The Right To Lie

This story sounds like the plot for a really bad movie – but it’s true.  FOX News – that bastion of integrity [/snark] – just won a lawsuit defending their right to lie and misinform the public on the grounds that it was their right to do so, and that the FCC ‘s position against distorting news was only a recommendation, not a regulation.

You can’t make this shit up.  Well, I guess yes you can, but meh.  Who’d want to?

And we’re not just talking general opinion here – we’re talking about factual information being distorted.  The case revolved around a journalist who did a story about the dairy industry, and highlighted that dairy farms in Florida were injecting their cows with rBGH (bovine somatotrophin, an artificial growth hormone created by Monsanto) to enhance milk production.

At Monsanto’s direction, the TV Station where this journalist worked forced the article to be rewritten so many times that the journalist and spouse (also a journalist at the station) refused to air the segment.  They were both terminated from employment.  They were later awarded $483,000 in damages, a decision which FOX carried to appellate court and had overturned on the grounds that it is within bounds for a television station to lie to its viewers on News programs.

Now, a quick gut check on the story behind this story says to me – yes, on a word-for-word reading I agree with the appellate court:  it’s not a regulation, so they’re not forbidden from lying.

But is it right?  At the FCC, I’d be jumping up and down and screaming “WHY isn’t this a regulation yet, and three people better assure me that it will be one by next Wednesday!!”  As a News organization, you’d think they would be ethically bound to bring you honest News.

Walter Kronkite sure would.

And further, it tells a great deal about the attitudes of FOX News – they are not interested in presenting the truth.  They are interested in money, and that’s it.  The threat by Monsanto of an expensive lawsuit had them turn against their own reporters, even when their reporters were reporting of a deadly health risk to the public.  Because that’s what this was:  rBGH has been linked (note: linked, not identified) as a carcinogen in humans.  There’s evidence that can make the argument that it causes cancer in infants.

And not only did FOX not run the story, they later ran an edited version that removed reference to the word “cancer.”

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not a mamby-pamby quaking-at-the-knees anti-GM foods nut.  GM foods are generally a good thing.  And the rBGH case is not a causal relationship, it’s an identified relationship, and causality hasn’t been proven.  Not that Monsanto is out there spending money to find out, or that the government has the cash reserves to perform its own testing.  The problem is still there, however, and there’s potential harm to consumers in it.

This is life-and-death information, and FOX chose to lie.  Not omit.  LIE.  Imagine for something considered less important – the most obvious example would be politics.

In an age where information is king, the greatest sin is to lie.

And FOX just used their right to lie as their excuse in court.  This isn’t some rumor that was overheard in a posh restaurant, it was the foundation of their case.  They claimed the right to lie to their viewership.

So I have to ask – if you’re a viewer of FOX News:  why are you?  Why do you listen or watch a station that reserves the right to LIE to you when it serves their interest?

I can’t locate a PDF of the judgment at present, if one turns up I’ll update here.

Update: Thom Hartmann just did a nice piece on this.

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