The Fox News settlement with Dominion Voting Systems was everywhere on the news on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. Well, almost everywhere. Fox News didn’t have much to say about it. But everyone else had plenty to say. Fox agreed to issue the statement in the picture above and pay Dominion $787.5 million.
The public knows the history behind the payout. After Trump lost in 2020, senior managers at Fox News encouraged Fox celebrities to present election fraud lies on the air, Fox celebrities pandered to an audience of Trump fans eager to eat up election lies, they knew were lying on the air, they knew it was wrong, but they did it anyway. Lying on the air was Fox News corporate policy all the way up to the CEO and board of directors.
So then, Fox News settled at the last minute and issued its statement. Much of the world thinks this is a win for truth. But I’m not so sure. Fox News admitted it lied, but fans won’t see it anywhere on Fox News. And if Fox fans see it somewhere else, they won’t pay attention because Fox attorneys buried the key sentence and hid behind passive voice.
Give the attorneys credit. If the statement puts people to sleep, nobody will remember it.
Passive Voice and Fox News
Here is a quick passive voice lesson. Nouns come in two flavors, subjects and objects. Subjects do stuff. Objects have stuff done to them.
Consider these two sentences.
- Greg wears a shirt. This is active voice. Greg is the subject, shirt is the object.
- A shirt is worn by Greg. Same subject and object, same information, but this passive voice sentence emphasizes the object.
Notice how the passive voice sentence is boring. To keep readers, writing classes teach students to use active voice almost always.
But sometimes, writers don’t want to keep readers. Especially when a plaintiff forces a defendant to admit years of lies.
Look at the second sentence in Fox’s statement. We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false. When the statement flashed on my TV screen, that sentence looked like Fox accused Dominion of making false statements. Which made no sense. That bothered me the rest of the day until I saw it a few mote times. I noticed the statement didn’t say claims from Dominion, it said claims about Dominion. Just one word, easy to miss, and I missed it. So will millions of others, especially Fox fans who still will not let go of Trump election fraud fantasies.
That sentence was no accident. I’ll bet an army of attorneys sat around a conference table and wordsmithed every word.
How could Fox attorneys made that sentence clearer? Active voice would help. How about
- We acknowledge the Court’s rulings that we lied about Dominion.
- We lied about Dominion and we’re sorry.
- We pandered to you because we noticed our competition wooing you away.
- We respect truth about as much as we respect mosquitoes. We swatted at it for years.
Yeah, I know. I mixed a little satire in that list. Maybe the upcoming Smartmatic lawsuit will generate a better statement.
Who knows? Maybe someday, I’ll do something shameful, somebody will force me to admit it, and I’ll bury it in passive voice to reduce the impact. Think I could get away with it?
A Few Hours Later
I advertised this blog post on Twitter shortly after posting it. A few hours later, I found myself in the cross-hairs of a right wing radical who responded as I predicted. She deleted her nastiest comment, but Twitter does not really delete anything – Twitter just hides it. Here is a blog post with more.
I’m glad Dominion forced Fox to pay, But the payout will not stop Fox from spewing another firehose of falsehoods. When the Smartmatic trial comes due, I hope the Smartmatic attorneys force Fox to apologize on the air and write an active voice statement to settle. Think of it as enlightened self-interest. Cash for today’s defamation victims is good, but discouraging future defamation is better.
And for Newsmax, OANN, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Mike Lindell, and other nutjobs still dragging millions of Americans into the abyss of 2020 election lies, your day of reckoning is coming.