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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Lies are the sad truth of reporting

We’ve all heard the story about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, right?

“I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet,” Little George said, when his father asked the boy what he’d done to his favorite tree.

Guess what? It’s a lie. It never happened. The first cherry orchards weren’t even planted in this country until the mid 1800s, when Washington was long dead.

It’s a complete myth, yet everyone believes this folk tale. It makes you wonder how many other modern-day myths and falsehoods we believe in that we aren’t even aware of. For instance, did you know that in America it’s legal for news organizations to lie?

It’s true. According to Project Censored, a media watchdog organization founded in 1976 by Dr. Carl Jensen at Sonoma State University in California, a Florida Court of Appeals in February 2003 unanimously agreed with an assertion by FOX News that there is no rule against distorting or falsifying news in the United States.

The case involved a story about the dangers of Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) and the many health risks related to the use of this hormone, mostly from the milk produced by cows treated with it.

BGH is manufactured by the demonic Monsanto Corporation.

Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, the reporters covering the story, were fired from FOX news after they refused to bow to the demands of Fox’s attorneys and revise their story to include information and statements from Monsanto executives that they knew to be false.

Akre actually won the first round in court, but FOX had the case overturned on appeal. The Florida Appellate Court implied that there was no legal restriction against distorting the truth.

Technically, there was no violation of the law because the FCC’s policy of news distortion does not have the weight of law.

FOX asserted that there are no written rules against distorting news in the media. They argued that under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on public airwaves. And they won.

In their court brief, FOX’s attorneys state: “The station argued that it simply wanted to ensure that a news story about a scientific controversy regarding a commercial product was presented with fairness and balance, and to ensure that it had a sound defense to any potential defamation claim.”

Even more disturbing is the fact that five other major media outlets filed briefs of Amicus Curiae (“friend” of FOX) in support of FOX’s legal position: Belo Corporation; Cox Television, Inc.; Gannett Co., Inc.; Media General Operations, Inc.; and Post-Newsweek Stations, Inc.

Those are all big-time media players. Cox TV has $15 billion in assets and 60,000 employees. Belo Corp owns 20 TV stations and affiliates, various cable networks and websites, with revenues of more than half a billion dollars. Media General runs TV stations, newspapers, websites and more than 200 specialty publications across the country. Post-Newsweek is a subsidiary of the Washington Post company, which owns several TV stations and newspapers in the nation’s largest markets. And the Gannett Co.
owns many broadcast, digital, mobile and publishing companies, including their flagship publication USA Today. Most of these companies are subsidiaries of even bigger media cartels.

What these news organizations did was successfully kill an important news story, directly impacting the health of millions of people, due to pressure from a major corporate sponsor. ‘Fairness and balance’ now means the right to broadcast lies.

This is just one example. How many other important news stories do you think are being kept from the public on a daily basis? Why do you think there is so little coverage of our multiple, ongoing wars on any of the major U.S. television networks? Mainstream news organizations in America have been turned into propaganda outlets for their corporate masters.

Coverage of our imperialistic endeavors today is extremely limited, in stark contrast to our last major military failure in Vietnam. When I was growing up, coverage of the Vietnam war was broadcast every evening on the nightly news. This constant barrage of war reporting was largely responsible for turning the American public against our continuing involvement in the Vietnam conflict.

The United States is currently ranked a lowly 20th on press freedoms in the most recent “Press Freedom Index,” according to Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières). RSF is the world’s largest press freedom organization. The mission of this highly regarded international organization is to work with the media, political leaders, non-government groups and the public to further press freedom around the world. If you want real freedom of the press, move to Scandinavia. The top three countries are Finland, Iceland and Norway.

Ever heard of the “Fairness doctrine?” The Fairness Doctrine was a policy introduced in 1949 by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that required the holders of broadcast licenses to present controversial issues of public importance to consumers, and to do so in a manner that was, in the Commission’s view, “honest, equitable and balanced.” In the past, leaders from both sides of the political spectrum tried to use the doctrine to silence criticism, including John F. Kennedy and, later, Richard Nixon.

President Ronald Reagan abolished the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, and just recently, in August 2011, the FCC formally removed all of the language that legally implemented it.

That pretty much put the last nail in the coffin of “fair and balanced” news in America, and it opened the door for FOX news and other blatantly biased media outlets to broadcast virtually whatever news they want with total impunity.

The FCC’s decision led to the explosion of neo-conservative ideologues such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck on radio, television and the Internet. The U.S. airwaves are saturated with right-wing hate speech, and there’s no “liberal” alternative currently offered, except perhaps Rachel Maddow. Air America is long gone, and NPR hardly qualifies as liberal.

Five huge corporations — Time Warner, Disney, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., Bertelsmann and Viacom now control virtually all of the media industry in America. General Electric, which owns part of NBC, aside from being one of the nation‘s largest defense contractors, is a close sixth. This concentration of media ownership into the hands of such a tiny minority is clearly detrimental to a free, democratic society — especially with regards to what is considered newsworthy and what is not.

When the bottom line is making shareholders happy rather than keeping the public informed, there’s no incentive for these mega-corporations to provide any real, creative investigative reporting or controversial content.

Thankfully, this uniformity only applies to broadcast and (most) print media, because of course the Internet is far less restricted — so far — and there’s much more diversity presented on the web, although there are still large segments of the population who don’t have Internet access (the US barely scrapes the top 10 in home usage worldwide).