A Law I would like to see
By John D. Turner
29 April 2020

I am not normally one to call for legislation. Ditto regulation. In general, I think we have too many of both. Every once in a while however, there is a problem that really seems to have no other solution.

I was reading that Sean Hannity was demanding a retraction from the New York Times for an article they published linking him to the death of a Mr. Joe Joyce. Mr. Joyce died of COVID-19 after contracting the disease on a cruise, and New York Times columnist Ginia Bellafante, in her article, linked Hannity to his death, claiming that, as reported in The Hill (I can’t view the original NYT article without an account, which I refuse to do), “he went on the cruise after seeing on Hannity and Fox News that the outbreak was under control.”

Unfortunately for the Times, the comments by Mr. Hannity and Fox News came eight days after the man had already departed on the cruise. So, regardless of the veracity of the comments, they do not have the ability to go back in time eight days to inform Mr. Joyce as to whether or not his cruise was a good idea. This was conveniently omitted from the column, giving the reader the impression that Mr. Joyce embarked on the cruise based on information from Hannity stating that it was safe to do so.

It is hard to imagine how one could have culpability for an event linked to something they said retroactive to before they said it. It is even difficult to construct a sentence describing such an event. Nevertheless, it is easy to write an article that omits key events and construes events such that the reader doesn’t realize the timeline involved and is led to believe that events occurred in a different manner. Then the writer, if called on it, can simply claim that the reader misunderstood what they were saying.

This is similar to claiming that President Trump said to chug Clorox when in actuality he didn’t say that, as watching and listening to the video will reveal. Lysol even issued a public statement about not taking Lysol internally even though Lysol was not even mentioned in the video. Why? Because it was mentioned in the press (even though Mr. Trump never mentioned Lysol), including the New York Times.

Was he unartful in manner of speaking? Yep! He did not clearly and concisely present his ideas. He isn’t the first president to have problems speaking off the cuff. Most people have a problem with that. Polished politicians even do, although they would know better than to try and brainstorm off the cuff in front of the media and a national audience, particularly in an area outside their area of expertise.

It was an attempt to think outside the box that would have been better done privately with his array of experts, not on national television with a pack of slavering “news” hounds waiting to pounce on any misstatement he might make. Any rational person watching the video would not reasonably conclude that the president was suggesting people to drink bleach, Lysol, or any other household disinfectant. But the press isn’t rational when it comes to Donald Trump or anyone else they don’t like.

Which brings me back to the point I was originally making. Retractions. Whether or not Hannity succeeds in getting his, the damage is already done. He might get some satisfaction, but that is about all he will get.

I have noticed that when the MSM breaks stories that they later have to retract, the original story is oftentimes in big banner headlines on the front page, the leading news item on TV, and typically shouted from the rooftops. Then later, when the retraction is made, it is in a small blurb on page 57 of the paper, or mentioned in passing at the end of the news report. It is never handled in the same manner as the original report. It is almost as if it is intended to be missed by the reader or viewer, in order to leave the original impression by the public unchanged.

Of course, that can’t be right. We all know that the media is made up of honest and unbiased journalists of impeccable repute. They would never unjustly slander, slant news items, lead the reader/viewer to incorrect conclusions, or make things up out of whole cloth. CNN for example, is the most respected name in news. They say so themselves!

I am sure that 97% of the news articles about President Trump in the MSM are negative, and have been since before he even took office, simply because President Trump is a complete bozo that only somehow got into office because of deplorable knuckle-dragging simpleton voters in the south and flyover country who didn’t know any better and an archaic election system from 1787 that is the laughing stock of the world and needs to be replaced as soon as possible with an up-to-date, world class direct election system using mail-in ballots and the Internet to ensure that the “correct” person is elected every time.

But here I am – sidetracked again! This is what happens when you don’t write for an extended period then suddenly start again. Everything gets jumbled up.

So how would a law fix this problem, which outdates the Hannity situation, President Trump, and probably goes back to the origin of newspapers in the first place?

Simple, or at least it seems simple to me. Craft a law that states, in essence, that any retraction must match the original news release being retracted. If it was headline news, the retraction must be headline news. If it was above the fold, the retraction must be above the fold. If it was the leading news item on the nightly news, so must the retraction be. And it must be of the same impact as well. It can’t just be a mumbled “that didn’t actually happen.” It must in and of itself be a “story.”

This should also have the effect of limiting such intentional “errors” in the first place, since the news source at least in theory wouldn’t want to use up valuable headlines retracting something they had said before. Retractions don’t sell papers. As for accidental “errors,” the cost of retraction should limit those as well, giving purveyors of news a little more incentive to “get it right” the first time. Perhaps this could even lead to the rise of unbiased investigative journalism in the United States. Nah. Probably not.

I would rate the likelihood of a law like this being passed as somewhere between slim and none and slim left town. Why would Democrats hobble their propaganda arm? As for Republicans, are you kidding? Then there is the media, which certainly would not let such a law pass without a protracted fight. There would be many words, in print and on air, that would boil down to “what part of ‘Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom…of the press’ do you not understand?”

You know, when it comes to the word “abridging,” I am sure the media will have no problem understanding the meaning and pointing it out to us in exquisite detail. Too bad they don’t have a similar problem understanding the meaning of the word “infringed” in the second amendment.

Ultimately, even if such a law did manage to get signed into law, it would have numerous Supreme Court challenges, and who knows how that august body would rule.

I would submit that such a law would not abridge any such right. The paper would still be free to print whatever they wanted. They could still call President Trump an idiot if they like. They would just have to have a little more accuracy in their reporting, “fess up” when they wrongly accused someone of something and publish an equivalent retraction.

After all, the news is supposed to be as correct as possible, isn’t it? Isn’t that what we expect when we read an article or hear a news report? Don’t we go into that with the expectation that what is being reported is true? If not, what’s the point? May as well watch a good movie or TV series on Netflix. I don’t need to sit there and listen to some news reporter’s opinion. If I want an opinion I will read an opinion piece. And I certainly don’t need a newsperson “guiding” me along the proper thought path.

We give the “press” a lot of latitude in the United States. We have enshrined this latitude into our Constitution so that the government can’t outlaw, among other things, political free speech. Too bad the press can’t return the favor by having enough integrity to not subject we the people to an ongoing information warfare campaign on behalf of their own political agenda.