Last week we discussed a petition created at MoveOn.org that requested the removal and prosecution of Speaker John Boehner for violation of the Logan Act. At the time I’m writing this, nearly 45,000 people who apparently don’t understand how government works have signed it. As I’ve stated over and over again, people need to get it through their thick skulls that petitions, especially when it comes to government, are pretty much useless – and a terrible substitute for educating and motivating people to get out to the polls.
Now another petition has taken off, this time from Change.org, which is petitioning the FCC to remove Fox News’ broadcasting license based on allegations of news distortion. Charles Topher over at “If You Only News” gushes over a petition written by someone who obviously doesn’t know how the FCC operates, or how the White House reviews petitions:
“Many will wonder if such a petition could possibly do any good. The answer is yes. The White House will review any petition that receives 100,000 signatures, and the FCC falls under the purview of the Executive Branch.” (Source)
First of all, the White House will review any petition on Whitehouse.gov that meets a certain threshold and will issue a response, but not necessarily a specific action such as ordering a license to be revoked, which the FCC doesn’t have the power to do under the circumstances outlined in the petition. Petitions created on websites other than Whitehouse.gov will not be reviewed by the executive branch and the personal information given to Change.org or others can be sold or traded to other entities, including political campaigns. In case you didn’t know, petition sites aren’t just some grassroots advocacy organization, they’re businesses – and Change.org charges to promote a petition. Yes, Change.org is a for-profit corporation that solicits advertising, and many people fail to realize that thanks in part to the fact that the company doesn’t exactly make it transparent that they aren’t a non-profit.
As far as news distortion and allegations of slanted coverage, here’s the FCC’s statement on political broadcasting:
News Distortion. The Commission often receives complaints concerning broadcast journalism, such as allegations that stations have aired inaccurate or one-sided news reports or comments, covered stories inadequately, or overly dramatized the events that they cover. For the reasons noted above, the Commission generally will not intervene in such cases because it would be inconsistent with the First Amendment to replace the journalistic judgment of licensees with our own. However, as public trustees, broadcast licensees may not intentionally distort the news: the FCC has stated that “rigging or slanting the news is a most heinous act against the public interest.” The Commission will investigate a station for news distortion if it receives documented evidence of such rigging or slanting, such as testimony or other documentation, from individuals with direct personal knowledge that a licensee or its management engaged in the intentional falsification of the news. Of particular concern would be evidence of the direction to employees from station management to falsify the news. However, absent such a compelling showing, the Commission will not intervene. (Source)
They clearly state that in order for a station to be investigated for news distortion, there has to be documented evidence of directives to distort or falsify news. If there was an email dump with a bunch of messages from Rupert Murdoch to lie about a news story or to go on a smear campaign against President Obama, then perhaps the FCC or another organization could do something, but as it states on their website, you have to provide evidence of the allegations when you file a complaint.
This applies to hoaxes as well:
Hoaxes. The broadcast by a station of false information concerning a crime or catastrophe violates the FCC’s rules if:
- the station licensee knew that the information was false,
- broadcasting the false information directly causes substantial public harm, and
- it was foreseeable that broadcasting the false information would cause such harm.
In this context, a “crime” is an act or omission that makes the offender subject to criminal punishment by law, and a “catastrophe” is a disaster or an imminent disaster involving violent or sudden events affecting the public. The broadcast must cause direct and actual damage to property or to the health or safety of the general public, or diversion of law enforcement or other public health and safety authorities from their duties, and the public harm must begin immediately. If a station airs a disclaimer before the broadcast that clearly characterizes the program as fiction and the disclaimer is presented in a reasonable manner under the circumstances, the program is presumed not to pose foreseeable public harm. Additional information about the hoax rule can be found on the FCC’s website at http://www.fcc.gov/guides/broadcasting-false- information. (Source)
Here’s the deal – the folks over at Fox know that there are plenty of people out there who want to hear the news delivered with a conservative slant and a healthy dose of outrage. The same thing goes for websites like “If You Only News” and others on the left which specialize in outrage clickbait, instead of thoughtful political analysis. It’s also very, very rare for anyone to get their license revoked and it has only happened a few times in U.S. history – and for very grievous offenses. Fox News isn’t going away as long as there are individuals who want conservative opinion disguised as news, and as long as liberals continue to harp on about how horrible Fox is, conservatives will embrace it simply out of spite.
To summarize: Fox is allowed under the First Amendment to deliver their version of events in any way they see fit, and they know the limits of what they can and cannot get away with. I think that the best way to deal with them is to do like I do and not turn the channel on. As for signing petitions, they might be useful for pressuring a corporation to do something, but they’re useless in matters of government unless they’re through Whitehouse.gov. While the viewers of Fox News may be misinformed and angry, at least they’re motivated to get out and vote instead of thinking that change comes about simply by turning over your personal information to a for-profit corporation via a petition.
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