Appellate Court Rules Media Can Legally Lie
March 7, 2003 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Appellate Court Rules Media Can Legally Lie. "The attorneys for Fox . . . argued the First Amendment gives broadcasters the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on the public airwaves." And they won. Learn about the alleged deception (regarding BGH in milk). Read the appellate court's opinion which essentially says that there's no law against lying.
posted by vraxoin (32 comments total)
Fox News. We ReportDistort, You Decide.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:18 AM on March 7, 2003

Somehow I'm not surprised that FOX news was the station involved in this.
posted by Espoo2 at 11:26 AM on March 7, 2003

What always scares the holy hell out of me is how much blind faith most of the public puts in TV news in general. Think for yourself, before it's too late.
posted by mark13 at 11:27 AM on March 7, 2003

Rupert Murdoch. What a guy.
posted by squealy at 11:28 AM on March 7, 2003

"Fox aired a report after the ruling saying it was "totally vindicated" by the verdict."

This was a vindication of journalistic deception and distortion for all.
posted by 2sheets at 11:28 AM on March 7, 2003

Think for yourself, before it's too late.

Whatever you say!

*awaits further instructions*
posted by Skot at 11:29 AM on March 7, 2003

?? I don't mean to be snarky (well, okay, yes I do), but how is this even a story? "Court rules that free speech implies freedom of speech".
posted by Shadowkeeper at 11:32 AM on March 7, 2003

Except the site lies just as much. It's trying to blur the difference between FOX News and the Fox News Department of Channel 13 in Tampa. Which isn't owned by Murdock, but owned by New World Communications of Tampa, INC. There is a clear difference. I don't think the real Fox News would of let the reporters get as much infomration as they did.
posted by jmauro at 11:36 AM on March 7, 2003

Pravda, indeed.
posted by four panels at 11:37 AM on March 7, 2003

" Florida Appeals court ruled there is absolutely nothing illegal about lying, concealing or distorting information by a major press organization."

That's not what this judgement says at all. It says that the whistle blower's law does not apply to the FCC's news distortion policy because the policy was never formally adopted as a rule, as required for the whistleblower law to apply.

This is a purely technical ruling, it doesn't authorize anyone to lie. There has never been any finding at any point in the process that Fox 'lied' by changing or airing the report.

The original ruling in the case actually rejected ALL the plaintiffs's claims except that the as fired in retaliation for protesting changes to her work on the BGH report to the FCC.

Vraxoin, did you read this verdict at all?

That article is false, and a fantasy. I guess lying is OK after all - if it tells you what you want to hear and confirms what you already 'knew'.
posted by Jos Bleau at 11:38 AM on March 7, 2003

Shadowkeeper, it's snarky because you already know why that's an incorrect statement. Insert libel-slash-fire-in-crowded-theater-argument here.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:38 AM on March 7, 2003

Well sure. But "libel-slash-fire-in-crowded-theater-argument' notwithstanding, it's certainly not illegal for the press to distort or flat-out-lie -- if it were, then every reporter in American claiming that Bush "hasn't yet made up his mind" on Iraq would be in an orange jumpsuit. Hell, if distortion were illegal (and if you could hammer out a legal definition of "distortion," which would be more or less impossible) no paper would last a week, as even the most objective of news sources have to "spin" a story one way or another and decide which elements to include or omit.
posted by Shadowkeeper at 12:00 PM on March 7, 2003

Fair and Balanced?
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 12:01 PM on March 7, 2003

Don't know how true it is, but I found this which was written back in August Check out the line that says New World Communications is owned by Fox Television Stations Inc. So it would seem that the local Fox channel in Tampa and Fox stations Inc. are on in the same, at least in this case.
posted by whirlwind29 at 12:16 PM on March 7, 2003

Vraxoin, did you read this verdict at all?

I did. And while what you're saying is true, it's not the point. Obviously the plaintiffs believed that the law applied or they wouldn't have made the case. That the court disagreed with them is, in my estimation, more a function of the court's extremely conservative politics than it is a comment on application of the law. You're free to disagree.

I think you're being deliberately obtuse here, though. The point is not whether the decision was based on a sound interpretation of the law, but rather the fact that the defense lawyers argued on the basis that there is no law against news media deliberately distorting the truth, so they shouldn't be punished for it. And when they won on that basis, they said they felt "totally vindicated." The question was not whether or not they'd forced the reporter to lie; that was never in dispute. The only question was whether or not they should be taken to task for it. Are you telling me you can't see the irony in a news outlet fighting for its right to be dishonest?
posted by vraxoin at 12:36 PM on March 7, 2003

Looking on the bright side, anyone who calls a news organisation "a bunch of liars" probably has a good defence against slander and/or libel --- they may be completely correct :)
posted by kaemaril at 12:53 PM on March 7, 2003

"?? I don't mean to be snarky (well, okay, yes I do), but how is this even a story? "Court rules that free speech implies freedom of speech".
posted by Shadowkeeper at 11:32 AM PST on March 7"

Shadowkeeper - how about the final, last knife twists in the gutting of the once mighty "Fairness Doctrine"?

