Hobson's choice, Dobson's choice... what's the difference?!
March 19, 2009 12:21 AM   Subscribe

FoxNews copy-n-pastes Focus on the Family propaganda as news. Longtime MeFi user owillis caught the fact that FoxNews took the press release of a supposedly independent student pro-life group called Live Action/Live Action Films and essentially reprinted it verbatim. Bad journalism, sure... but how does this little student group afford to send its people across the country to try to entrap Planned Parenthood workers, and how do they get big-name attention on FoxNews and other major conservative media sources? Well, it turns out that Live Action was rather quietly founded by Stephen Reed, who is a key surrogate of James Dobson/ Focus on the Family/ the Family Research Council... and the media sources in question have close ties to Dobson and a longstanding history of parroting his talking points.
posted by markkraft (42 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
From Armstrong Williams to Jeff Gannon/Guckert to Judith Miller to this, it is only by lying, cheating, and deceiving that Republicans can con the public with such relative impunity.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:30 AM on March 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's Republican copypasta. Two fifteen year old girls entered my abortion clinic this morning and said their 27 year old boyfriends knocked them up. Why, I was so disgusted that I left the center in a huff, an absolute huff. I whistled for a cab and when it came near the license plate said NRA4EVR and it had Reagan in the mirror, if anything I could say that this cab was fresh, but I thought 'nah, forget it' - 'Yo home to Bel Air'. I pull up to the house about 7 or 8 and I yelled to the cabbie "Go back to your own country, terrorist!' I looked at my kingdom I was finally there to sit on my throne as the Prince of Bel Air.
posted by stavrogin at 4:04 AM on March 19, 2009 [17 favorites]


...lying, cheating, and deceiving that Republicans can con the public with such relative impunity.

And it's only by co-opting the public sphere that they can do the deceiving. Run by corporations with anyone outside that system derided as a pajamas-wearing nobody. And if you don't utter the conservative shibboleths (mainly god, guns, gays and taxes, not in that order) you Aren't Serious or possible Are Unpatriotic.
posted by DU at 5:06 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maybe they didn't report it because they knew these "undercover" women weren't really juveniles? Maybe they discovered that they weren't really pregnant? And since they aren't police conducting a sting, how could anyone claim a law was broken?

And when Planned Parenthood does report these instances, and it is discovered that it was all a fabrication, why aren't Live Action punished for breaking the law?
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 5:48 AM on March 19, 2009


I am shocked...shocked that Fox News would be involved in anything like this.
posted by Jimbob at 5:57 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


They're just guys they know from the neighborhood.
posted by Hovercraft Eel at 6:00 AM on March 19, 2009


Rare. "This cab was rare."
posted by grubi at 6:09 AM on March 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


0xdeadc0de And when Planned Parenthood does report these instances, and it is discovered that it was all a fabrication, why aren't Live Action punished for breaking the law?
Because of dangerously wide readings of the First Amendment. The First Amendment has been held to not protect commercial fraud and false advertising, libel and slander, incitement to violence and yelling "FIRE" in a crowded theatre. It is more than past time that it cease to protect fraudulent political speech, by which I mean speech intended to persuade, convince or inform members of the public, where the speaker is aware, or ought reasonably to be aware, that the statement is substantially misleading or false.

Really it's just false advertising, only they're advertising Republican politicians instead of instant hair-restorer. The "commercial gain" aspect is clearly there, just indirectly linked through a network of mutual back-scratching and patronage.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:10 AM on March 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


grubi, I noticed that right when I hit post.
posted by stavrogin at 6:12 AM on March 19, 2009


I'm always extremely wary of attempts to limit speech, but I have to at least partly agree with aeschenkarnos.
posted by DU at 6:24 AM on March 19, 2009


I'm going down to Planned Parenthood RIGHT NOW to report that Shepard Smith got me pregnant.

Just because I'm a guy with a beard doesn't mean they shouldn't report it.
posted by Hammond Rye at 6:43 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sadly, company (and government) produced reports have been passed off as news before, but there was more outcry, possibly because video clips produced by other agencies were stuck into local newscasts as if nothing were out of place. This is more of Fox being a lazy shill for Live Action. If they didn't copy it word for word and simply retyped it, would we notice? Would it be better?
posted by filthy light thief at 6:46 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


TONIGHT! On Ammmmmerrr'can I...oh wait, I'm confused. Or, wait, I'm confused.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:01 AM on March 19, 2009


I am certainly no fan of Fox News, and what that group did was certainly ethically questionable. But in terms of the way the press release was used, I don't see much problem there. This sort of thing (reuse of press release material with minor edits) happens pretty frequently at media orgs of many stripes. It means the reporter was a bit lazy, but I can be as well.

