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Should it be illegal for the news media to lie?

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A poster on another forum raises the following argument for limited censorship of the news media.

I disagree on one thing.........

All censorship is not bad. I had this discussion with a friend of mine and I told him I thought that news programs, and other news media (Newspapers, for example), shouldbe forced to keep to the facts, and be punished when they try to lie, and distort the facts to meet their political agendas. News on both sides of the aisle (Fox News and MSNBC, for the most part) are known to do this. It should be illegal. My friend claims that they should be protected under free speech, but free speech only comes into play when you are giving an opinion on something, or when you are expressing yourself poetically or in some other form. A news program outright lying to cover up the facts to protect their political angle is not free speech and media outlets should be punished whenever they do it.

I'm compelled to disagree but it is difficult to articulate why this is wrong. Do you agree? Is this kind of censorship justified? What would be a rational reply?

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The arrogance of this is infuriating. Did it not occur to the "reporter" that perhaps his narrative--his view of the world--is perhaps incorrect if he has to make stuff up to bolster it?

I'm not going to address your post entirely, because I don't have the time to do so right now and I recognise that I've caused some people some frustration in the past with quick toss off replies that

To use a definition of force from physics in reasoning about ethics and politics is to commit a context error. Nothing true or good can come from an error. Force is a first person acting upon an

Libel and false advertising already bear legal consequences. No issue there.

What happens when a news outlet, deliberately or not, fails to get its facts straight is a good example of the free market in action. The competition gets the facts out and, if the falsehood was deliberate, people lose their careers (Dan Rather, Jayson Blair and Janet Cooke among others) and the outlet loses credibility (and audience and money).

Lying might be harder to define and to prove in a particular case than you think. Laws against it would become a means to intimidate, opening the way for enormous malfeasance by prosecutors, judges and juries. This is probably why such laws have not been enacted to date. Let the market do its job.

(Has FoxNews ever actually published a falsehood? I know about NY Times, CBS, ABC, LA Times, New Yorker and New Republic, but not Fox.)

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I know it's certainly a lot easier for outlets to simply ignore stories that don't fit their preferred narrative. That's how journalistic bias is usually expressed: in their judgment as to what will get air time/pulp/web space. Which is why we see scandals from one party get far more "ink" than scandals from the other party. But even if a story actually gets covered, bias can manifest itself in neglecting to tell one side of it.

Outright lying or really egregious negligence in not checking sources (and thereby allowing oneself to be a pawn used by somebody else to lie), if discovered, generally gets one canned.

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No, it's not government concern to vet media's honesty. There are too many grades of lies,

by omission, or by commission. As simple as a photographer leaving salient information just out of

frame, in order to convey a single, prejudiced point. Essentially, this is a case for caveat emptor.

Generally, media are fairly good at self-regulating - but when not, should be as legally liable as any

builder (say) who has cheated by using sub-standard materials.

There is a battle on in South Africa presently for the government to overturn the Constitution,

and to give it more power over what has been a reasonably free press - purportedly for State Security,

but it's commonly known, really to stifle information of its corruption and inefficiency.

The very same argument has come from State spokesmen: that they are doing this for the sake of the

citizens, who deserve the truth, pointing to errors of info on certain reports, as justification.

Huh, it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, knowing how badly the State wants to protect us.

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I'm compelled to disagree but it is difficult to articulate why this is wrong.

The government should be limited to the protection of individual right. This is wrong because someone telling a lie is not a restriction on your freedom to act.

Government should also be impartial. With that in mind, punishing lying should either be done across the board (meaning he should be punished for lying too), or not at all. Ask him if he would be OK with paying a fine or serving time every time he tells his girlfriend that her hat looks great.

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The government should be limited to the protection of individual right. This is wrong because someone telling a lie is not a restriction on your freedom to act.

When lies on the part of one party actually cause harm to a second parties reputation, that results in material harm to the second party. It's one thing to falsify reality for your own personal delusions, but to deliberately falsify reality in a way to discredit or besmirch another party crosses the boundary of individual freedoms.

As stated earlier, it's quite difficult to prove, but if it can be shown that the lie was deliberate and malicious in intent, then the person doing the lying is responsible for the damage, and should be held accountable.

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When lies on the part of one party actually cause harm to a second parties reputation, that results in material harm to the second party. It's one thing to falsify reality for your own personal delusions, but to deliberately falsify reality in a way to discredit or besmirch another party crosses the boundary of individual freedoms.

I define individual freedom as everything, except things that rely on force to prevent another person from acting freely. So the use of physical force is the only boundary, by my definition.

One can cause harm to another person in two ways: with the use of physical force, and without it. I am for outlawing the former, and allowing the latter.

