The unprecedented amount of damages that Rupert Murdoch has to pay for defamation proves that lies and emotions do not need to rule modern politics.
Donald Trump didn’t invent today’s version of populism. Yet, it was his election as president in 2016 and the referendum on the U.K.’s divorce from the EU a few months earlier that seemed to point to the gradual collapse of the rule of law and democracy in the Western world. In politics, the ones who were supposed to stay on top were those who knew how to manipulate voters’ emotions and frustrations. Raison d’état had to take a back seat.
This system created a perfect environment for the development of populism in Europe. After Hungary and Poland, it was Italy’s turn to fall victim to it, as well as France, where moderate parties have found themselves to be in the minority in the National Assembly. Soon Spain may follow in their footsteps, where — if opinion polls are to be trusted — the coalition of the People’s Party and the Francoist Vox will take power in December.
Yet, at a time when traditional media are too weak to act as censors of the powers that be, with social media having seemingly taken over this role, help has come from a long underappreciated savior — an independent judicial system.
The deal which Murdoch reached with Dominion, the company whose equipment counted votes in the U.S. presidential election, results from the fear that the embarrassing lawsuit would unravel the extent of Fox News’ lies and bankrupt the media company. The Trumpist propaganda machine has to admit that at the turn of 2020 and 2021, it knew perfectly well that Joe Biden’s victory was deserved and that there were no irregularities. But it told its viewers a different story to earn more money from a larger audience. This precedent may force not only the Murdoch company but also Trump’s closest allies like Rudy Giuliani — and perhaps even the former president himself — to pay hefty damages.
Will this translate to the political situation in Europe and in Poland? Nowhere on our continent is the judicial system as independent and strong as it is in the U.S. In Poland, where the judiciary’s credibility has been shattered by Law and Justice’s seven years of rule, we can only look with envy at the American system.
But there is also a political dynamic. Trump was a Brexit supporter, which may undercut his chances for reelection because the Fox News outcome may raise hopes for a return of common sense among the British — the more so because the majority of the British public has already realized that leaving the EU was a grave mistake. The same goes for other EU countries, where the restoration of transAtlantic ties may prove to be an effective antidote to nationalism. Polish authorities were, of course, among Trump’s closest allies. Meanwhile, by defending freedom of speech and forcing a minimal agreement between Warsaw and Berlin — for example, on Patriot missiles — it is the Biden administration which has played a positive role in our raison d’état. The chances are that this will continue after 2024.
Perhaps most important, however, is the impact the Fox case will have on the shape of the media in America. The U.S. has often acted as the forerunner of the changes that take place in Europe. For the first time in a long time, it looks like political change does not have to go only in the wrong direction.