That said, "Like kryptonite for stupid" is an awesome tagline.
posted by waraw at 7:11 AM on March 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


It is more than past time that it cease to protect fraudulent political speech, by which I mean speech intended to persuade, convince or inform members of the public, where the speaker is aware, or ought reasonably to be aware, that the statement is substantially misleading or false

All speech is intended to persuade, convince or inform members of the public. What constitutes as fraudulent speech is often a matter of political or personal opinion. And I'd think twice if I were you before pissing all over the Constitution just because of the shenanigans of the clowns from Fox News or elsewhere.

If you crack down on them, then what are you going to do when they come after your own "fraudulent" speech? You fight fraudulent speech with sensible speech. You expose the liars, the cheats, the crazies and the idiots for what they are. But you don't curtail the First Amendment just because you disagree with what they're saying.
posted by TBoneMcCool at 7:40 AM on March 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


That said, "Like kryptonite for stupid" is an awesome tagline.

Funny, I've visited his site for years, sporadically, and he's gotten a lot of crap for that tagline. I'm not a fan either. Sounds like a 12 year old came up with it.

/off topic
posted by Dennis Murphy at 7:53 AM on March 19, 2009


FOX NEWS IN OBVIOUS CONSERVATIVE BIAS SHOCKER
posted by Legomancer at 8:05 AM on March 19, 2009


Shep Smith mocks Glen Beck on Fox News.
SMITH: Do you even understand this Glenn Beck Friday? Because I really don't.
WALLACE: Well, I do, and what pains me--and you know, Shep, how highly I respect you--is you seem upset by Glenn Beck Friday.
SMITH: Upset?!
WALLACE: I mean, Glenn is a meteor here at Fox News--
SMITH: He is the greatest star of all time!
WALLACE: And you should be happy for his success--
SMITH: I am here to worship him.
WALLACE: --and you seem to be begrudging--you're begrudging him his success.
"Comrade Smith, your lack of enthusiasm for the glorious work of Comrade Beck has been noted."
posted by octobersurprise at 8:29 AM on March 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


It is more than past time that it cease to protect fraudulent political speech, by which I mean speech intended to persuade, convince or inform members of the public, where the speaker is aware, or ought reasonably to be aware, that the statement is substantially misleading or false.

In my opinion the danger of this is that it would bring in a lot of inherent conflicts of interest in enforcement. If a certain State's Attorney is a member of the majority political part, what's stopping them from coming down hard on political speech of other political parties while being more lenient with their own party?

Once you start charging people for political speech, even misleading and false political speech, you step closer to the kind of atmosphere where dissenting political voices are silenced by the ruling government. Political speech is the most important kind of speech to protect, because silencing it gives the govenment power to limit any other right it sees fit without fear of being called out for it.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:37 AM on March 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


It is more than past time that it cease to protect fraudulent political speech, by which I mean speech intended to persuade

lolwut? No need to trample the first amendment.

They lied to a doctor, who would have (should have?) involved the police and social services. Crying wolf over fictitious crimes itself a very serious crime. And, of course, by lying in this manner they serve to undermine the credibility of those who report real instances of rape. By attempting to embarrass Planned Parenthood, they are making it more difficult to prosecute the actual crime they have made a prop of in their political theater.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 8:43 AM on March 19, 2009


I love the smell of kryptonite in the morning.
posted by homunculus at 9:35 AM on March 19, 2009


If NPR had pulled this kind of shit on the NRA, the Fox message board would be demanding blood. I'm just saying.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:42 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


And when Planned Parenthood does report these instances, and it is discovered that it was all a fabrication, why aren't Live Action punished for breaking the law?

I would be interested to see the result of one of these women being taken seriously enough for the actual police report to be made. Who gets in trouble? The PP employees for taking some woman's story seriously and acting on it according to the law, and inadvertently filing a false report? The Live Action members for providing false information?

It seems the best thing that could happen would be for PP to send out a letter to all its agencies outlining the strategies being used by Live Action and simply nip the entire sting operation in the bud. You can't get burned if you know where the fire is.
posted by hippybear at 9:47 AM on March 19, 2009


What constitutes as fraudulent speech is often a matter of political or personal opinion.