My questions are these:

1. What is your definition of individual freedom?

2. What is your position on allowing someone to cause harm to another without the use of physical force? Irrespective of your answer, please elaborate on why.

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When lies on the part of one party actually cause harm to a second part[y's] reputation, that results in material harm to the second party. It's one thing to falsify reality for your own personal delusions, but to deliberately falsify reality in a way to discredit or besmirch another party crosses the boundary of individual freedoms.

You're right. Standard libel/slander law has been taking care of this for centuries. The proposal on the table is to make factual misstatements criminal rather than civil offenses.

Edited by Reidy
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The government should be limited to the protection of individual right. This is wrong because someone telling a lie is not a restriction on your freedom to act.

Government should also be impartial. With that in mind, punishing lying should either be done across the board (meaning he should be punished for lying too), or not at all. Ask him if he would be OK with paying a fine or serving time every time he tells his girlfriend that her hat looks great.

Good advice. Thank you. The anticipated reply would be: Telling my girlfriend her hat looks nice is harmless to society's interests. Lies told by a reporter can be harmful, particularly if the story relates to a political issue. It could influence how people vote in elections resulting in bad government policy.

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I define individual freedom as everything, except things that rely on force to prevent another person from acting freely. So the use of physical force is the only boundary, by my definition.

How would you define a circumstance where I freely introduce pollutants into the air, and they drift into your yard and poison you? How would you define a circumstance where I omit details about a transaction, falsly claiming that I don't know, and we engage in the trade, and you find that I knew all along that the product I just sold you was faulty?

If I should "Fire" in a crowded theater, and people panic and flee and 3 people die in the stampede, and its clear that I knew that there was no fire, per your definition, I have not used force and therefore I'm not liable for those deaths.

One can cause harm to another person in two ways: with the use of physical force, and without it. I am for outlawing the former, and allowing the latter.

My questions are these:

1. What is your definition of individual freedom?

2. What is your position on allowing someone to cause harm to another without the use of physical force? Irrespective of your answer, please elaborate on why.

I look at it more like this:

If I do something, or don't do something, and the effect upon you is identical to what would happen if I didn't exist, then I haven't acted upon you.

But if I do something, or don't do something, and the effect upon you ends up being different to what would happen if I didn't exist, then I have acted upon you.

Example - A shop keeper denies service to a gay couple. The gay couple claims their rights have been violated - but the result on the gay couple is just the same as if the shop and keeper didn't exist. No shop/keeper, no service to gay couple - no infringement on anyone. But if the law says the shop keeper MUST do business with the gay couple, then the shop keeper is effected in that he must engage in trade he doesn't wish to, trade which wouldn't happen if the gay couple doesn't exist. Result: Infringement upon the shop keeper's rights.

When someone deliberatly spreads untruths about you, and damage to your reputation results, that damage wouldn't occur if you hadn't been lied about.

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How would you define a circumstance where I freely introduce pollutants into the air, and they drift into your yard and poison you? How would you define a circumstance where I omit details about a transaction, falsly claiming that I don't know, and we engage in the trade, and you find that I knew all along that the product I just sold you was faulty?

If I should "Fire" in a crowded theater, and people panic and flee and 3 people die in the stampede, and its clear that I knew that there was no fire, per your definition, I have not used force and therefore I'm not liable for those deaths.

There's an old thread where DavidOdden answers all these questions remarkably well, but there's no harm in summing up his point here too:

All those examples you give are actions that initiate force against another person's body or property. Poisoning someone is a direct instance of the use of force. Fraud is slightly more complicated, because the lie itself is not force, however when a transaction is consummated under false pretenses, the goods you gained do not actually belong to you. By keeping them, you are using force against the rightful owner's property, just like you would if you outright stole them.

The yelling fire example is also straightforward initiation of force: the people have been killed by other people, and those other people acted because you caused them to act. It is very similar to ordering someone to kill another person.

I look at it more like this:

If I do something, or don't do something, and the effect upon you is identical to what would happen if I didn't exist, then I haven't acted upon you.

But if I do something, or don't do something, and the effect upon you ends up being different to what would happen if I didn't exist, then I have acted upon you.

Example - A shop keeper denies service to a gay couple.

Example: I say something mean to you. You take it personally, and commit suicide.

Example: I do something you don't like, that has nothing to do with you: You react to it by killing yourself.

Both examples fit your definition: in both examples, you are dead, and in both examples you wouldn't be dead if I didn't exist.

And yet, neither example is a violation of your rights, because that is not how rights are defined: rights are the freedom to act, not the freedom from harm.

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I should add something important: If I spread a lie about you with the purpose of convincing people to kill you (or the cops to arrest you, etc.), and they do, that is a form of libel that is a crime. I caused force to be used against you.

