Honesty seems like such a no-brainer of a requirement. But it's caused a great deal of controversy in Canada over the past few weeks--controversy heightened by the upcoming launch of a new, politically conservative Canadian television channel called Sun TV.
A Licensee shall not broadcast ... d) false or misleading news.
At first glance, it seems such an obvious, common-sense requirement that I was a little surprised that the Canadians had felt a need to put it in writing, or that anyone could possibly argue against it. But with a little more thought, I realized how profound the stricture really was. I also began to wonder why we don't have a similar requirement here in the U.S--and how different our public discourse might be if we did.
The controversy over the Canadian rule erupted in January, when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canada's equivalent to our FCC, proposed amending the rule to prohibit only:
...any news that the licensee knows to be false or misleading and that endangers or is likely to endanger the lives, health or safety of the public.
The root of the proposed amendment apparently goes back 10 years to a Canadian Supreme Court ruling that affirmed the free speech right of a Holocaust denier named Ernst Zundel to espouse those views. The Canadian Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Scrutiny of Regulations subsequently asked the CRTC to review its "false and misleading news" prohibition to determine if it violated free-speech guarantees.
The CRTC dragged its feet for 10 years. But then, this January, the proposed amendment was announced. Why the sudden action after 10 years of inaction? That's part of the controversy. The CRTC chairman says they were ordered to to it by the regulatory committee, but one of the committee co-chairmen says that's not true.
The controversy was also heightened by the impending launch of a new, privately-owned Canadian television station called Sun TV, now scheduled to go on-air April 18th. Sun TV is owned by Quebecor, the same company that owns the Toronto Sun tabloid newspaper, which has a reputation as a right-wing publication. The station is being promoted as a feisty, "controversially Canadian, hard-news" television version of the paper (according to Quebecor's president) and an outlet that will "take on mainstream media" (according to its vice president).
Critics accused the CRTC of looking to change the rules to give Sun TV more leeway in what it broadcasts. But both the CRTC and the parliamentary committee deny any correlation between the two events. And it is true that the committee had been requesting a review of the rule for a decade. In any event, a huge public outcry ensued, and the parliamentary committee finally looked into the matter itself and concluded that a broadcast station did not have the same rights and freedoms as an individual and, further, that a broadcasting license was a privilege, not a right. The committee pointed out that stations already had to comply with numerous restrictions and conditions to get and maintain their licenses, including limits on the content of their broadcasts. Consequently, the CRTC withdrew its proposed amendment. Canada will continue to require stations to refrain from broadcasting "false or misleading news."
Or, at least, the rule will remain on the books. Apparently, the CRTC has never actually taken any action against a station pursuant to that rule. One of the arguments for the amendment, in fact, was that the CRTC lacked enforcement capability, and had never enforced the rule anyway. But the CRTC does have the ability to revoke a station's license--which might give a station owner at least a little pause before allowing its on-air talent to present unsupported theories as fact or get too overzealous in their conclusions or spin on the news.
But the question remains ... why don't we have a similar requirement here in the U.S.? Traditionally, both broadcast radio and television and cable television stations have been subject to regulation, including content regulation, by the FCC. Although that regulation originated from the fact that airwaves were extremely limited, and not accessible to everyone, the regulation continued even after the birth and expansion of cable television, because courts recognized that television and radio are "uniquely pervasive" in people's lives, in a way print media are not. Indecent speech is already prohibited on broadcast television and, at least in theory, on cable (although courts' opinions on the best remedies for enforcing that goal seem to vary). Before its repeal in 1987, both broadcast and cable stations were both subject to the "Fairness Doctrine," which required the stations to present a balance of both sides to any controversial issue.
So given that we've long recognized that a broadcaster or cablecaster has power beyond an individual citizen or even print media, and therefore does not warrant quite the same "free speech" or "free press" rights without restriction (as the Canadian parliament just concluded) ... why can't we have a restriction on broadcasting (or cablecasting) false or misleading news?
