Can the News Legally Lie to the Public? - Law Blog

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Can the News Legally Lie to the Public?


Brian Williams, long-time managing editor and anchor of NBC Nightly News, has been suspended for six months. The suspension came amidst the revelation that some of his stories were pure lies. Long ago, Williams described being aboard a Chinook helicopter during the Iraq war that was forced down by a rocket-propelled grenade. He also told a story of seeing a body float down the French Quarter in New Orleans when covering hurricane Katrina. William’s has since apologized and admitted to flubbing the helicopter story. All other speculative stories from William’s are currently being investigated.

dvr-blogSpanCan Brian Williams be subject to a civil lawsuit for lying to the American public? He certainly violated an ethics code most news anchors try to uphold. However, Williams is technically protected under the first amendment.

In August of 2000, journalist Jane Akre charged Fox News management and lawyers for pressuring her to air false information on a story. Akre was awarded $425,000 in the court ruling. She discovered that cows in Florida were being injected with RBGH to produce milk, but she also found the drug produces cancer in humans. Lawyers of Fox News rewrote her report over 80 times to please the Monsanto Corporation (producer of RBGH). She refused to report the false story.

In February 2003, Fox appealed this decision, claiming it was their first amendment right to report false information. The FCC does have a policy prohibiting news distortion, but that is only a policy, not a “law, rule, or regulation.” So, media channels have free will to lie and exaggerate news to the American citizens.

We should be able to trust our news anchors. Many people solely rely on the nightly news for their information. But since it has been proven that anchors sometimes lie to us, who are we to believe? My only suggestion is to always do your own research; you never know what “trusted” source could be lying to you.

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