Sunday, July 13, 2003

This is off the point of Brook's post a bit, but I can't help appreciating a certain amount of symmetry in the idea that since we got dumbed down by an Aussie, maybe we SHOULD be smartened up by a Brit (although ideally we ought to smarten up ourselves, which would help enormously in resisting dumbing down, wherever it comes from.) I just pulled these things randomly off the net, and rather liked the way they went together.

“I think a newspaper should be provocative, stir ’em up, but you can’t do that on television. It’s just not on.” ATTRIBUTION: Rupert Murdock, declaring that he did not plan any television tabloids, Business Week 20 May 85 (hmmmmmmm, the year he became a US citizen)

And these thoughts from Carl Bernstein, doing a keynote speaker gig at the 50th anniversary of Boston University's College of Communication (9/21/97)

Now, Bernstein argues, journalism has little to do with reality, truth or context. His accusation: journalists are out of touch, disfigured by gossip, celebrity worship, sensationalism and denial of our society about the real conditions.

"We're turning into a sewer," he said. "Our society is being handed over to the triumph of idiot culture," said Bernstein. "Make no mistake about who the most influential figure in journalism of the past quarter century is...it's not Ted Turner, the team from CBS or 60 Minutes, it's Rupert Murdock." It's time that the news media recognize that Rupert Murdock and "his sleazy standards at the low-end of his empire are increasingly affecting the standards of the high-end of our business, and are an even greater threat to the truth than the lying and the secrecy of the succession of American presidents and their governments," Bernstein charged. Bernstein questioned the leadership of the press saying, "The media are all squandering their power and abdicating their responsibility," while responsible journalists have welcomed the standards of the Murdock journalists instead of drawing the line.

And consider this:

On February 14, a Florida Appeals court ruled there is absolutely nothing illegal about lying, concealing or distorting information by a major press organization. The court reversed the $425,000 jury verdict in favor of journalist Jane Akre who charged she was pressured by Fox Television management and lawyers to air what she knew and documented to be false information. The ruling basically declares it is technically not against any law, rule, or regulation to deliberately lie or distort the news on a television broadcast.

On August 18, 2000, a six-person jury was unanimous in its conclusion that Akre was indeed fired for threatening to report the station's pressure to broadcast what jurors decided was "a false, distorted, or slanted" story about the widespread use of growth hormone in dairy cows. The court did not dispute the heart of Akre's claim, that Fox pressured her to broadcast a false story to protect the broadcaster from having to defend the truth in court, as well as suffer the ire of irate advertisers.

Fox argued from the first, and failed on three separate occasions, in front of three different judges, to have the case tossed out on the grounds there is no hard, fast, and written rule against deliberate distortion of the news. The attorneys for Fox, owned by media baron Rupert Murdock, argued the First Amendment gives broadcasters the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on the public airwaves.

In its six-page written decision, the Court of Appeals held that the Federal Communications Commission position against news distortion is only a "policy," not a promulgated law, rule, or regulation.
Fox aired a report after the ruling saying it was "totally vindicated" by the verdict.

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