One reason is probably the same reason the Fairness Doctrine no longer exists. It's laughable now, with the explosion of narrow-interest fringe websites and narrow-audience, right-wing and left-wing cable shows on Fox News and MSNBC, but in the deregulation atmosphere of the 1980s, the FCC's rationale for getting rid of the Fairness Doctrine was twofold: first, that the Fairness Doctrine inhibited the broadcasters' right to free speech, and second, that the free market was a better regulator of news content on television than the government. Specifically, the FCC said that individual media outlets would compete with each other for viewers, and that competition would necessarily involve establishing the accuracy, credibility, reliability and thoroughness of each story ... and that over time, the public would weed out new providers that proved to be inaccurate, unreliable, one-sided, or incredible.
One wonders, really, if the FCC had ever studied human behavior or the desire of people to have their individual points of view validated. Far from "weeding out" providers of one-sided, or even incredible information, we now revel in what New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof once called "The Daily Me"--a selection of news outlets that never ever challenge our particular points of view.
Contrary to the FCC's theory, our particular public seems to reward, rather than punish, outrageous or one-sided news providers. And while that may make each of us feel nice and righteous as we pick and choose our news broadcasters and commentators, one would be hard-pressed to argue that it enhances the quality of our public--or even our personal--discourse. Especially given the questionable "truth" of many of the statements or inferences made on those highly targeted outlets. In theory, we could all fact-check everything we hear on the TV or radio, of course. But few people have the time to do that, even if they had the contacts or resources.
But forget about the Fairness Doctrine. Imagine, instead, if all those broadcasters were simply prohibited from broadcasting (or cablecasting) "false or misleading news." Is it unacceptable censorship to require someone to be basically honest in what they broadcast as "news"--and which we are more likely to accept as truth, because it comes from a serious and authoritative-sounding news anchor?
Think about it. We prohibit people from lying in court, because the consequences of those lies are serious. That's a form of censorship of free speech, but one we accept quite willingly. And while the consequences of what we hear on television and radio are not as instantly severe as in a court case, one could argue that the damage widely-disseminated false information does to the goal of a well-informed public and a working, thriving democracy is significant, as well. What's more, if we really thought everyone had the right to say whatever they wanted, regardless of truth or consequences, we wouldn't prohibit anyone from yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre that wasn't actually on fire. We wouldn't have slander or libel laws. We wouldn't have laws about hate speech. And we'd allow broadcasters and cablecasters to air all words and all images, no matter how indecent, at all times.
Ah. But what if a broadcaster or cablecaster didn't know the information was false? I suppose you could prohibit only knowingly airing false or misleading information. But on the other hand, if a station were at risk for sanction or a license revocation for getting it wrong (even if the FCC rarely enforced the measure), it might motivate reporters and anchors to do a bit more fact checking--and even, perhaps, a bit more research into alternative viewpoints--before seizing on and running with a hot or juicy scoop or angle.
It's odd, really, that the idea of requiring news broadcasters to be fundamentally honest about the information they project across the nation and into our homes sounds radical. Surely we wouldn't argue that we want to be lied to and misled, would we?
A Chinese scholar argues that the U.S. shouldn’t touch Taiwan—just like China wouldn’t back separatists in Texas or Hawaii.
Shortly after news broke of Donald Trump’s phone call with the head of Taiwan—the first direct communication between American and Taiwanese leaders in 37 years—one of the leading Chinese scholars of U.S.-China relations offered a stunning proposal: If the U.S. president-elect took similar actions as president, the Chinese government should suspend the world’s most important (and precarious) partnership. “I would close our embassy in Washington and withdraw our diplomats,” said Shen Dingli, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai. “I would be perfectly happy to end the relationship.”
What made the recommendation especially notable was that, just days earlier, Shen had been arguing that Trump’s victory was good for China—much better than the election of Hillary Clinton would have been. So what was it about the Taiwan call that had so quickly soured Shen on Trump? Where did he now think the U.S.-China relationship was headed, and what might that mean for the wider world?
