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Truth in journalism? Nah...

 
 
sozobe
 
Reply Mon 17 Mar, 2003 11:36 am
Appellate Court Rules Media Can Legally Lie

It's not like I trusted Fox News before, but daaaaaaaaamn. And the implications are rather staggering.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 1 • Views: 4,072 • Replies: 37
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PDiddie
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 Mar, 2003 11:41 am
Shocked OMG Shocked

We're down the rabbit hole, through the looking glass...

Does anyone know a safe way out Question
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roger
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 Mar, 2003 11:52 am
Alright, PDiddie. Twice in one year is quite enough.
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Dartagnan
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 Mar, 2003 01:17 pm
Well, this certainly confirms what some viewers have suspected about the Fox news operation. "We report, you decide"?
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Phoenix32890
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 Mar, 2003 01:35 pm
I am not defending what Fox did, but I think that it is unfair to think that Fox was the only network to do this. I think if you rattle the doors of numerous network closets, a LOT of bones would come flying out!

That is why, when I am able, make it my business to read important stories from many different sources, from all shades of the political spectrum. Maybe, if I can wade through all the bullshit, I will find a germ of truth!
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 Mar, 2003 01:54 pm
Oh, I'm not at all saying it's just Fox. That's what's so scary! It's OK for ALL major news organizations to do it. Not just the "Jacko's New Baby is an Alien!!" rags, but anyone. That's great that you get your news from disparate sources, and I really wish more people did, but it's not you I'm worried about. There are people -- lots of people -- who think that Fox (and USA Today, and whatever other news sources ethically capable of doing what is apparently perfectly legal and manipulate truth however they see fit) are purveyors of truth. That if the news says that Saddam Hussein is behind 9/11, it must be so. And the news CAN say that, under this ruling. It ain't true, but hey, minor quibble.

Shocked
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timberlandko
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 Mar, 2003 02:26 pm
I'm pretty much a "multiple source" type myself, and I sample press from both fringes into the center. As far as I'm concerned, they're all entitled to "Report", I'm obligated to "Decide".

The incident doesn't surprise me at all. Its old news that news is a product. What was it William Randolph Hearst said when he figured we needed a war?

Unfortunately, we're a convenience consumer culture. Its bigger business than ever to process, package, and dispense "The News" in convenient, predigested servings. I figure folks who go out and work the garden are healthier than folks who hang out at the snackbar.



timber
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trespassers will
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 Mar, 2003 02:27 pm
Re: Truth in journalism? Nah...
sozobe wrote:
Appellate Court Rules Media Can Legally Lie

It's not like I trusted Fox News before, but daaaaaaaaamn. And the implications are rather staggering.

I can find no independent confirmation of this story. The two citations I found are simply reprints of the Gaddy piece you cited above.

While I suspect it may be true that there is no standing legal barrier to lying by the media--news I suspect many on the right will greet with, "Well duh!"--this story does not make sense and many pertinent details are noticeably absent such as was this a FOX affiliate or FoxNews (big difference), secondly--and far more importantly--the article does not actually indicate that Fox attempted to force her to air a false report (about cows; go figure). What the article states is that the journalist claimed they had, and that she was fired for refusing to do so.

This is a very difference animal. Now we're talking about "she said, they said"...

She might have been right and the story might have been false based on information she possessed. Her boss might have known that and ordered her to air it anyway.

She might have been wrong and thought the story was false based on flawed information or her own personal bias when the boss believed it to be true and ordered her to air it.

Nothing in the text of that article tells us anything to controvert either option, and the court likely recognized this and also recognized that it doesn't matter--as far as her court case goes--whether the information was true or was not. Her case rested--as indicated by the text cited--on the fact that she was fired for refusing to run the story and her claim that the firing was actionable IF she was being asked to commit a crime and was fired for refusing to do so.

The court's ruling was that she did not have a case because--in the abstract and regardless of the other facts of her case--she was not "injured" by Fox because her refusal to air the story was not--as she contended--based on the legality of doing so. (Since she was not being asked to commit a crime, she can't argue that they fired her for refusing to commit a crime.)

This was not Fox (or anyone) going to court to defend their right to lie. This was Fox going to court to defend itself against a wrongful firing suit where the question of whether the story was true or was not was of no legal consequence.

