An axiom of ancient Jewish wisdom is that every noble virtue has an unhealthy extreme that must be avoided. Democracies subscribe to this concept as well. To illustrate: although the First Amendment guarantees free speech, it does not confer the right to scream “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater. Similarly, a free press does not mean that news organizations should offer omissions and distortions as objective fact.
The recent trial of George Zimmerman stoked racial tensions, for Trayvon Martin’s killing was seen by many as a hate crime. A major cause of this false perception was a deliberate distortion of fact by NBC News.
This is the actual text of Zimmerman’s discussion with the police just before he shot Trayvon:
Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.
Dispatcher: OK, and this guy, is he black, white or Hispanic?
Zimmerman: He looks black.
NBC’s “news” aired the following version of that same recording:
Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.
By deliberately deleting the dispatcher’s question from the recording, NBC treacherously misled the country into believing that Zimmerman committed a racial hate crime.
“Truth in packaging” dictates that if a chocolate bar was sweetened with corn syrup, a manufacturer cannot represent that it contains sugar. The government is in effect saying: “How dare you write that you used sugar when, in fact, it was corn syrup!” A first or second time offender might be fined, while a serial offender could be closed down. Shouldn’t news reporting be held to at least this standard of truth? Here too the same opprobrium should apply: “How dare you describe the facts one way when you know full well that the reality was very different!” Yet, NBC was not warned, fined, or censured by any government body for its shameful conduct.
There are other less obvious ways that news stories can be altered. One is by under-reporting what is important. For many people, what the press fails to discuss simply does not exist.
To illustrate, earlier in the year, the Obama Administration was accused of involvement in two major scandals. After the Benghazi attack that cost four American lives, UN Ambassador Susan Rice went on national TV and deliberately lied, saying that the riot was a spontaneous reaction to a YouTube video that offended Islam. Who ordered her to do this? Also, for several years, the IRS systematically targeted and harassed Conservative groups. Incredibly, the country’s ostensibly impartial law-enforcement apparatus was being used as a cudgel to beat down opponents of the party in power Such goings on, typical of a Third World dictatorship, shake the very foundations of the US’s democracy. Again, who gave the order to do this?
The President’s defenders say that evidence has not been brought that the Administration was complicit in any of this wrongdoing. Indeed, unless proven otherwise, the President must be presumed innocent…and respected due to the august office he holds.
The fact however remains that these two stories are of MAJOR importance to the USA. They call into question the integrity of both the present administration and (then Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton, an early favorite to be the Democratic presidential candidate in the 2016 election.
To date, what actually transpired in both cases remains unknown. Yet, on July 27, FoxNews.com reported that between June 28 and July 24, the three major networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC carried “zero stories” on these two topics. Evidently, the liberal major networks are attempting to bury these two vitally important but potentially incriminating stories so that people will simply forget about them.
The press did, however, see fit to extensively cover altogether less important events such as the Jodi Arias and Zimmerman trials, and the Royal birth in England. And let’s not forget actress Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy which was also treated as a far more serious matter than the two possible scandals. Should “news distorting” organizations be allowed to present themselves as a “news reporting” organizations? Where is the truth in packaging?
What, if anything, should actually be done about all of this? As with many other of life’s issues, it is far easier to vent and criticize than it is to offer workable solutions.
At the very least, it would be wonderful if the country would begin having some more open conversation about the accuracy or inaccuracy of its press coverage.
Surely, the right to a free press must be retained; it is a cornerstone of democracy. Nevertheless, perhaps a way should be sought to identify news reporting that is overtly biased, or in some cases, altogether false (as when NBC altered the Zimmerman recording). This way, when disreputable news organizations carry a story, the public will be forewarned that, “It ain’t necessarily so” – what actually took place may be totally different from what is now being reported.
Truth in packaging is at least as vital for the news stories people are fed as it is for the chocolate bars they eat.