This blog is my attempt to impart a bit of rationality into the US Presidential discussion — and I use the word “discussion” as a less-than-truthful descriptor. Although I do not always follow the logical path, I want to dig into this topic.
Please set aside emotions for a minute and think logically about this topic. Ask yourself why you are so angry about the Presidential race. Is it some underlying gut-level reaction to the very large problems of our society? Or are you reacting without thinking to newscast statements that are meant as emotional triggers?
How you learn about the presidential candidates? If you answer that you listen to news on cable TV, I’m here to tell you that you are not learning much from that. What you are hearing is most likely a few actual facts mixed with rumor, tainted information, and downright prejudicial comments.
Please fact check what you hear about the candidates regardless of the source. I don’t care if the information came from the news report that you love to watch; check the facts. There are many cases of misrepresentation, one-upmanship, and downright lies flying over the airwaves.
Fact: news in this country is owned by 5 corporations: Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany and Viacom. (See URL listed at the end of this blog for source.) That uniformity includes the major online news sources. Of the big newspapers, there are few that are not owned by the conglomerates. Summary: you can’t just change the channel to find a new viewpoint.
Fact: US news reports do not have to be neutral. The FCC’s Fairness Doctrine required news reports to present all sides of a controversial issue. In June 2011, the House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders requested the FCC to remove the Fairness Doctrine, and in August, 2011, the FCC repealed it. Thus, it is no longer a rule that news agencies must provide well-rounded coverage. Now, the consumer must investigate news from many sources.
Fact: US new reports about candidates do not have to be true. There are two contributing legal rulings. First, any story about public people (including politicians) must meet the Malice Standard set forth in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964). This ruling weighed First Amendment rights against libel laws to determine whether a politician can sue over a news article. The law gave credit to the possibility that what was published (or reported) might be a misunderstanding, but if it was not, the individual needed to establish that with proof. That is, the insulted politician must prove that the false news story was maliciously intended and either published as an intentional lie or that the publication purposely disregarded the truth. This means that one report can publish a falsehood under the protection that the campaign source believed it to be true rather than if the story was actually true.
Fact: SCOTUS ruled 5 to 4 (in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) that corporations had free speech. That means corporations could spend copious money to try to persuade people to vote for the corporation’s candidate. After that ruling, organizations called super PACs were formed to collect amazing sums of money and create advertisements, films, and other electioneering communications to sway voting towards or away from certain candidates.
Fact: not all major news networks report true facts. Actually, most do not. Recently, PunditFact released a review of three of the top news networks based on fact checking their news stories. Fox News scored the lowest in reporting truthful news; Fox scored false 60% of the time. Second place went to NBC/MSNBC with 40% of the stories listed as false. CBS scored better with CNN hitting the highest on the PunditFact truth scale. For a neutral story, you might have to change the channel to an independent station, typically one that does not accept advertising. Still, that station could purposely bias news stories too. I’ve found more neutral reporting on public broadcasting network, such as PBS, or an international news station.
However, you might not want to listen to an in-depth investigative news report. If you don’t, I suggest that you listen to stations from both ends of the political spectrum and see where the middle ground lies. Next, do your own inquiries. As the old platitude states: if something seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t. By the same token, if somethings seems crazy, even if you want it to be true, it may just be crazy. Do your own investigations and check out claims of news agencies.
I haven’t touched on the facts censorship or common logical fallacies committed in political campaigns. Discussing those topics would make this blog too long. I realize presidential campaigns are based on getting people to react emotionally about the candidates, especially in this age of ratings wars over news coverage. But how we vote should be constructed from accurate information. Voting choices should be more than an emotional reaction to an advertisement. As citizens, we have the task to research the candidates and base our voting decisions on truth, in order to discover — as Paul Harvey (a conservative radio commentator) used to say — the rest of the story.
Sources for this blog:
To read more about media ownership: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/democracyondeadline/mediaownership.html (accessed 10/17/2016).
Wikipedia actually has a well-research article on the history of the Fairness Doctrine here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairness_Doctrine#Formal_revocation (accessed 10/17/2016).
You can read more about the Malice Standard here: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/376/254/case.html (accessed 10/20/2016).
Read everything in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and the January 2010 ruling here: http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/citizens-united-v-federal-election-commission/ (accessed 10/22/2016).
The opinion in Citizens United is here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-205.pdf (accessed 10/22/2016).
Here’s the portal to the PunditFact scorecards: http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/article/2014/jul/01/introducing-scorecards-tv-networks/ (accessed 10/22/2016).