Court holds media lies OK

Court holds media lies OK

By Joe Baker, Senior Editor

Some of us knew it for a long time, and some suspected it might be the case. The late Walter Lippman had it right.

Lippman was a syndicated Washington columnist back in the ’40s and later. Said Walter, “Truth and the news are not the same thing.” Now we’ve got it for sure, lying by the media is legal.

It was down in Florida Feb. 14. An appeals court there ruled that there is nothing illegal about a news organization—say Fox News—lying, concealing or distorting information.

That ruling came out of a lawsuit in which a jury awarded $425,000 to journalist Jane Akre. The appeals court reversed that finding in favor of Fox News. In her lawsuit, Akre charged that she was pressured by Fox News management and lawyers to broadcast what she knew and had documented was false information.

The appellate ruling essentially declares it is technically legal and not against any rule, law or regulation to deliberately lie or distort the news on a television broadcast.

A six-member jury, on Aug. 18, 2000, was unanimous in its finding that Akre was fired for threatening to expose the station management’s pressure to broadcast what jurors concluded was a “false, distorted, or slanted” story about the widespread use of growth hormone in dairy cows.

As reported by, the court didn’t argue with the heart of Akre’s claim, namely that Fox pressured her to air a false story to protect the broadcaster (Fox) from having to defend the truth in court and also to suffer the anger of irate advertisers.

From the outset, Fox argued—three times before three different judges—that there is no written, hard-and-fast rule against deliberate distortion of the news. Fox tried to get the case tossed out of court.

Attorneys for Fox, which is owned by Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch, claimed the First Amendment gives broadcasters the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on public channels.

The appellate court held that the Federal Communications Commission stance against distorting the news is merely a policy and not a bona fide law, rule or regulation.

After the ruling, Fox broadcast a report on the case, claiming it was “totally vindicated” by the judge’s finding.

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