Can anyone find another citation regarding this case that clarifies the information this author has left out? Chief among those things missing is whether there is any validation of the plaintiff's claim that the story was false and her management knew it to be false. In the abstract it seems logical to me that there is no law against lying in a news piece--that's inherent in free speech. What would be news to me is (A) to know at what level this occurred (a Fox affiliate somewhere or at FoxNews; big difference!) and (B) if those involved actually intended to lie and (C) whether in that case Fox corporate chose to go to bat to fight for their right to lie.

I realize some people here would rather see this case as being as simple as the author has pretended, but it seems clear to me that it is not.
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Dartagnan
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 Mar, 2003 04:17 pm
Well, I hate to say this, especially since I've already chimed in against Fox, but I kind of agree with Tres here, re the reliability of this source. Seems like the kind of story that would've been widely reported, yet this is the first I've heard of it. Not sure I know about the Sierra Times...
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trespassers will
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 Mar, 2003 04:55 pm
Thanks D'Art. Very Happy

And again, I'm not writing that this did not happen, just that there are holes in the information we have, and that the story doesn't lead me to the same conclusion to which it seems to be leading some others.
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 Mar, 2003 05:10 pm
Some further sources:

http://www.onlinejournal.com/Media/031303Varolli/031303varolli.html

http://www.protectorganic.org/sasf/medialie.htm

http://www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/022703_fox.html

This with a quick Google search with many, many other hits:

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&q=florida+appeals+court+media+lies+-gaddy
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 Mar, 2003 05:17 pm
Re: Truth in journalism? Nah...
trespassers will wrote:
and far more importantly--the article does not actually indicate that Fox attempted to force her to air a false report (about cows; go figure). What the article states is that the journalist claimed they had, and that she was fired for refusing to do so.

This is a very difference animal. Now we're talking about "she said, they said"...

She might have been right and the story might have been false based on information she possessed. Her boss might have known that and ordered her to air it anyway.


From the Gaddy article:

Quote:
The court did not dispute the heart of Akre's claim, that Fox pressured her to broadcast a false story to protect the broadcaster from having to defend the truth in court, as well as suffer the ire of irate advertisers.

Fox argued from the first, and failed on three separate occasions, in front of three different judges, to have the case tossed out on the grounds there is no hard, fast, and written rule against deliberate distortion of the news.


In other words, the court agrees that Fox pressured her to broadcast a false story. (About the prevalance of Bovine Growth Hormone.) Fox's own tack was not, "we didn't pressure her", but, "who says we can't pressure her to distort the truth?"

If you come up with something saying it's FALSE, fine. I have an open mind. But my research thus far indicates that it's true.

A couple more links:

http://www.foxbghsuit.com/

http://www.2dca.org/opinion/February%2014,%202003/2D01-529.pdf
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Dartagnan
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 Mar, 2003 05:57 pm
Well, I guess the ball's in your court, tres...
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trespassers will
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 Mar, 2003 11:37 pm
Re: Truth in journalism? Nah...
sozobe wrote:
trespassers will wrote:
and far more importantly--the article does not actually indicate that Fox attempted to force her to air a false report (about cows; go figure). What the article states is that the journalist claimed they had, and that she was fired for refusing to do so.

This is a very difference animal. Now we're talking about "she said, they said"...

She might have been right and the story might have been false based on information she possessed. Her boss might have known that and ordered her to air it anyway.


From the Gaddy article:

Quote:
The court did not dispute the heart of Akre's claim, that Fox pressured her to broadcast a false story to protect the broadcaster from having to defend the truth in court, as well as suffer the ire of irate advertisers.

Fox argued from the first, and failed on three separate occasions, in front of three different judges, to have the case tossed out on the grounds there is no hard, fast, and written rule against deliberate distortion of the news.


In other words, the court agrees that Fox pressured her to broadcast a false story.

No, the author did not write that the court agreed with her claim, he wrote that they did not dispute it. In this context that could easily mean that the court simply didn't consider her claim, since it has no bearing on the case. (While I'm sure you think I'm splitting linguistic hairs here, doing so is the very essence of what both lawyers and journalists do. Lawyers do it to win cases and journalists do it to make something sound worse or better than it is, depending either on their bias or on what they think gives the story a better "hook".)

===

Thanks for the link to the judge's decision. Here's the opening three paragraphs:

Quote:
In December 1996, WTVT hired the appellee, Jane Akre, and her husband, Steve Wilson, as a husband-and-wife investigative reporting team. Shortly after Akre and Wilson arrived at WTVT, they began working on a story about the use of synthetic bovine growth hormone ("BGH") in Florida dairy cattle. Their work on this story led to what could be characterized as an eight-month tug-of-war between the reporters and WTVT's management and lawyers over the content of the story. Each time the station asked Wilson and Akre to provide supporting documentation for statements in the story or to make changes in the content of the story, the reporters accused the station of attempting to distort the story to favor the manufacturer of BGH.

