I hate admitting I’ve been duped, oh I'll do it, but it galls me when I fall for something and even more so when I run with bad information in discussions with others, that drags me into helping spread the deception, in this case it is the claim that FOX News won a court case that allows them to distort the news. I was clued into it by comments here on Newsvine, I read a few sources and I was fairly irritated, with the protection of the 1st Amendment comes the responsibility for that agency to report accurately. Well, as accurately as possible considering there has yet to be a news story written that doesn’t contain a trace of the author’s bias.
Before I go on, just to show all of my cards right up front, I don’t have cable or satellite at my house so I couldn’t watch Fox if I wanted to. Now, we continue.
Then I started noticing that none of the articles actually quoted the legal decision, but they all quoted each other a lot. Reflecting deeper I noticed that people were using words like “appears to,” and that got me worrying a little. Those are weasel words. So I mentioned this in a comment I made on a seed and I was gratified to see three links. Not only didn’t they bear out the allegation of the commenter that someone at Fox said they were entertainment and not news, the case didn’t address news distortions at all, the case was about employees at a Fox Television, not Fox News, claiming that they were illegally fired in what was a violation of Florida’s whistle-blower laws .
Well hell, if they had won some right to distort it apparently would have applied to Florida, that leave 49 other states for them to walk carefully around, but that’s silly and I digress.
Apparently one reporter of two filing won on one count of a lawsuit in a case where they alleged they were illegally fired under Florida’s whistle-blower laws, the rest of the counts went against them but that was still a $400k+ victory for them. So, to read on.
The first thing I noticed was that FOX News wasn’t the defendant. One television station was, WTKT-TV, and it is listed on the decision as an affiliate of Fox Television, not Fox news. Oh well, no matter these companies are snarled and as inbred as something out of deliverance, or a European royal family. Anyway.
I read the opening statement.
New World Communications of Tampa, Inc., d/b/a [doing business as] WTVT-TV, a subsidiary of Fox Television, challenges a judgment entered against it for violating Florida's private sector whistle-blower's statute, section 448.102, Florida Statutes (Supp. 1998). We reverse.
Alright, that’s a legal victory but it doesn’t give WTVT the right to distort news, let alone Fox News nor the 5 other news agencies that filed friends of the Court Briefs in the station’s favor. So, what was the original case? I found mention of it in the Saint Petersburg Times the appeal mentioned that the jury found against the reporters in all other charges but I only found one mentioned, and that was a quote from the Times stating:
And the jury did not believe the couple's claim that the station bowed to pressure from Monsanto to alter the news report.
The News Director of WTVT-TV (Fox 13) said of the ruling:
"This is a wonderful day," said Phil Metlin, the news director of Fox 13. "The jury realized that Fox never told anyone to lie, distort or slant the news."
And you just know an appeal was in the works. From the Ruling:
"In September 1997, WTVT notified Akre and Wilson that it was exercising its option to terminate their employment contracts without cause. Akre and Wilson responded in writing to WTVT threatening to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) alleging that the station had “illegally” edited the still unfinished BGH report in violation of an FCC policy against federally licensed broadcasters deliberately distorting the news. The parties never resolved their differences regarding the content of the story, and consequently, the story never aired.
In April 1998, Akre and Wilson sued WTVT alleging, among other things, claims under the whistle-blower's statute. Those claims alleged that their terminations had been in retaliation for their resisting WTVT’s attempts to distort or suppress the BGH story and for threatening to report the alleged news distortion to the FCC. Akre also brought claims for declaratory relief and for breach of contract. After a four-week trial, a jury found against Wilson on all of his claims. The trial court directed a verdict against Akre on her breach of contract claim, Akre abandoned her claim for declaratory relief, and the trial court let her whistle-blower claims go to the jury. The jury rejected all of Akre’s claims except her claim that WTVT retaliated against her in response to her threat to disclose the alleged news distortion to the FCC. The jury awarded Akre $425,000 in damages.”
The ruling discusses distortions a great deal, but only to lay the groundwork for the finding that the whistle-blower law wasn’t broken, never once did the court state that Fox or its subsidiaries distorted the news, only referring to them as alleged.
The reversal on came on these grounds:
Because the FCC’s news distortion policy is not a “law, rule, or regulation” under section 448.102, Akre has failed to state a claim under the whistle-blower's statute. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment in her favor and remand for entry of a judgment in favor of WTVT.
Why did they rule this?
