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July 9, 2005

A Journalist's Duty to Lie

-- by Gary Boatwright

I guess I can understand why this story didn't get a lot of coverage in the M$M. Hat tip to grannyinsanity for her comment in an earlier diary.


From Project Censored, The media can legally lie. This is an absolutely mind numbing decision. How do you find out who appointed this judge?:


In February 2003, a Florida Court of Appeals unanimously agreed with an assertion by FOX News that there is no rule against distorting or falsifying the news in the United States.


That certainly puts the M$M and the First Amendment in a whole new light, doesn't it?

A husband and wife journalist team was working on a story about bovine growth hormone (BGH) which is manufactured by Monsanto. Monsanto wanted a fair and balanced story:

According to Akre and Wilson, the station was initially very excited about the series. But within a week, Fox executives and their attorneys wanted the reporters to use statements from Monsanto representatives that the reporters knew were false and to make other revisions to the story that were in direct conflict with the facts. Fox editors then tried to force Akre and Wilson to continue to produce the distorted story. When they refused and threatened to report Fox's actions to the FCC, they were both fired.(Project Censored #12 1997)


A Florida appellate judge disagreed with the trial court who ruled for Akre and Wilson:

FOX appealed the case, and on February 14, 2003 the Florida Second District Court of Appeals unanimously overturned the settlement awarded to Akre. The Court held that Akre's threat to report the station's actions to the FCC did not deserve protection under Florida's whistle blower statute, because Florida's whistle blower law states that an employer must violate an adopted "law, rule, or regulation." In a stunningly narrow interpretation of FCC rules, the Florida Appeals court claimed that the FCC policy against falsification of the news does not rise to the level of a "law, rule, or regulation," it was simply a "policy." Therefore, it is up to the station whether or not it wants to report honestly.


Interesting. If an FCC policy is not a "law, rule or regulation," I wonder what Monsanto's favorite Florida judge classifies it as?


The M$M filed an amicae curiae brief:

What is more appalling are the five major media outlets that filed briefs of Amici Curiae- or friend of FOX - to support FOX's position: Belo Corporation, Cox Television, Inc., Gannett Co., Inc., Media General Operations, Inc., and Post-Newsweek Stations, Inc. These are major media players! Their statement, "The station argued that it simply wanted to ensure that a news story about a scientific controversy regarding a commercial product was present with fairness and balance, and to ensure that it had a sound defense to any potential defamation claim."


Truth is a sound defense to defamation. There is no legal requirement to present false statements from the company that is the subject of a story.


How could any court expect the M$M to obey the law in all 40 states with whistleblower statutes?

The Amici position was "If upheld by this court, the decision would convert personnel actions arising from disagreements over editorial policy into litigation battles in which state courts would interpret and apply federal policies that raise significant and delicate constitutional and statutory issues." After all, Amici argued, 40 states now have Whistleblower laws, imagine what would happen if employees in those 40 states followed the same course of action?


Imagine the result if journalists in all 40 states insisted on only reporting the truth. What kind of jounalism nightmare would that be?


This decision comes real close to saying that obeying state laws is a violation of the First Amendment:

The position implies that First Amendment rights belong to the employers - in this case the five power media groups. And when convenient, the First Amendment becomes a broad shield to hide behind. Let's not forget, however; the airwaves belong to the people. Is there no public interest left--while these media giants make their private fortunes using the public airwaves? Can corporations have the power to influence the media reporting, even at the expense of the truth? Apparently so.


The Supreme Court has been clear that corporations have broad latitude to lie to the public in advertising. This decision claims the First Amendment protects the right of corporations to lie to the public and call it news. It also gives the M$M the right to order their employees to lie to the public and if they refused they can be fired for cause.


O'Reilly and Hannity lie with such passion and conviction that that they don't require coercion to lie to the public. I wonder if this decision explains some of the recent conduct of Matthews and Russert?


Or maybe Matthews and Russert have accepted their journalism duty to lie to the public. After all, it's what they get paid for.

Posted by Gary Boatwright at July 9, 2005 7:20 PM

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Comments

There's a good book "Into the Buzzsaw" which tells the Akre-Wilson story and about ten more like it (often in the reporter's own words.).

Posted by: John Emerson at July 9, 2005 8:04 PM

Into The Buzzsaw

$8.75 plus shipping. Thanks John.

Posted by: GaryBoatwright at July 9, 2005 8:58 PM

I second Into the Buzzsaw. If this story bothers you then the book will send you into overdrive.

There are many critics of Fox News, but I haven't seen many (or any rather) critics citing this case as they should be when leveling criticism against Fox. After all, it is a bit of a contradiction for a newtork who's catch phrases are "Fair and Balanced" and "We Report, You Decide" to be on the record as arguing that its their legal right to lie or willfully distort the news.

On an related note: Sonoma State, the home of Project Censored, recently conducted a study of the corporatization of the media. The findings show a distrubing amount of consolodation of among the top media outlets. A brief piece on this can be read at Common Dreams. http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0624-25.htm

Posted by: Hume's Ghost at July 10, 2005 8:39 AM

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