The kind of libel that should not be a crime is when I spread a lie about you, other people choose to believe it, but neither party uses force against you. We all just shun you, or call you bad names, based on that lie. That is not a crime, it is well withing all our rights to action to do this to you. It's immoral, but not a crime. Both civil and criminal courts should stay out of it.

Edited by Nicky
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I should add something important: If I spread a lie about you with the purpose of convincing people to kill you (or the cops to arrest you, etc.), and they do, that is a form of libel that is a crime. I caused force to be used against you.

The kind of libel that should not be a crime is when I spread a lie about you, other people choose to believe it, but neither party uses force against you. We all just shun you, or call you bad names, based on that lie. That is not a crime, it is well withing all our rights to action to do this to you. It's immoral, but not a crime. Both civil and criminal courts should stay out of it.

Odd definition of crime, since libel *is* a crime, currently.

So we agree on the definition of force wrt shouting fire and those other instances.

Explain to me how if I lie and shout fire and cause people to react a certain way that harms you cause you got trampled, it's force, but if I lie about you and cause people to react a certain way that harms you (your reputation), it's not force?

Your argument is that the people reacting to me shouting fire choose to believe me, so I'm at fault, but if I lie about you and harm you, the people who choose to believe me chose to believe me so I'm not at fault...

By your reasoning, if I shout fire, people are obligated to look for the fire and prove it exists before reacting.

Also for your reference:

http://objectivistan...tivist-politics

Edited by Greebo
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Odd definition of crime, since libel *is* a crime, currently.

I'm using the objective definition, not the subjective "whatever's illegal" one.

Explain to me how if I lie and shout fire and cause people to react a certain way that harms you cause you got trampled, it's force, but if I lie about you and cause people to react a certain way that harms you (your reputation), it's not force?

The first lie results in actual physical force, that actually hurts people. People get shoved to the ground and trampled. In the second case, there is no force involved whatsoever (unless the lie does result in the use of force, in which case, like I said above, the lying party should be liable for it in civil court, much like he would be now).

Your argument is that the people reacting to me shouting fire choose to believe me, so I'm at fault, but if I lie about you and harm you, the people who choose to believe me chose to believe me so I'm not at fault..

No, the lying party is at fault in both cases. However, in the first case, he is at fault for people losing life or limb (their rights are clearly violated, and violently so).

In the second case he is at fault for something that is immoral, but not a rights violation (the supposed right to a reputation is not a right to life, liberty or property, therefor it is not a right). You have every right to blame someone for harming your reputation by lying about you. But you don't get to use force against them, because they haven't used force against you.

Edited by Nicky
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There's the recent case of the discovery that the worker abuse story done on NPR was fabricated by an anti-corportion zealot. NPR retracted but this has gotten very little attention.

http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Journalism/2012/03/17/Anti%20Apple%20Activist%20Lies

The person who did the story, and made up the lies, defended his actions stating that while the things he claimed happened were made up "the spirit" of his reporting was true.

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The person who did the story, and made up the lies, defended his actions stating that while the things he claimed happened were made up "the spirit" of his reporting was true.

The arrogance of this is infuriating. Did it not occur to the "reporter" that perhaps his narrative--his view of the world--is perhaps incorrect if he has to make stuff up to bolster it?

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I'm using the objective definition, not the subjective "whatever's illegal" one.

The first lie results in actual physical force, that actually hurts people. People get shoved to the ground and trampled. In the second case, there is no force involved whatsoever (unless the lie does result in the use of force, in which case, like I said above, the lying party should be liable for it in civil court, much like he would be now).

No, the lying party is at fault in both cases. However, in the first case, he is at fault for people losing life or limb (their rights are clearly violated, and violently so).

In the second case he is at fault for something that is immoral, but not a rights violation (the supposed right to a reputation is not a right to life, liberty or property, therefor it is not a right). You have every right to blame someone for harming your reputation by lying about you. But you don't get to use force against them, because they haven't used force against you.

Are you forgetting that Ayn Rand defined fraud as a form of force?

A unilateral breach of contract involves an indirect use of physical force: it consists, in essence, of one man receiving the material values, goods or services of another, then refusing to pay for them and thus keeping them by force (by mere physical possession), not by right—i.e., keeping them without the consent of their owner. Fraud involves a similarly indirect use of force: it consists of obtaining material values without their owner’s consent, under false pretenses or false promises.

Now, I would posit that a reputation is something of material value, one which even rational men are compelled to rely upon at times:

How would Washington bureaucrats—or Congressmen, for that matter—know which scientist to encourage, particularly in so controversial a field as social science? The safest method is to choose men who have achieved some sort of reputation. Whether their reputation is deserved or not, whether their achievements are valid or not, whether they rose by merit, pull, publicity or accident, are questions which the awarders do not and cannot consider. When personal judgment is inoperative (or forbidden), men’s first concern is not how to choose, but how to justify their choice. This will necessarily prompt committee members, bureaucrats and politicians to gravitate toward “prestigious names.” The result is to help establish those already established—i.e., to entrench the status quo.

