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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Stupid Meme Alert: Did you know back in 2003, FOX News won a court case that let's them legally lie?

Well not exactly. Internet memes have a way of latching onto lefties like a remora on a shark. Here's what caught my eye:

Apparently this is a meme that's been going on for a while now and is wildly false. I did some cursory research and found this article which erroneously lead me to believe that it was FOX broadcasting, not FOX News that was the culprit. I knee jerked a tweet which I then corrected.

So unlike a leftie, I will admit my mistake and then do a bit more research than a cheaply photoshopped picture telling a very one-sided story. So here we go:

According to one site I found that seemed to put a little thought into their propagation of this dumbassedness, they say:
In February 2003, a Florida Court of Appeals unanimously agreed with an assertion by FOX News that there is no rule against distorting or falsifying the news in the United States.
Back in December of 1996, Jane Akre and her husband, Steve Wilson, were hired by FOX as a part of the Fox “Investigators” team at WTVT in Tampa Bay, Florida. In 1997 the team began work on a story about bovine growth hormone (BGH), a controversial substance manufactured by Monsanto Corporation. The couple produced a four-part series revealing that there were many health risks related to BGH and that Florida supermarket chains did little to avoid selling milk from cows treated with the hormone, despite assuring customers otherwise.
According to Akre and Wilson, the station was initially very excited about the series. But within a week, Fox executives and their attorneys wanted the reporters to use statements from Monsanto representatives that the reporters knew were false and to make other revisions to the story that were in direct conflict with the facts. Fox editors then tried to force Akre and Wilson to continue to produce the distorted story. When they refused and threatened to report Fox’s actions to the FCC, they were both fired.(Project Censored #12 1997)
Akre and Wilson sued the Fox station and on August 18, 2000, a Florida jury unanimously decided that Akre was wrongfully fired by Fox Television when she refused to broadcast (in the jury’s words) “a false, distorted or slanted story” about the widespread use of BGH in dairy cows. They further maintained that she deserved protection under Florida’s whistle blower law. Akre was awarded a $425,000 settlement. Inexplicably, however, the court decided that Steve Wilson, her partner in the case, was ruled not wronged by the same actions taken by FOX.
Ok seems pretty serious, doesn't it? Basically every rendition of the story portrays it this way. What don't they tell you? Well here's a few items of note:
There was indeed a lawsuit filed by journalists Jane Akre and Steve Wilson over their dismissal from FOX affiliate WTVT in Tampa, Florida. After that fact, however, the story is far different than how it is popularly portrayed. 
To begin with, the popular portrayal almost always omits the rather crucial fact that Akre and Wilson lost almost every one of their claims at the trial court. As the Florida Second District Court of Appeal noted in their ruling:
Akre and Wilson sued WTVT alleging… 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 St. Petersburg Times reported on the jury verdict and similarly reported on the failure of Akre and Wilson to win most of their claims: 
The jury of three men and three women deliberated nearly six hours before finding that Fox affiliate Channel 13 had retaliated against Jane Akre for a story about a controversial hormone manufactured by the Monsanto Corp.
However, jurors refused to give any money to Akre’s husband, Steve Wilson, an Emmy-winning reporter who also worked on the story.
And the jury did not believe the couple’s claim that the station bowed to pressure from Monsanto to alter the news report.
Despite the limited victory, Akre and Wilson found vindication in the verdict…
Most of the left's proof of this is because of what Akre believes. Not what she can prove, but what she believes and she puts this opinion on her web site. But the problem is her conclusion is not fact and the FCC disputes her.
A careful reading of the jury instruction reveals that the jury was only answering whether they believed Akre had been fired for threatening to lodge a complaint with the FCC alleging broadcast of a false, distorted, or slanted news report, not whether the news report was in fact false, distorted, or slanted. 