Think of it this way: bandwidth is really a public domain good, and it used once believed - prior to the "Reagan Revolution" - that the right to use the public airspace (by private broadcasters) camew with certain responsibilites: such as the requirement that news media attempt "balanced" coverage - the "Fairness Doctrine". Now you can argue what "balanced" is, but the doctrine did have some success in curbing some of the worst cases of media distortion. No more.

On the other hand.......maybe this laissez-faire trend will continue and we'll get Real, live gladitorial combat to death! on Fox in a few years. I can't wait.
posted by troutfishing at 12:55 PM on March 7, 2003

This is a part of employment law, not anything else.

Plaintiff sued for monetary damages under the whitleblowers act - specifically, that termination for threatening to report the station was a violation of the act for which compensation was due. They won at trial. But that's all they won. Every other count brought by the palintiff were dismissed.

Damages due to wrongful termination.

Wrongful termination, as in employment law.

Reversed at appellate due to a technicallity in the wording of the whistleblower act/FCC regs.

How does this turn into "Appellate Court Rules Media Can Legally Lie"? As you answered, it doesn't.

Defense lawyers, like plaintiff lawyers, will say whatever they feel they can get away with to win their case. That's their.

The issue of reportorial/media honesty was never a part of the appellate case. The issue addressed was soley whether a company can screw over it's employees, which just about every media (and non-media) company does all the time.

Listen, I'm not defending Fox or their employement practices, but if you are going to post "Appellate Court Rules Media Can Legally Lie" then the case better damn well be about that.

Anything else is dishonest. Good for you there's no law that says you can't lie on MeFi.
posted by Jos Bleau at 1:11 PM on March 7, 2003

Um, vrazoin, there is some important language in the court's opinion that undercuts your claim that Fox's lawyer's won on the basis that "there is no law against news media deliberately distorting the truth." That is not correct.

The FCC does prohibit lying, deliberate distortion and falsification. As the judgment clearly states (bottom of page 4): In a series of opinions issued in licensing proceedings between 1969 and 1973 the FCC stated that when considering the status of a broadcaster's license, it would take into consideration proven instances of "deliberate news distortion" . . . .

Fox won because this is a policy, not an adopted rule. If it were an adopted rule, then the plaintiff could sue under the whistleblower statute and her judgment would have been affirmed. But it's just a policy and the Florida whistleblower statute does not apply.

Just because it's a policy, though, it doesn't mean that the media can "legally lie" as your post claims. The FCC can still take a broadcaster's license away for deliberate news distortion.
posted by lawtalkinguy at 1:12 PM on March 7, 2003

Yeah, Nixon secretly threatened to remove some station's licenses during the whole Watergate thing because they were "distorting the truth."

Print and Internet media are still free to lie.
posted by phantroll at 1:18 PM on March 7, 2003

I think you're being deliberately obtuse here, though. The point is not whether the decision was based on a sound interpretation of the law, but rather the fact that the defense lawyers argued on the basis that there is no law against news media deliberately distorting the truth, so they shouldn't be punished for it.

Who's being deliberately obtuse? The court ruled, that the Plaintiffs had not substantially proven that Fox had violated whistleblower's laws because the cited "law" was actually a series of FCC opinions that were never actually adopted as policy, law or rule and thus did not fit the letter of Florida Statutes which clearly define these terms. I'm not sure how the Court's political slant fits into whether or not an opinion can be defined as a law.

It is not the Court's job to determine if a law will be harmful or helpful, it is simply to determine whether a law has been broken or upheld. According to the Court's opinion, the Whistleblower's law was not violated, because Fox was not attempting to break the policy the Plaintiff cited. Had the Plaintiff cited another law or policy and proven that Fox coerced or forced the Plaintiff to break that law then they might not have had their case thrown out. Call that deliberately obtuse or not, but it isn't the Court's job to decide if Fox violated all laws or social mores, just the law they were being sued for.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:23 PM on March 7, 2003

I'm sure you're right, guys. I'm not a lawyer. The reason I posted the article wasn't to debate the fairness of the apellate court decision. Rather, I simply found it amusing that the Fox lawyers found themselves defending this claim in the manner that they did. They didn't say, "This woman is full of crap--we never asked her to lie." They said, "Of course we asked her to lie--why is that a problem?" If you don't think that's interesting or unusual then I'm sorry to have wasted your time.