Okay, granted there are gray areas. But just as significantly, there are black and white areas. We've been talking endlessly about the gray areas for a few decades now, but it might be time to start talking about the black and white areas again.

What's so inherently challenging about at least regulating those cases in which specific concrete facts (dates, times, people, places, events, dollar amounts, statistics, etc.) are clearly misrepresented in "news" reporting? Also, why should it be so hard to require all licensed broadcasters to devote at least a certain number of program hours to reporting only factual news content--no analysis, no opinions, just straight-forward reporting on hard news stories substantiated by multiple, non-conflicted sources? At least that way we'd know what part of the programming is supposed to be credible information and not mere infotainment or someone peddling a point of view.

Sure, certain kinds of selection bias would always still pose challenges (i.e., it would be difficult if not impossible to prevent broadcasters from letting bias influence their decisions about what news it did or didn't report), but it might be possible to at least frame a regulatory scheme that would make it harder for news media outlets to pass off questionable PR content (in the form of new independent "studies" and "reports" produced by ideologically-motivated front groups and think-tanks, for example) as credible, substantiated news. That's the real problem. As PR techniques have gotten to be more sophisticated, would-be issue spinners have learned to succeed by making it easier (and cheaper) to report their preferred version of the story than the real story. And with virtually every news media operation scrambling to cut costs, it's an easy sell.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:01 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think Fox researched the law any better than the folks at Live Action. It looks to me like the reporting statute was not violated. The Arizona criminal statute regarding the duty to report the abuse of a minor (13-3620(B)) provides that a report is not required when the offense is statutory rape (13-1405) with a 14 through 17 year-old and the sex appears to be consensual. Here the would-be entrappers said they were 15 and that the 27 year-old father was a "boyfriend." No allegation of non-consensual sex.
posted by SugarFreeGum at 10:31 AM on March 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


why should it be so hard to require all licensed broadcasters to devote at least a certain number of program hours to reporting only factual news content--no analysis, no opinions, just straight-forward reporting on hard news stories substantiated by multiple, non-conflicted sources?
Because both sides are afraid of the truth being told.
posted by mephron at 10:44 AM on March 19, 2009


Also, why should it be so hard to require all licensed broadcasters to devote at least a certain number of program hours to reporting only factual news content--no analysis, no opinions, just straight-forward reporting on hard news stories substantiated by multiple, non-conflicted sources?

The FCC tried doing that for educational children's programming and it largely failed in having an impact on content. Television broadcasters exist in order to make money, and by extension every hour of programming needs to generate as much profit as possible. If "factual news content" tends to get lower ratings (and I expect it does) then that means it also generates less advertising revenue, which will have a direct impact on the broadcaster's bottom line. If the public doesn't support a certain kind of news reporting in the form of ratings and/or donations, it would be very difficult for the government to mandate it.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:00 AM on March 19, 2009


Politicians, Corporations, Lobbyists and Governments have little interest in having real news. A majority of news stories are crafted to influence/reinforce the opinion of the people viewing..and all for personal gain.

Takes a lot of effort to sift through most of the crap that's out there to get any semblance of truth
posted by TMcGregor at 11:17 AM on March 19, 2009


Because both sides are afraid of the truth being told

And that, your honour, is part of the problem. What we are led to believe is the leading model for democracy - the US - and you only ever get to chose between a very right wing party and (by global standards) and right of centre party.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:50 AM on March 19, 2009


What we are led to believe is the leading model for democracy - the US - and you only ever get to chose between a very right wing party and (by global standards) and right of centre party.

It's worse than that. Democracy requires having a fully-informed electorate in order to function properly. Without transparency and truth, all we are is a manipulated mass doing the bidding of those who control the channels of communication.
posted by hippybear at 12:00 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


What's so inherently challenging about at least regulating those cases in which specific concrete facts (dates, times, people, places, events, dollar amounts, statistics, etc.) are clearly misrepresented in "news" reporting?