In September 1997, WTVT notified Akre and Wilson that it was exercising its option to terminate their employment contracts without cause. Akre and Wilson responded in writing to WTVT threatening to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission ("FCC") alleging that the station had "illegally" edited the still unfinished BGH report in violation of an FCC policy against federally licensed broadcasters deliberately distorting the news. The parties never resolved their differences regarding the content of the story, and consequently, the story never aired.

In April 1998, Akre and Wilson sued WTVT alleging, among other things, claims under the whistle-blower's statute. Those claims alleged that their terminations had been in retaliation for their resisting WTVT's attempts to distort or suppress the BGH story and for threatening to report the alleged news distortion to the FCC. Akre also brought claims for declaratory relief and for breach of contract. After a four-week trial, a jury found against Wilson on all of his claims. The trial court directed a verdict against Akre on her breach of contract claim, Akre abandoned her claim for declaratory relief, and the trial court let her whistle-blower claims go to the jury. The jury rejected all of Akre's claims except her claim that WTVT retaliated against her in response to her threat to disclose the alleged news distortion to the FCC. The jury awarded Akre $425,000 in damages.

We learn a couple of things here.

1) This was a small Fox affiliate, not FoxNews, so this story has no bearing on the latter or its policies or actions.

2) "Each time the station asked Wilson and Akre to provide supporting documentation for statements in the story or to make changes in the content of the story, the reporters accused the station of attempting to distort the story to favor the manufacturer of BGH." This reads roughly as I suspected. She says they wanted her to lie. They say they simply asked her to document the conclusions she intended to state in her report.

3) If you read the rest of the ruling (it is not terribly long nor terribly complicated) you will find that the only issue this judge considered was whether the plaintiff had a complaint under Florida's "whistle blower" statute. In order for her to have one, she would first have had to be blowing the whistle on something illegal. The judge ruled that she was not, since no law states that the media can't lie (in Florida, anyway).

Here is the most important point: NOWHERE DOES THE JUDGE STATE THAT THE STATION LIED, INTENDED TO LIE, WANTED HER TO LIE, OR FIRED HER FOR FAILING TO LIE. It appears that the judge did not in fact even consider the question of whether or not they wanted her to lie or mislead the public because that wasn't the question upon which the appeal rested. The question was whether a law existed for her to blow the whistle about. It didn't. She couldn't. Case closed.

By the way, digging a little further, I found this in the station's response to the initial lawsuit:

Quote:
15. Admits that review of the scripts began immediately upon receipt, but specifically denies that Plaintiffs cooperated in the pre-broadcast review process, including initially responding to the request for the underlying documentation of the scripts with copies of articles from the popular press, such as The Village Voice and Family Life magazine rather than any scientific data from peer-reviewed journals.
http://www.foxbghsuit.com/complaint.htm#RESPONSE
(You can also read the original complaint on this page.)

This sure puts a different spin on the story, doesn't it? Of course, I can't be sure which side is telling the truth here, but I am inclined to think that if the plaintiffs had in fact offered valid documentation to support their claims they could have shown it in court, right? The more I read about this the more it reads like a couple of biased reporters got canned and tried to sue over it.

==========

But as to our discussion of all this... This story offers us an excellent example of how important it is to check multiple sources and primary sources wherever possible. Journalists do sometimes get it wrong. Other times, they see a story where a little twist will make it more sensational, and they twist it. And I happen to believe that still others will intentionally mislead us to lead us to a conclusion in which they personally believe.

What sweet irony if--as I suspect--the author here was knowingly trying to mislead us in writing a story wherein he claims (wrongly, it seems clear) that Fox went to court to fight for their right to mislead people.

Of course, I'm sure his intentions were nothing but good. Very Happy
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maxsdadeo
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 Mar, 2003 11:47 pm
You are right, tres.

How ironic that a thread dealing with truth in journalism which cites a source which attempts to portray FOX news in a negative light, is actually indicative of a lack of truth in journalism from the aforementioned source.

Ain't that a kick in the head?
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timberlandko
 
  1  
Reply Tue 18 Mar, 2003 12:23 am
Sorry to say, but I rather expected things would turn out pretty much as Tres tracked down. I was chasing it down myself, and apparently down some of the same streets and alleys Tres trecked. I see no point going over pretty much the same stuff he did. Pity ... it was such a nice post. I quoted the judge's decision too. Oh well.
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Tue 18 Mar, 2003 08:56 am
Re: Truth in journalism? Nah...
To get two things out of the way first:

trespassers will wrote:
I can find no independent confirmation of this story. The two citations I found are simply reprints of the Gaddy piece you cited above.