Although if it's only a policy and not a law, then aren't you saying that it is in fact legal for the media to lie? Doesn't legal mean "not prohibited by law?" And if there is no law against the media distorting the truth but rather just a policy, then isn't it, in fact, legal for the media to lie?

I'll say no more on the subject, lest I be confused of policing the thread...
posted by vraxoin at 1:48 PM on March 7, 2003

confused = accused
posted by vraxoin at 1:49 PM on March 7, 2003

more a function of the court's extremely conservative politics than it is a comment on application of the law. You're free to disagree.

It sounds like the court did not even reach the issue regarding Fox's ability or inability to lie. The court merely ruled that one law does not apply toward another and on it's own ability to make a decision. While the ultimate effect to Fox is off the hook, the idea that court did this because they are conservative or agree with Fox is born of an ignorance about a court's decision making process. The court apparently never even reached the merits of the issue, let along used "extremely conservative politics" to make a decision. In light of what I said and what Jos Bleau sad Eldred v. Ashcroft (and even Bush v. Gore) should be better understood. I know it seems strange, but the effects of a court’s decision is sometimes completely divorced from why the decision was made.
posted by Bag Man at 1:50 PM on March 7, 2003

vraxoin, I found the article very interesting. This case clearly demonstrates that not only does the media lie to the public, but they feel that it's acceptable to do.

Personally, I have a problem with this, given the fashion in which the airwaves are divvied up. Broadcasters are, allegedly, providing a public service. I have a very hard time reconciling that mission with a policy that involves purposeful distortion.

I'm not saying it's illegal; I'm saying it's wrong.
posted by mosch at 2:37 PM on March 7, 2003

Just another view of the story.
posted by whirlwind29 at 3:11 PM on March 7, 2003

It would seem self-evident that in a nation with a First Amendment protecting free speech absolutely, that the media -- or anyone else -- can lie as a basic inherent right, barring specific overriding state and/or public interests otherwise. In fact, the onus should be on the government to prove a compelling interest in regulating speech. The idea here is whether the whistle-blower law applies as an enforcement mechanism for such a compelling interest; the court's ruling suggests that they don't believe the FCC, as regulator of record, has treated the issue with that level of importance.

Ultimately, I'm not sure this is that much different from the business with Dateline juicing its demonstration of pickup fires by making sure they caught on fire on camera, using an ignition device.
posted by dhartung at 5:47 PM on March 7, 2003

Dhartung - If the media can lie (using public bandwidth as their medium) as a basic right.......can they beam microwaves through our (yours and mine) testicles for a buck? Is the propagation of energy waves through the air - for great distances - equivalent to speech? And if so, shall we now communicate through focused plutonium particle beams?>
posted by troutfishing at 9:47 PM on March 7, 2003

It would be interesting to see if she ever did file a complaint with the FCC and what the results of that investigation, if any, were.
posted by dejah420 at 9:51 PM on March 7, 2003

Dhartung: There are different interests at work when the FOX is using radio frequencies they've licensed from the government. The First Amendment is balanced against the compelling interest in having the limited frequencies used in a way that benefits society. And since lying is probably not core political speech, I doubt there would be any serious argument against an FCC rule or policy proscribing such speech.

OTOH, this case just seemed to turn the definition of the term "rule." It doesn't say that broadcasters can lie -- and FCC policy seems to indicate that lying can affect licensure -- but it does indicate that broadcasters can fire employees who are pissed off about the lying....
posted by subgenius at 11:36 AM on March 8, 2003

If we guarantee freedom of the press, we do that for a reason: that the press performs the crucial role in a republic of informing the electorate about important matters.

Lying to your viewers, or distorting the truth, is clearly not fulfilling that role.

By this reasoning, it doesn't seem to me that there's any reason to protect freedom of the press if there is no responsibility of the press to tell the truth. Might as well just take that part out of the bill of rights, as it would save money, space, et cetera.
posted by Hildago at 2:18 PM on March 8, 2003

Ugh. It's pretty obvious by now that the author of this thread didn't understand the case when he posted, so let's all learn a valuable lesson here: Don't trust a source with "An Internet Publication for Real Americans" as their tagline. I mean, WTF are "Real Americans?"

One does boggle at exactly what an anti-lying law that doesn't violate the letter and spirit of the First Amendment would look like, though.
posted by Skwirl at 12:58 AM on March 10, 2003

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