Showing posts with label #FairnessDoctrine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #FairnessDoctrine. Show all posts

Saturday, June 10, 2023

From the Courtroom to the Newsroom: The Polarization of Perception.

"Truth and fairness are tested, as old sturdy pillars strain under new pressure."
© 2023, CC-BY-SA 3.0.

The American justice system, a cornerstone of our democracy, is being tested in light of the ongoing federal criminal case against former President Donald J. Trump. Peter Baker's article in The New York Times brings to light the challenge that Trump's attempts to discredit the charges pose to the public's perception of justice. This is reminiscent of the decline in the perceived credibility of news outlets, further reflecting the ways in which our democratic institutions are grappling with challenges of legitimacy and trust.

The erosion of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 has contributed significantly to the polarization of American media and the general public's discourse. As partisan voices like Rush Limbaugh dominated the airwaves without presenting balanced viewpoints, we have witnessed a similar trend in political communication, with accusations of bias and corruption becoming more prevalent.

This context is critical in understanding Trump's current strategy. Facing multiple felony counts, Trump's response has not been limited to defending himself but includes an active attempt to portray the justice system as partisan and corrupt. This narrative echoes his past efforts to discredit news outlets by labeling them "fake news," a strategy that resonates with a considerable portion of the public in a politically polarized landscape.

The parallels between the public's perception of the media and the justice system are striking. In both cases, the integrity of the institution is questioned, contributing to an environment of skepticism and polarization. Just as the case of Fox News' settlement with Dominion Voting Systems highlighted the dangers of unbalanced reporting, Trump's attempts to delegitimize the justice system underscore the risks associated with the loss of public trust in democratic institutions.

The key challenge now is to restore trust in these institutions by promoting transparency, accountability, and balanced perspectives. These principles, central to both journalism and justice, are fundamental to the functioning of our democracy. We must not only recognize the parallels between the challenges faced by our democratic institutions but also learn from each other in our efforts to address these issues. Ultimately, the survival and integrity of our democracy depend on our ability to trust these institutions to uphold truth, justice, and fairness.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Fox News' $787.5M Settlement with Dominion: A Wake-Up Call for Media Accountability and the Future of Democracy.

"Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox News."
© 2008 Xrmap.

Jim Rutenberg and Katie Robertson of the New York report today that Fox News has reached a $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems, avoiding a lengthy trial that would have seen its top executives and personalities face intense questioning over their role in spreading false claims about the 2020 election. The settlement, one of the largest defamation settlements in history, includes a rare admission by Fox News acknowledging that certain false claims about Dominion were aired on their network. However, the agreement did not require Fox to apologize for any wrongdoing in its programming, a point Dominion had been pushing for.

The settlement follows several pretrial findings by the presiding judge, Eric M. Davis, which cast Fox's programming in a negative light, significantly limiting its ability to argue that it was acting as a news network pursuing newsmaker claims. Dominion had collected substantial internal documentation from Fox, showing that many within the company knew the conspiracy theory about Dominion's election involvement was baseless. The settlement raises the question of whether Fox News will change its approach to handling defamatory conspiracy content in the future.

When I began writing online (blogging?) in 2012, the first significant post I made concerned the sale of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, The North Bay Business Journal, and the Petaluma Argus-Courier. While the sales price at the time was not disclosed, the value of the Press Democrat had dropped and related enterprises had, on the evidence, declined by over 90% since the purchase of the papers by the New York Times in 1985. That was consistent with the decline of the newspaper industry overall in recent times. I speculated then about the consequences of the collapse of the economics supporting newspapers and the possible impacts of the same. 

The experience since 2012 in America, and the decline of its papers, has been bigger news than I might have imagined. The end of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 allowed conservative voices like Rush Limbaugh to dominate talk radio, as broadcasters no longer needed to present balanced viewpoints. The culture that developed in that context has since spread into newspapers and cable TV news. This change contributed to the polarization of political discourse in the United States and helped shape the nation's political landscape. 

Rather than merely be conservative, the Dominion case suggests that, over time, the lack of balance has led to Richard Hofstadter's "Paranoid Style" of American politics rising to the fore. A political culture founded on falsehoods, deceit, or misinformation can undermine trust in democratic institutions, erode the credibility of political leaders, and ultimately sap the stability and effectiveness of the political system as a whole. This has severe consequences for the functioning of a democratic society, leading to increased polarization, ineffective decision-making, and weakened accountability.

The decline in the economics supporting newspapers, the end of the Fairness Doctrine, and the subsequent rise of polarizing voices have significantly impacted the American political landscape. The Fox News settlement with Dominion Voting Systems highlights how unbalanced reporting and conspiracy theories have permeated mainstream media, eroding trust in democratic institutions and increasing political polarization. As we move forward, it is essential to address the challenges posed by this shifting media environment and work towards fostering a political culture that values accuracy, integrity, and balanced perspectives, to ensure the continued stability and effectiveness of our democratic system.