To many white Trump voters, the problem wasn’t her economic stance, but the larger vision—a multi-ethnic social democracy—that it was a part of.
Perhaps the clearest takeaway from the November election for many liberals is that Hillary Clinton lost because she ignored the working class.
In the days after her shocking loss, Democrats complained that Clinton had no jobs agenda. A widely shared essay in The Nationblamed Clinton's "neoliberalism" for abandoning the voters who swung the election. “I come from the white working class,” Bernie Sanders said on CBS This Morning, “and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to where I came from.”
But here is the troubling reality for civically minded liberals looking to justify their preferred strategies: Hillary Clinton talked about the working class, middle class jobs, and the dignity of work constantly. And she still lost.
Trump's election has reopened questions that have long seemed settled in America—including the acceptability of open discrimination against minority groups.
When Stephen Bannon called his website, Breitbart, the “platform for the alt-right” this summer, he was referring to a movement that promotes white nationalism and argues that the strength of the United States is tied to its ethnic European roots. Its members mostly stick to trolling online, but much of what they do isn’t original or new: Their taunts often involve vicious anti-Semitism. They make it clear that Jews are not included in their vision of a perfect, white, ethno-state.
On the opposite side of American politics, many progressive groups are preparing to mount a rebellion against Donald Trump. They see solidarity among racial minorities as their goal, and largely blame Trump’s election on racism and white supremacy. Three-quarters of American Jews voted against Trump, and many support this progressive vision. Some members of these groups, though, have singled out particular Jews for their collusion with oppressive power—criticisms which range from inflammatory condemnations of Israel to full-on conspiracies about global Jewish media and banking cabals.
The HBO drama’s finale hinted at a dark, meta message.
This post contains spoilers for the season finale of Westworld.
In 2013, a widely cited study published in Science suggested that reading literature increases a person ability to understand other peoples’ emotions. In 2016, another study seemed to debunk it, finding the original study’s results irreplicable and its resulting media coverage way too broad. “Reading Literature Won’t Give You Superpowers,” went The Atlantic’s headline from last week about the reversal.
It might seem laughable in the first place for anyone to think literature bestows superpowers. But that’s actually one of the more abiding beliefs of popular culture, and the question of whether stories improve the soul and mind—and better humanity more broadly—remains eternally in dispute. It’s a question that HBO’s Westworld has riffed on for 10 episodes, with the popular drama’s finale last night suggesting a cynical take on the social value of storytelling.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
SNL parodied the president-elect’s impulsive tweeting last weekend, and he responded by tweeting about it.
Saturday Night Live has been on television for nearly 42 years, and in that time, it has mocked seven presidents, with an eighth, Donald Trump, now firmly in its sights. The show’s satire is essentially part of the political scenery; at best, a president might knowingly reference it as a sign of self-awareness. Chevy Chase, in his portrayal of Gerald Ford, mocked the president as clumsy and accident-prone. President Ford did not respond by publicly demonstrating his grace and poise, obeying the old maxim about not protesting too much.
Playing Trump on last weekend’s show, Alec Baldwin mocked the president-elect’s impulse control in a sketch that saw him retweeting random high-school students during a national security briefing. The real Trump was not pleased. “Just tried watching Saturday Night Live - unwatchable! Totally biased, not funny and the Baldwin impersonation just can’t get any worse. Sad,” he tweeted at 12:13 a.m., about halfway through the episode. The irony couldn’t have been more plain: In response to a sketch mocking his propensity for impulsive tweeting, the president-elect ... impulsively tweeted about it. Satire in the age of Trump has already been difficult for Saturday Night Live, but it seems increasingly caught in a feedback loop: Any ridiculous heightening of his behavior is doomed to instant irrelevance by Trump’s reaction to it.
The past 12 months have been an eventful time for news stories, from the unpredictable and tumultuous U.S. presidential election, to continued war and terror and refugees fleeing to Europe, to a historic World Series win for the Chicago Cubs, and so much more.
