Sunday, June 10, 2007

Working for Fox means never having to say you're sorry

"The press…is not free to publish false information about anyone…intending that it will cause a public furor, while knowingly, or in reckless disregard of, its falsity."

The above quote is from the court ruling in favor of Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Ernest Murphy's libel suit against the Boston Herald and its reporter Dave Wedge who falsely claimed that Judge Murphy had said about a 14 year old rape victim, "tell her to get over it." After Wedge went on the O'Reilly Factor and spread the slander again to a national audience, Murphy began to receive hate-mail and death threats.

Via Crooks and Liars, Keith Olberman wonders why O'Reilly is allowed to get away with this without legal ramification? And at the least, why doesn't Fox News force O'Reilly to issue a retraction and apology on his program? Don't bother, the question is rhetorical. Fox News has no journalistic integrity, otherwise O'Reilly would not be allowed on the air in the first place, neither would Sean Hannity and several other of the network's personalities.

So O'Reilly can play a role in promoting a libelous story that leads to a man receiving death threats and never have to issue an apology or inform his audience that the story is false, but he can at the same time whine like a little baby that "the far left smear machine has cranked up against him" because, as New Hounds notes, someone "reproduced his own words and pointed out his misrepresentation."

But its not just Fox. Fox is just the most mainstream part of a noise machine that operates on a level that is nearly indistinguishable from slander/libel. Turn on the AM radio for any extended period of time to see what I mean. Or read this Alternet article.

Moreover, we live in an age in which an increasing number of unscrupulous media creatures make phony/misleading rhetorical arguments and cover themselves by "citing" media reports that may be still floating around on the internet, long after they've been debunked. Rush Limbaugh is the master of this technique. A classic Limbaugh news-reference involved a mountain-lion attack in Colorado (hyping alleged liberal overconcern for deadly mountain lions is a surprisingly hardy staple of right-wing radio entertainment); Limbaugh wanted to argue that PC-mad animal rights activists had raised more money for the lion cub than had been raised for the victim's family. "As of May 23, the orphaned mountain lion had received $21,000 in donations and Barbara Schoener's two kids had received around $9,000," was how Rush put it, way back in 1994. The story was total bullshit and had been exposed as such for more than a month at the time Rush came out with that story.

And once he realized he could do this without suffering consequences, he just kept on doing it, which is why his listeners over the years have been treated to such nuggets of wisdom as "There's no such thing as an implied contract," "It has not been proven that nicotine is addictive," "The condom failure rate can be as high as 20 percent," "The poorest people in America are better off than the mainstream families of Europe," "Banks take the risks in insuring student loans," "Anita Hill followed Clarence Thomas everywhere," and "$14,400 for a family of four-- that's not so bad." There are endless lists of these casually-told lies that stick long after debunking -- anyone interested in seeing the full list can check out sites like


The very fact that the liars are allowed to continue their trade unpunished is a sort of endorsement of their original versions of the "truth." I have absolutely no doubt that many Americans believe deep down in their gullible hearts that if people like Hannity and Limbaugh were really liars, they would be pulled off the air, or punished for some reason. They see that a Michael Savage can be yanked from a lucrative job for gay-bashing, but there appears to be no punishment at all for unchecked, intentional lying, which is at least as serious an offense for a journalist.

I'm not sure I'm ready to endorse the author's suggestion that politicians should start firing off litigation suits against these lying bastards, but there is definitely something wrong when as a society serial liars are rewarded rather than punished for their efforts to distort and destroy the truth: which is a commodity of perhaps the highest value in a democracy.

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