The worst part of it is the fact that this method of selection is not confined to the cowardly or the corrupt, that the honest official is obliged to use it. The method is forced on him by the terms of the situation. To pass an informed, independent judgment on the value of every applicant or project in every field of science, an official would have to be a universal scholar. If he consults “experts” in the field, the dilemma remains: either he has to be a scholar who knows which experts to consult—or he has to surrender his judgment to men trained by the very professors he is supposed to judge. The awarding of grants to famous “leaders,” therefore, appears to him as the only fair policy—on the premise that “somebody made them famous, somebody knows, even if I don’t.”

And based on the above, I would think Ms. Rand would agree.

So, when a reputation is damaged by the deliberate actions of another (reporter or not), material harm IS done, in the same way that fraud causes material harm via indirect force.

If reputation has no value, and damage to one's reputation is not really damage, then one is compelled by rational necessity to validate every aspect of every person they encounter, including the veracity of the assertion that the fireman in the burning (for real burnin this time) theater who is ostensibly there to save your life really means it. Naturally, this is absurd - you accept the good faith intent of the fireman because he's at the scene of a fire, he's dressed as a fireman, and most importantly, because firemen are universally known (or reputed) to be dedicated to preserving life and property.

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(Has FoxNews ever actually published a falsehood? I know about NY Times, CBS, ABC, LA Times, New Yorker and New Republic, but not Fox.)

There is a whole site foxnewslies.net dedicated to sniffing out lies on fox news. You may not like it but it is worth taking a look at.

I think in an Objectivist society we would have sites like these. It would be a good idea to keep people honest.

Edited by Superman123
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Are you forgetting that Ayn Rand defined fraud as a form of force?

She didn't define fraud as a form of force. She explained where the force is in an act of fraud. As did I, above. Yes, fraud invoves force.

But we're talking about libel, not fraud.

Now, I would posit that a reputation is something of material value, one which even rational men are compelled to rely upon at times

I'm not sure what you mean by material value, but it doesn't really matter. Rights are defined as the freedom to act, not the right to material values, and they can only be restricted through the use of physical force.

So, when a reputation is damaged by the deliberate actions of another (reporter or not), material harm IS done, in the same way that fraud causes material harm via indirect force.

So what if material harm is done? There are many ways to cause someone material harm, most of them don't involve the use of force. You can cause someone material harm by telling the truth, too. Should that also be illegal?

The point is, in Capitalism, you don't have a blanket protection from material harm. You are protected from the use of force. The reason why fraud is a crime is because it involves the use of force.

You have not shown where the force is in libel. You keep trying to evade the need to show that force is involved, by replacing that standard. In reality, there is no force involved. A lie is not an act of force, direct or indirect, unless someone acts on it with force.

Like I said, if that happens, the lying party is responsible for that use of force. But if no force is used at all, then the lie is not a crime. I don't care what it does to someone's reputation. You don't have the right to a reputation. Your rights are to life, liberty and property.

P.S. Are you claiming that your reputation is your property?

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P.S. Are you claiming that your reputation is your property?

I'm not going to address your post entirely, because I don't have the time to do so right now and I recognise that I've caused some people some frustration in the past with quick toss off replies that I never come back to.

I do want to point out since you brought it up though that legally reputation can be considered property.

For example, when you buy or sell a business often part of the price is called "good will". That is - the good will the business has earned and maintained. It is given a recognised material value. Someone who slanders or libels you then, in a way that effects you professionally can in fact be doing you lasting material damage.

Edited by SapereAude
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I took a quick look at FoxNewsLies.net and was not impressed. They say (presumably correctly) that Huckabee had opined that Romney ought to demand that Obama release his college applications if Romney releases his tax returns. Translated into crankthink this becomes: Huckabee said Obama is not a citizen. They said that the story of aid to the Brazilian oil industry was a lie, but they gave no evidence. I'm not an expert, but I've seen this in several reputable journalistic outlets; I think WSJ is one. When somebody calls a professionally estabished journalist a liar, the burden is on the accuser to document this and to come up with better-attested facts not subject to the doubts the accuser is prepared to raise about the claims at hand, not simply to say "I don't like it." They cite MediaMatters, which is crank central USA. Who knew there was anybody with less credibility than that? (And I only spent about ten minutes at FoxNewsLies.)

Jayson Blair, Janet Cooke and the Rather memos are cases where news outlets spread demonstrable falsehoods. These are examples of the standard you have to meet.

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