The past 12 months have been an eventful time for news stories, from the unpredictable and tumultuous U.S. presidential election, to continued war and terror in the Middle East and refugees fleeing to Europe, to a historic World Series win for the Chicago Cubs, ongoing protests demanding racial justice in the U.S., the Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, and so much more. Today, we present the “Top 25 News Photos of 2016”—and starting tomorrow will be presenting part one of a more comprehensive three-part series, “2016: The Year in Photos.” Warning, some of the photos may contain graphic or objectionable content.
Confronting racism can be crucial, even when it’s not persuasive.
In the brushfire wars since Donald Trump won the presidency, skirmishes over how to speak to his coalition of voters have consumed liberals. Leading the vanguard in those conversations is a collection of writers and thinkers of otherwise divergent views, united by the painful process of reexamining identity politics, social norms, and—most urgently—how to address racism in an election clearly influenced by it. Though earnest and perhaps necessary, their emphasis on the civil persuasion of denizens of "middle America" effectively coddles white people. It mistakes civility for the only suitable tool of discourse, and persuasion as its only end.
This exploration of how to best win over white Americans to the liberal project is exemplified by reactions to Hillary Clinton’s placing many of Donald Trump’s supporters in a “basket of deplorables.” The debate about whether to classify these voters as racist or bigoted for supporting a candidate who constantly evinced views and policies many believe to be bigoted is still raging. As Dara Lind at Vox expertly notes, Clinton’s comments themselves were inartful precisely because they seemed focused solely on “overt” manifestations of racism, like Klan hoods and slurs. That focus ignores the ways in which white supremacy and patriarchy can function as systems of oppression, tends to forgive the more refined and subtle racism of elites, and may ultimately lead to a definition of racism in which no one is actually racist and yet discrimination remains ubiquitous.
Firefighters have now found 36 bodies inside the artist collective where dozens of people lived together.
Rescue workers say 36 people were killed in Oakland, California, in a fire that torched an artist-collective warehouse known locally as the “Ghost Ship.” It may take weeks to identify everyone killed, because the flames have charred some bodies so badly they’ll have to be identified through dental records. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has also opened a criminal investigation into what caused the fire. So far, it’s thought to have been an accident—the result of too many people in a place with rampant building-code violations. But already some of the artistic community’s frustration seems aimed at both the warehouse’s artistic leader as well as the Bay Area’s unaffordable rent.
The fire started Friday during a late-night rave being held at the warehouse, home to a couple dozen artists. The blaze grew so quickly that flames and smoke trapped many of the people inside, and forced some to leap out of the second-floor windows. Since firefighters extinguished the flames early Saturday morning, rescue workers have methodically removed bits of ash and debris, putting them in dump trucks to be taken to an offsite location, where they can be sorted and checked in case they contain human remains. It is one of the worst U.S. fires in recent memory, bringing to mind the 2003 blaze in West Warwick, Rhode Island, that killed 100 people at a nightclub called the Station.
Without any promising answer to the problem of fake news, outlandish false claims like a pedophilia ring running out of D.C. restaurant will continue to grow.
After weeks of debate about the theoretical and abstract dangers of fake news, there’s finally a concrete incident to discuss. On Sunday, a North Carolina man walked into Comet Ping Pong, a pizzeria in an affluent corner of Northwest D.C. wielding an assault rifle, which he fired at least once.
The man, 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch, told police he intended to “self-investigate” a bogus story alleging that Hillary Clinton was running a pedophilia ring out of the restaurant. The story, dubbed, deplorably, “Pizzagate” has spread around certain fake news circles, culminating in Welch’s expedition to Comet on Sunday.
So much of the discussion about “fake news” has involved vague questions about, for example, whether Russian-backed propaganda could have been a factor in Donald Trump’s victory. A big Washington Post report suggested that Russia had played a role in spreading lots of fake news; Adrian Chen, among others, convincingly argued that one major basis for that report was extremely fraught. There’s a broader question of the extent to which a foreign power could influence the election, and the extent to which that would really be anything new. Jack Shafer suggests not.