First, federal law recognizes a dichotomy between rulemaking and adjudication; it does not equate the two. See Bowen v. Georgetown Univ. Hosp., 488 U.S. 204 (1988) (Scalia, J., concurring). Second, while federal agencies may have discretion to formulate policy through the adjudicative process, the same is not true under Florida law. The Florida Legislature has limited state agencies’ discretion to formulate policy through the adjudicative process by requiring agencies to formally adopt each agency statement that fits the definition of a “rule” under section 120.52. See § 120.54. As noted above, the legislature’s use of the word “adopted” in the whistle-blower's statute was deliberate and was intended to limit the scope of conduct that will subject an employer to liability.
Lets look at what would have happened if the appeal had gone against Fox-13, what would have happened? Well, they would have been found to have violated the whistle-blowing law for firing someone that threatened to file a complaint against them, but oddly enough nothing else as there was never a finding against them for distorting news. So, actually nothing would have changed except the reporter would have got to keep the money.
Upon a review of all the evidence before us, we conclude that the Petitioners have not raised a substantial and material question of fact concerning an intent to distort. As discussed below, the totality of the evidence in the record before us indicates that this case involves a legitimate editorial dispute between the Petitioners and the news management of Station WTVT(TV) rather than a deliberate effort by the licensee to distort news.
And further stated
We cannot conclude that the Petitioners’ claims of factual inaccuracy in the final BGH report support an inference that TVT intentionally distorted news. Our examination of the record indicates that the safety of dairy products from BGH-injected cows is a matter of considerable controversy and scientific complexity. The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of BGH in 1993, and the American Medical Association (AMA), American Cancer Society, and American Dietetic Association have issued statements supporting its safety. Other scientists, individuals, and organizations maintain that BGH use is a public health threat, and that milk producers and suppliers have not disclosed its presence in their products adequately. Under these circumstances, the truth of the complained-of Monsanto statement in the final BGH report that milk from BGH-injected cows is as “safe and wholesome” as other milk, and the adequacy of the testing performed by FDA, cannot be “readily and definitively resolved,” and it would be inconsistent with longstanding Commission precedent to draw an inference of distortion on the basis of these alleged factual inaccuracies.
We also conclude that the Petitioners’ allegations of TVT and Fox pressure in the production of their own, unaired BGH report, and that they would have included additional information in the report absent such pressure, do not raise a substantial question of intent to distort. There is no evidence that any such pressure was applied to the final BGH report. Mr. Lang testified during the employment lawsuit that WTVT’s general manager never mentioned anything more specific about the BGH report than that it concerned “cows and hormones and milk,” and that “[n]o one at WTVT ever suggest[ed] that we broadcast anything with known lies in the content.” Ms. Akre, one of the Petitioners, acknowledged during her testimony that WTVT’s News Director Phil Metlin sought to produce a balanced report. Although the Petitioners cite a number of specific statements made to them by TVT management during the editorial process that are supportive of their claims, we must consider all of the evidence together in determining whether they have raised a substantial and material question. On the whole, our examination of the record reflects a legitimate editorial dispute between the Petitioners and TVT, rather than a deliberate effort to coerce the Petitioners into distorting the news.
So, there was no evidence of distortion, according to the FCC report, and there was no finding of distortion in a court of law. A case can be made; however, that there have been distortions aimed at Fox news. There appears to be no legal decision that allows Fox News to lie, but if anyone can produce a court document that states specifically to the contrary I’ll be glad to revise my statement.
So, my personal thoughts on all of this?
- Fox news might just be as full of crap as a Christmas Goose, but you don't prove distortions with distortions.
- I don’t want any silly crap in my milk, I don’t trust Monsanto as far as I can throw them.
- There’s a chance they got canned for threatening to go to the FCC, Fox-13 probably had no way of knowing that their claim would have been shot down. There’s an equal chance that somebody just got tired of the whole mess and canned them. Personally, I think they should have left her with the $400k+ settlement, but no news agency will put up with a finding against them, just like they hide retractions and corrections in the back pages.
- I still refuse to get cable or satellite, I have no desire to watch FNC or MSNBC, I’ve watched a bit of both when I visited friends and wasn't overwhelmingly impressed, in fact I find them equally worthless. Then again I don’t need any of the other overpriced networks out there from a wire or dish, I have an antenna so if I want to watch TV stations I’ll use that. Otherwise I have Hulu and Netflix going straight to the LCD TV.
- I’ve added several people to my list of people I can’t trust without verifying.
- I’m mad at myself for not looking into this crap sooner.
Needless to say I’m not going to be very sympathetic to “say-so evidence,” kindly stick to the story at hand and refrain from wandering off into left or right field. I'm only interested in the Joe Friday, and kindly abide by the COH at all times.