I have to ask, where did you look? I've found a zillion without much effort.

Quote:
the article does not actually indicate that Fox attempted to force her to air a false report (about cows; go figure).


"About cows; go figure" is a misrepresentation of what the story was about. It was about use of Bovine Growth Hormone, a product by Monsanto called PROSILAC, the possible dangers to the cows and humans who drink those cows' milk, and that Florida farmers were using it after promising in the wake of protests in 1994 that they would not use it. (It is unapproved for use in Canada, New Zealand, and most European countries.)

Secondly, as I already pointed out, the article indicated just that; that Fox attempted to force her to air a false report.

OK, now on to the rest of it...

Thanks for going into the judge's decision. I am applying equal-opportunity cynicism to this situation -- I'm suspicious of the Fox reporters, I'm suspicious of the judge, I'm suspicious of everything. Here are the things that make me feel that the judgement was wrong:

1.) The reporters won this case three times previously before it got to this point -- it wasn't a no-brainer.

2.) The emphasis in the decision on the specifics of whether there are laws about distortion of news rather than the content of the claim; details of what the station did or didn't do.

3.) The part about, "Each time the station asked Wilson and Akre to provide supporting documentation for statements in the story or to make changes in the content of the story, the reporters accused the station of attempting to distort the story to favor the manufacturer of BGH." I don't buy it. The part that leaps out at me is "to make changes to the content of the story". The rest is he said/ she said since it evidently was not an actual factor in the decision -- it didn't matter whether they did providing supporting documentation. In their suit, Wilson and Akre say:

Quote:
. After initial review of the PLAINTIFFS' reports, NEW WORLD's agents were sufficiently satisfied with the quality and truthfulness of each and all of them that NEW WORLD purchased, at great expense, commercial air time on local radio stations for the purposes of broadcasting promotional announcements produced by NEW WORLD to alert television viewers that the four-part series would be broadcast on Channel 13 beginning Monday, February 24, 1997.


It's just what they say, I know, but it's the kind of detail that rings true to me. It looks to me like the station was fine with the story, and was even heavily promoting it, until the threatening letter from Monsanto came.

4.) There is a long, ugly history of advertisers and powerful corporations having undue influence. I, personally, believe that this could happen:

Quote:
According to the suit, WTVT originally reviewed the investigative reports and scheduled them to air in four parts beginning February 24, 1997 and had even launched an extensive radio ad campaign to draw attention to the series. But virtually on the eve of the broadcast, [February 21st, the last business day before it was set to air] the station pulled the reports after Monsanto hired a renowned New York attorney to complain to a top official of Channel 13's parent company, Fox television. The attorney's letter was filed with the complaint which is now posted at the web site.


Reasons I think the judgement is right:

1.) The tone of the pro- Akres and Wilson accounts tend toward hyperbole. I'd have liked to see a completely dispassionate laying out of the facts.

2.) On the narrow whistle-blower issue, it looks like the judge is right if no laws were broken.

Finally, and most importantly, the details of this case aside, the judge winds up by saying that in Florida, the FCC policy against news distortion "is not a 'law, rule or regulation'". That means the headline of the article I posted to begin with, and the core of my distress, is accurate. It may be a "well, duh" situation for some, but it's new to me that there are no laws against deliberate falsification of news.

The judge is saying that if the FCC policy were a law, she would be able to make a whistleblower case. It's not. That sucks.

This is evidently going to the Florida Supreme Court, and I'll be interested in what they say, there.
0 Replies
 
maxsdadeo
 
  1  
Reply Tue 18 Mar, 2003 09:21 am
sozobe: I am also suspicious of BGH!!

How is the fund raising going?
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timberlandko
 
  1  
Reply Tue 18 Mar, 2003 09:28 am
It does suck, Soz. BGH is an issue here in The Dairy State, as well you might imagine. All the herds around here are "Certified BGH Free", BTW.
News outlests, FOX or otherwise, seem to have less regulation, and a lot less critical examinaton.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Tue 18 Mar, 2003 09:30 am
Hiya maxsdadeo, fundraising's, well, going. I should post there with some updates. Thanks for asking!

Timber, yeah, I didn't know that but I'm not surprised. Cool.
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