What's challenging is that the people controlling that regulatory process would not have to be right in order to win. It's not about whether you can conclusively and objectively prove that 2+2=4, it's whether you'd risk proving it knowing you'd be subject to a lengthy legal process from the powerful 5 lobby.
posted by Riki tiki at 2:13 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


"It is more than past time that it cease to protect fraudulent political speech, by which I mean speech intended to persuade, convince or inform members of the public, where the speaker is aware, or ought reasonably to be aware, that the statement is substantially misleading or false."
I'm with you in spirit, but there's no way to prove intent.
In the past though you did have requirements for news, plus the fairness doctrine, so the networks just wrote it off as the cost of doing business and put on a news show for an hour or 1/2 hour or whatever. Obama says he's for net neutrality, expansion of public broadcasting and media ownership caps, which makes huge amounts of sense. But he opposes fairness. I guess on the basis of greater diversity than pro/con or GOP/Dem. Doesn't make my head 'asplode, but I do get a headache from it.
On top of that equal time for an opposition viewpoint doesn't apply to straight objective news (e.g. car accident today on I-90 or a fire or some such).
So if this thing came out with all the greasy fingerprints it has all over it, it would be debunked as straight news pretty quickly, not to mention the folks looking for rebuttal time to contest the 'facts.'
But as it is today it's a big morass. Talked to a neighbor of mine that watches Fox, she had a spooked out look in her eyes. Me, I read the backs of peanut packets if I've got nothing else. But a lot of folks aren't inclined, or don't have the time, to get their own backs on getting solid information.
One can liken it to keeping an eye on what they put in food. No one is saying we can't have different flavors, colors, etc. But you can't label something as 'beans' and fill it full of clock springs and acid. it's just no damn good for people.
So I think a healthy diet of truth would do us a lot of good. And, as said, it's necessary to a democracy.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:27 PM on March 19, 2009


Let me give you an example of how complicated this healthy-diet-of-truth just-the-facts reporting actually is:

According to the U.S. State Department, a U.S. missile strike in the frontier region in Pakistan kills seven suspected terrorists. According to villagers in Pakistan, the missile strike killed 34 innocent civilians, including 25 women and children. So who's telling the truth? The U.S.? The villagers? Which side do you report as "the facts"? The U.S. side? the Pakistanis' side? Both sides?

Or try this one: According to the New York Police department an officer, fearing for his life, opened fire on a what he thought was an armed assailant in the Bronx. According to neighborhood witnesses, the officer, unprovoked, drew his weapon and fired on an innocent unarmed man who was walking home from work to be with his family. Whose side to you believe, and whose side do you report? What if you report both sides of this story and the police department sues you under newly enacted "just the facts" journalism restrictions for reporting the "lies" of the neighborhood witnesses? What if the neighborhood activists sue you for reporting the "lies" of the police department? What if you report both and both sides sue you under these hypothetical new laws?

The whole idea that "just the facts" journalism is going to save us from the manipulation of bad people is naive at best, and dangerous when you start chipping away at the First Amendment. The "facts" can lie just as easily as commentary. The best we can do is have a free and full public airing of facts and ideas and decide for ourselves what the facts are. The idea of limiting news to "just the facts" is just one more way of silencing our critics, which is not the way we do things in America.
posted by TBoneMcCool at 4:13 PM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


What's challenging is that the people controlling that regulatory process would not have to be right in order to win. It's not about whether you can conclusively and objectively prove that 2+2=4, it's whether you'd risk proving it knowing you'd be subject to a lengthy legal process from the powerful 5 lobby.

"Right = Win" is what I think conservatives mean when they talk about liberal bias in the media. The idea that you should sit down and have two people talk about something then someone will know who was right. The fact of the matter is that we in the US don't live in a meritocracy, we live in a democracy. (Or a representative parliamentary thing with an executive of disturbingly variable power, for you picky folks). It doesn't matter how well anybody can prove that, say, more condoms means less AIDS, unless the majority of people find that to be a convincing argument (based not completely on fact no matter how you swing it), when they go to the voting booth.

Honestly, although I disagree with right-wingers on virtually everything else, I really think they have a point in this regard. I just don't believe that human beings are capable of rational action through enlightened self interest. No matter who you are, everybody has a bias, and (I think) everyone wholeheartedly believes at least one thing that is completely, ludicrously, false. Rational self interest bringing about the greatest good is one of the things that capitalism was supposed to buy us, right? How did Wall Street, which was ideally supposed to choose the smartest people to make the best choices, work out? You just cannot build a system which is based around doing the "provably right" thing if humans are involved. In under a day two of them will have a fundamental life-or-death disagreement on what that "right" thing is. So the best you can do is have free speech, free assembly, representative government, and try to keep the brutality to a minimum. You will never have to be right in order to win.
posted by SomeOneElse at 5:35 PM on March 19, 2009


It's not a free speech issue. It's a banning lying issue.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:43 PM on March 19, 2009


Funny, I've visited his site for years, sporadically, and he's gotten a lot of crap for that tagline. I'm not a fan either. Sounds like a 12 year old came up with it.