Akre disputes this interpretation on her own web site, claiming that “The jurors in my case said YES to the fact that Fox was guilty of pressuring me to falsify the news… When you look at the actual jury verdict form, the jury determined it was actually false, distorted, or slanted.  In fact, if jurors did not accept that premise, they could not have gone on to find in my favor…” 
But the FCC does not share Akre’s interpretation of the jury verdict. In a 2007 decision by the FCC denying a petition by Akre and Wilson demanding that WTVT’s broadcast license not be renewed, the FCC includes the following footnote: 
Although there has been much back-and-forth among the parties about whether the jury in the employment lawsuit found that Station WTVT(TV) violated the news distortion policy, the verdict form did not ask the jury to determine whether WTVT(TV) violated the news distortion policy, but rather to determine whether Station WTVT(TV) fired either employee for threatening to disclose what the Petitioners reasonably believed would be a violation of the news distortion policy.
Ok so maybe this is she said/government said. But here's the thing that the left assumes is true: that the Fox affiliate wanted to claim on 1st amendment grounds that is was ok to lie. They never made that assertion or argued that in court. (By the way, notice that this is all a case between these two reporters and a FOX affiliate and not the news channel itself.)
 It is also worth noting that of all the web sites, blog postings, and online commentary on the subject of the FOX  “right to lie” argument, not a single one that I’ve seen links to anything that would substantiate the claim. Very few even bother to link to the actual 2nd District opinion overturning Akre’s whistleblower verdict, or anything else related to the case itself. 
Finally on this point, and perhaps most convincingly, the web site maintained by Akre and Wilson also make no reference to a First Amendment “right to lie” argument advanced by WTVT. The two very obviously believe that the station attempted to force them to produce a false and distorted news article, and have gone to great lengths to promote and advance that belief. 
Yet in all the claims and charges leveled directly by Akre and Wilson against the FOX affiliate across multiple venues and platforms, there is not a single mention of any “right to lie” argument allegedly offered by WTVT. They seemingly accuse the station of nearly every other sin imaginable in the world of journalism, but are completely silent on this charge. If there is one place one would expect to find mention and substantiation of the claim that the FOX affiliate had claimed a “right to lie,” it is in the filings and writings of Akre and Wilson. Yet there is nothing.
Well if Akre and Wilson never filed that claim, then what about the ruling? There must be some reason the left has this particular internet meme a sacrament, besides their emotional hatred of anything to do with FOX. Well the FCC has a  news distortion policy. It is a policy that against the intentional falsification of news. It's important to note that a POLICY is not a LAW, RULE, or REGULATION. Those three have the weight of enforcement while a policy does not. So the complaint filed by Akre and Wilson was all done under the whistleblower statute. And that statute does not apply to broken policies, only laws, rules, or regulations.

When the second court agreed that WTVT didn't have to comply with policy, it was within the very narrow confines of the complaint which was: did WTVT break a law, a rule, or a regulation? If you want to be mad at someone, be mad at the FCC who didn't put any teeth into this policy by not making it a rule.

So if you are going to try to get a station's license pulled under the whistleblower law, you better use a reason that has more teeth than a policy. The point is that this ruling was NOT a ruling under the 1st Amendment or a journalist duty to the truth or anything like that. It did not give license to FOX or any other broadcaster to lie with impunity.

Here's from the ruling itself:
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. 
Again, this is a ruling under the whistle-blower statute and NOTHING ELSE. It does not change the first amendment. But since the left doesn't understand these technicalities under the law, they simply leapt to the conclusion that a court said it was ok to lie. Nope. 

If you'd like to actually read the ruling instead of a GIF file posted in twitter, here you go. You might actually learn something. I did.

**Update** The original tweet has since been deleted. Intriguing. Fortunately I have the original image that was posted for you to see.
The STORY. Most of it. Part of it. The parts we lefties like. May or may not be accurate. Meh.
I however am leaving this up. I linked to the actual court decision. Am I right or is the left correct? I'll let you decide.

(But the answer is me.)

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