Lying in the media: they're not even trying to hide it, anymore.

19 September 2010

Patrick Moynihan once said that "We are each entitled to our opinion, but no one is entitled to his own facts." This is no longer the case, and as if that wasn't a hard enough kick in the yarbles it's officially permissible to do so.

Once, the news media was our eye upon what was happening in the world, the people who stood outside of politics and raked the muck to keep everyone informed of both the good and the bad. The people who kept everyone honest. Reporters left no stone unturned and kept some segment of the population acting on the up and up, lest the paper or broadcast television find out what they did and put it on the evening news for everyone to see. At one time you might have gotten off scot free in court but as far as the rest of the people were concerned you were done. Finished. Untrustworthy. History.

You know what? I'm so upset that I'm going to knock off the purple prose and come right out with it: The court has decided that it's permissible for news outlets to lie to you, and it's protected by the First Amendment. Lawyers in the stable of the Fox Broadcasting Company argued successfully that the First Amendment of the US Constitution gives them the right to publish outright lies in their particular medium. Ten years ago, a reporter named Jane Akre for Fox News in Florida was fired for refusing to lie in her articles about things that she had documented to be true. She sued Fox Television after losing her job and won a $425kus judgement from them. A series of appeals were filed and argued and it was eventually decided by the court that it is not against any law or regulation on the books in the United States to distort the truth in any way or fabricate information, and further stated that the First Amendment is a policy at best.

So... what do we do about this?

I can't tell any of you what to do. An unknown number of people have decided that they're okay with the news lying to them about what's happening, and trying to convince them otherwise only reinforces their non-reality-based view of the world. So, if we can't do anything about them it's up to us. is running a petition for an independent media outlet rating system backed by the FCC which will prominently rate a particular news outlet based upon how honest they are about their practices and what they publish. I recommend that you sign it and sign it now. There is no guarantee that the Federal Communications Commission will go along with it but it's a start. Second, all of you out there reading this probably have publishing capabilty of your own: blogs, LiveJournals, Twitter feeds, Facebook profiles, and other stuff I'm not monitoring yet. You can use them for more than just posting cat macros and stuff happening at work. If you see something, for Turing's sake say something. If you see a car crash on the Beltway, post about it, even if it's just a picture snapped on your smartphone. If you're at ground zero of something, get the word out. And for pity's sake be as accurate as you can. If you have a karma plugin, rating system, reputation manager, or something similar on your website for rating how useful what you post is, enable it. If you see a post about something you're not familiar with, a quick Google search to verify the facts won't hurt, don't just take it at face value (don't just take me at face value, either).

If someone calls you on a mistake, don't silently delete your post or edit it to fix it. Use the .. HTML tags to scratch out mistakes and fix them, and post an 'EDIT:' notification to let everyone know that you've changed your post. If you said something stupid, own up to it and publish a retraction. Everyone stays stupid things sometimes (even me) and it's how we handle them that makes us what we are and not our stupid statements. If you have a comment rating system that lets people rate replies to your posts, enable it so that trolls get modded down. The problem with deleting replies is that it becomes all too easy to delete replies by people you don't agree with (conversely, it becomes too easy for people to claim that their replies were deleted). It behooves commenters to stay on the up-and-up just as much as it does those of us who post. If you've a mind to, publicaly state that you adhere to The Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists even if you're not a professional journalist. If you're posting fiction, label it as fiction. Don't be afraid to get involved in local independent media outlets like Indymedia. We can't stop people from lying, but we can make sure that their lies are exposed and we can churn the truth to the top of the heap and keep it there.

As I/O Error so famously said, "We have to dismiss cynicism. Sincerity is the new black."

The people who have claimed authority don't seem to be doing jack for making the world a better place, so it's up to us. Let's roll our sleeves up and get to work.

This work by The Doctor [412/724/301/703] has been placed under the Creative Commons By Attribution / Noncommercial / Share Alike 3.0 License.