Oh come on, my slogan is at least at the 14 year old level.
posted by owillis at 6:52 PM on March 19, 2009


By the way, the only thing worse than Fox News peddling b.s. on the air is the government monitoring the content of said b.s. and regulating it for truthiness.
posted by owillis at 6:54 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


why should it be so hard to require all licensed broadcasters to devote at least a certain number of program hours to reporting only factual news content--no analysis, no opinions, just straight-forward reporting on hard news stories substantiated by multiple, non-conflicted sources?

This is why Canada needs the CBC. I don't actually give a damn about the entertainment programming, although they've certainly done a lot of good original programming in the past. But the news side of it was always superlative: they were never afraid to give hell to the government of the day.

Much the same could be said of the old BBC, Voice of America, and I believe Australia and NZ would have had their own tax-payer funded, public investigative reporting channels. I suspect France and a few other nations have also had good public news organizations.

The trick is that public broadcasters need to be funded in a manner that prevents the government-of-the-day from making them beholden. And staffed in a manner that prevents the government-of-the-day from stacking the deck.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:11 PM on March 19, 2009


A nice video about food security.

I note that it's almost the polar opposite of what's going on in North America. Here, we're corporatizing farms and forcing small farmers to shut down, by burdening them with unnecessary regulation. And increasing our dependence on largely unhealthy prepared foods.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:32 PM on March 19, 2009


Shep Smith mocks Glen Beck on Fox News.

That is hilarious, a real Claude Rains in Casablanca moment.
posted by afu at 9:07 PM on March 19, 2009


"The idea of limiting news to "just the facts" is just one more way of silencing our critics, which is not the way we do things in America."

Attribution. State department said: 'x' Pakistani officials said 'y.' Hopefully you've got a foreign correspondent out there to get the skinny. But if not, you're not going to be sued for printing 'lies' because it's not lies, you're not saying "This is what it is," you're saying what people said.
So yeah, print both.

Now if the 'neighbors' all turn out to be gang members, relations of the guy who was shot, something like that, that would be analogous to what happened here. There's an incestuous relationship going on. So there's bias.
Ask some group of Janes and Joes what they saw on a particular streetcorner it might not be accurate, but they're going to give an honest opinion generally because they're not involved.
But if you go around hand selecting family members of the guy who got shot, that'd be a pretty solid reason to go after someone, yeah.
Joe Reporter would probably rule out what the guys sister said at the scene, unless it jibbed with what everyone else was saying. If she says the cop just jumped out and blazed away, and 10-20 other people who have no connection say the same thing, that's probably going to lead to a pretty big story. If she says it and 20 other people say the guy fired at the cop first, nada. The reporter might blow it if he interviews the guys cousin who might have a different name, and he forgets to ask if the cousin knows the guy because it's chaotic.
But that's not a matter of degree, it's an entirely different order of mistake.

It's not like it's hard not to deliberately fabricate something. You don't just trip and whoops, I accidentally published - verbatim - a press release by a group I know is a front because I know the guy who they're fronting for. It's obvious they're trying to fool us here.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:10 PM on March 19, 2009


The whole idea that "just the facts" journalism is going to save us from the manipulation of bad people is naive at best, and dangerous when you start chipping away at the First Amendment.

Broadcasting on the public airways should not be a first amendment issue. Throughout American history, it hasn't been considered as falling under first amendment protection because broadcasters make use of the public airwaves. So to characterize imposing restrictions on broadcast speech as "chipping away at the First Amendment" gets it exactly backwards.

Look, we had it happen not too long ago in our area that one of the networks dropped news coverage completely. Around the same time, our state had a record hurricane season. This particular station carried no coverage of local disaster response, emergency information, etc. Now imagine if we had been relying on that one station for information on a local hurricane impact. Broadcasters are supposed to fulfill minimal public interest obligations first, and then, after they meet those obligations, they're free to try to make a profit in their spare time. If they can't do both, they haven't got the right business model or the right marketing team, and they're in the wrong industry.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:35 PM on March 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


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