewers, "Remember the facts of the story. These are undisputed."...
He then proceeded to say, "Two women approach Donald Trump and threaten to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn't give them money. Now that sounds like a classic case of extortion."
Carlson's so-called "facts" were a lie. McDougal never approached Trump. She claims that "she feared word of the affair would leak out during the campaign anyway and she preferred to be the one to tell the story."
McDougal proceeded to sue Carlson for falsely accusing her of the crime of extortion. Fox News lawyers employed an interesting defense.
Just read U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil's opinion, leaning heavily on the arguments of Fox's lawyers: The "'general tenor' of the show should then inform a viewer that [Carlson] is not 'stating actual facts' about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in 'exaggeration' and 'non-literal commentary.' "
She wrote: "Fox persuasively argues, that given Mr. Carlson's reputation, any reasonable viewer 'arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism' about the statement he makes."...
In written briefs, [Carlson's lawyers] cited previous rulings to argue Carlson's words were "loose, figurative or hyperbolic." They took note of a nonjournalist's use of the word "extort," which proved nondefamatory because it was mere "rhetorical hyperbole, a vigorous epithet."
The Fox News lawyers were basically saying that anyone who believes what Carlson says is not a "reasonable viewer," which is quite an indictment of all of the people who've made his show number one in the Fox News lineup.
I'm also struck by all the verbiage used to avoid saying that Carlson lies, such as "exaggeration," "non-literal commentary," and "rhetorical hyperbole." But then, we've gotten used to that in the era of Trumpism. Remember Kellyanne Conway's "alternative facts?" We were also cautioned to not take what Trump said "literally."
What all of this demonstrates is that the people at Fox News are not only lying—they've openly admitted that they're lying. That is an even worse indictment than the one that can be leveled against the people we might call "true believers." In the end, people like Carlson are playing their audience for fools and fueling the divisive politics that is threatening our democracy, as Kevin Drum noted.
Fox News—not social media, not think tanks—is the primal source of racism, xenophobia, polarization, and reckless lying in American media. Until we somehow put a stop to this, it will be hard to ever recover the country we used to have. Not a perfect country by any stretch, but at least one where we all had a roughly similar idea of what was true and were willing to talk openly about it. Rupert Murdoch has earned billions of dollars for destroying American politics, and he’ll keep doing it until the money hose goes away.We should all take the lawyers at Fox News seriously when they say that we'd be fools to believe what Tucker Carlson says.