Humiliation is being heaped on Fox News after owner Rupert Murdoch’s confirmation that his company knew its coverage and editorial rantings about the last presidential election being stolen were lies. And that for the sake of ratings it continued the drumbeat long after knowing they were lies perpetrated by former President Donald Trump and his supporters.
The already toxic misinformation and disinformation continues to tear America apart.
Fox’s humiliation is not to be celebrated because it’s a black eye for the news media — an apparent confirmation that the “lame stream media” spreads lies to sell newspapers and enhance TV ratings. The only thing it changes in the minds of some people is that Fox joins the ranks of ignominy with the other three major networks and the “liberal press.”
Those hard-core believers in the lies of the right fringe will merely seek sketchier sources living in the weeds of misinformation and falsehoods to deflect their attention away from facts that do not meet their own opinions.
What will be lost is that it is the press coverage of legal processes protecting the rights of Americans against deliberate and malicious libel that brought the truth to light enough that Murdoch and Fox acknowledged that Fox sold lies for profit and popularity.
The best defense of freedom of the press is that it must be free to fail, free to make mistakes in the search for truth, but responsible for retaining high standards of ethics and responsibility of getting it right and correcting errors when they are pointed out.
The keystone of democracy is information and the free flow of facts and opinion, each in context. Deliberate misdirection of information to gain political advantage is just another variation of libel and should be held in disdain if it is not actionable in other ways. Dominion’s lawsuit against Fox is testing that theory.
In my experience as a reporter, writer and editor — and then as an elected official in county government — the press gets lied to far more than it lies to the public. The worst thing that can happen to an ethical journalist is to be set up and used by hucksters or dishonest people trying to use the reach of the media to unfair or nefarious intentions.
It’s popular to blame it on politics, as if that calling is no different than selling swampy real estate or faulty cars. Let the buyer beware should not be a part of the lexicon of those in public service.
The shortcuts we use to describe those sources who would abuse freedom of speech with lies or misdirection include the generic terms for governments or corporations. But governments don’t lie, nor do corporations. The people who serve in government or commerce might slant the truth to their advantage, cover up truths or lie to keep from being exposed for fraud, greed, incompetence or just plain embarrassing stupidity. But corporations, governments and media sources rise and fall on human behaviors.
People work in the media, too, and I’ve known a few who had no qualms about destroying personal reputations or damaging the welfare of a company or community with overzealous news coverage. No friends there.
Better, sometimes, to wait and get it right, rather than rush to publish and be wrong.
When I was still a rookie reporter, I learned a major corporation was on the cusp of signing papers to bring hundreds of jobs to Carroll County. It was big news, but a county official asked me to talk to a company representative before printing it. The long and short of it is that premature announcement of the move would spread on the AP wires, create roadblocks and make it impossible to leave the firm’s then-current location.
In short, if we told the world it was coming, it would not be able to. The deal was that I would be told first when it was all clear. I talked it over with my editor, and we sat on the story for weeks. I still debate with myself whether that was the right call, although Random House has been pretty good for Carroll County.
Dean Minnich writes from Westminster.