The Tucker Carlson defense
Last week, former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell used an unusual legal defense in responding to Dominion Voting System’s $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit against her. She did not provide facts to support the claims she made about Dominion or the November 2020 election. In fact she did rather the opposite.
Powell claims she did not defame Dominion because “reasonable people would not accept such statements as true.”
It calls to mind another legal case from last fall in which lawyers successfully defended Fox News host Tucker Carlson by telling a judge 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.'”
In that case, U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil of the Southern District of New York whole-heartedly agreed, saying “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.”
Notice use of the word “reasonable” in both defenses. These folks know they are spewing unsupportable statements, and spreading ideas so incredible they are staking a legal defense on people understanding they are false. If they expect us to believe they understand no “reasonable” person would believe them … to whom are they appealing? Rather, to whom are they intentionally lying, and to what aim?
Here is a more disturbing question: How many who thought they were “reasonable people” believed every word that came out of the mouths of the likes of Carlson and Powell? Have Fox News and Powell’s legal team just put on the record that they believe the legions of folks who are loyal to that network or the ideology Powell said she was supporting are, in fact, unreasonable and gullible?
Does it matter? Particularly in Powell’s case, it is not up to the judge to decide whether anyone listening to Powell was a reasonable person. It is up to the judge to decide whether enough people believed Powell that it damaged Dominion’s reputation and therefore its financial prospects.
I understand there are bad actors using precisely the same tactics at all points of the political spectrum. I’m not talking about the political agendas of these folks, I’m talking about their admission about how they feel about their audience. I’m talking about them building a legal defense on the idea people were being manipulated by performances they should have understood were false.
I have little respect for newsertainment snake oil salesmen or the attorneys who serve as bit players in political theater when they KNOW they are firing people up with dangerous falsehoods and conjured fears. The best I can say about them is they know how to bring home a paycheck.
But I have a great deal of respect for the millions upon millions of reasonable people who are being shown exactly what elitists like Powell and Carlson think of them. Rather than take responsibility for their own lies, those two have used a toddler’s argument to claim the fault rests with anyone unreasonable enough to believe them. That is nauseating — and eye-opening.
May it lead to media consumers rewarding the delivery of unvarnished facts and clearly labeled analysis and opinion (supported by facts) to the degree that there is no longer even a paycheck for the snake oil salesmen.
Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com