Keith Olbermann does a segment on “Countdown” called “the Worst Person in the World.” Bill O’Reilly (bloviating Bill) holds pride of place—he has won that dubious honor more than anyone else.
That’s not a surprise, since O’Reilly’s network is Fox (“Fair and Balanced”) News. I’m not going to pick on O’Reilly here, except to note that thinking people tend to define him as falling into one of two categories: nuts or Machiavellian. (In the latter category, I recently ran across an academic article comparing Nazi propaganda methodology with O’Reilly’s nightly newscast, and finding an uncanny similarity).
No, I want to shift the focus slightly, to the network that employs Bill O.
It seems that in late 1996, a reporter couple was hired by Fox to do an investigative journalism series. Their first story involved health risks from bovine growth hormone, or BGH, and the efforts of supermarket chains to cover up those risks. As a condition of running the program, Fox demanded that they use statements from Monsanto—manufacturer of BGH—that the reporters knew to be false, and to make other changes in direct conflict with the facts as they had found them. When they refused to falsify the story, and threatened to contact the FCC, Fox fired them, and they sued.
Although the reporters won at the trial court level, the appeals court overturned the verdict. Why?
The reporters were claiming that their termination was wrongful because it violated a whistleblower protection law. The appeals court accepted Fox’s argument that: 1) the law only protected people who were reporting ILLEGAL conduct; and 2) there are no laws against distorting the news.
Think about that. Fox’s lawyers argued in official court filings that, under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie, or deliberately distort news reported on the public airwaves. They didn’t argue that the reporters were wrong, or that their original story was unbalanced or incorrect. They argued that they had a legal right to lie to the public.
Now, as a matter of law, the First Amendment probably does protect them. And in a litigious society, we probably don’t want courts deciding matters of editorial judgment. So I can understand the court’s decision.
What I find amazing is that Fox would file pleadings that constituted a brazen admission that the network distorts the news.
What I find disheartening is that this case is from 2000, and people continue to watch—and presumably trust—Fox News. Or maybe they just trust Fox to reinforce their existing prejudices.
It really is a perfect place for someone like Bill O to work.
(CROSSPOSTED AT AMERICAN VALUES ALLIANCE)