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?
The anchor's claim that her blog was hacked to include homophobic posts looks implausible.
A strange story about MSNBC host Joy Reid has been unfolding for a week. It began when a Twitter user with about 1,000 followers, @Jamie_Maz, dug up what appeared to be homophobic posts on Reid’s defunct blog, the Reid Report. They were similar in nature to posts that Reid apologized for as “insensitive” back in December, after @Jamie_Maz brought those to light.
The new round of posts contain a lot of cliche gay jokes about Charlie Crist and others, concerns that “adult gay men tend to be attracted to very young, post-pubescent types, bringing them ‘into the lifestyle,’” and commentary like “part of the intrinsic nature of ‘straightness’ is that the idea of homosexual sex is ... well ... gross ... even if you think that gay people are perfectly lovely individuals.”
In a speech to Congress, the French president elegantly rebuked his host’s entire worldview.
PARIS—There was the moment French President Emmanuel Macron greeted President Trump with a kiss on both cheeks, French-style, prompting a Fox News commentator to explain that in France, that kind of thing is normal, even for men. There was the moment Trump pretended to brush dandruff off Macron’s shoulder during an Oval Office photo shoot. There was the unforgettable, amused, “I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening” look on Macron’s face when Trump said the Iran deal was terrible, end of story. There was the press conference where Trump, in television game-show-host mode, said he might withdraw from the Iran deal, or might not and instead offer “a very large deal, maybe deal, maybe not,” and anyway stay tuned for his May 12 decision deadline. There was the weird photo of the two presidential couples planting a tree, and Melania Trump’s white, wide-brimmed hat.
Americans don’t realize how fast the country is moving toward becoming a better version of itself.
I have seen the future, and it is in the United States.
After a several-year immersion in parts of the country that make the news mainly after a natural disaster or a shooting, or for follow-up stories on how the Donald Trump voters of 2016 now feel about Trump, I have a journalistic impulse similar to the one that dominated my years of living in China. That is the desire to tell people how much more is going on, in places they had barely thought about or even heard of, than they might have imagined.
In the case of China, that impulse matched the mood of the times. In the years before and after the world financial crisis of 2008, everyone knew that China was on the way up; reporters like me were just filling in the details. In the case of the modern United States, I am well aware that this message runs so counter to prevailing emotions and ideas as to seem preposterous. Everyone knows how genuinely troubled the United States is at the level of national politics and governance. It is natural to assume that these disorders must reflect a deeper rot across the country. And indeed, you can’t travel extensively through today’s America, as my wife, Deb, and I have been doing in recent years, without being exposed to signs of rot, from opioid addiction to calcifying class barriers.
The rapper and president are bros now. Here’s why.
The scandals are like sediment in the delta of Kanye West. Each new controversy—each paparazzi fight, each “BILL COSBY INNOCENT,” each repackaging of ratty apocalypse couture as expensive fashion, each “multiracial women only” casting call—instead of burying him, only builds up higher and higher until it somehow becomes the very thing that grounds him. It’s worth wondering if, some untold number of years in the future, contemporaries will reflect on West and struggle to remember past the questionable comments and erratic behavior to even recognize his brilliant artistic contributions. The rapper and producer has become a pulsar of nihilism, an object to be followed closely only if one wants to have their faith in humans tested.
A new report highlights the growing trend of unmarried parents living together with their children.
When young couples of the ’60s and ’70s thought about the future, their path forward was often clear: get married, move in, have babies. Two of the steps of that sequence swapped places decades ago—for the first time, in the mid-’90s, over half of all couples lived together before marriage. Now, researchers are finding that the order is again undergoing change: More and more Americans are first sharing a home, then having children. Marriage comes later, if at all.
A report published today by the Pew Research Center finds that 35 percent of all unmarried parents are now living together, up from 20 percent of unmarried parents in 1997. In 1968, the first time the government recorded data on this trend, less than 1 percent of unmarried parents cohabited. While the Pew study defines “cohabiting couples” as including either one or both of the child’s parents—meaning, a couple could be a parent plus his or her new partner—scholars I spoke with told me this trend is driven by an uptick in families in which both members of the couple are also the parents. (The report doesn’t specify how the data breaks down among gay and straight couples.)
What if the problem isn’t the president—it’s the presidency?
I. A Broken Office
Donald Trump often appears to be a president in rebellion against his office. A president, we have come to expect, hastens to the scene of a natural disaster to comfort the afflicted. After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, President Trump arrived tardily and behaved unseriously, tossing rolls of paper towels at storm-battered residents as if he were trying to drain three-point shots.
We have come to expect that when the national fabric rends, the president will administer needle and thread, or at least reach for the sewing box of unity. After white supremacists marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, shouting “Jews will not replace us,” President Trump’s instinct was to emphasize that there were good people among the neo-Nazis.
Suspicions dogged the autism researcher for years, but they were largely unverifiable, until now.
At least no one ever put up a prominent statue to Hans Asperger, so we are spared the scene where they bring in the crane to drag another historical figure down from his pedestal. But essentially, that is what has just happened to Asperger, the Austrian pediatrician who lent his name to the syndrome that recognized autistic traits in verbally fluent individuals who demonstrate superior intelligence and creativity. As the current issue of the scholarly journal Molecular Autism makes clear in specific detail, Asperger, who lived and worked in wartime Vienna, not only went along with the Nazi project to murder disabled children—in some ways, he facilitated it, putting his expert’s signature on documents that dispatched such children to facilities where they were murdered. The new, novella-length study by the medical historian Herwig Czech answers many of the questions that have dogged Asperger for decades, except for one: why it took so long for the story to come out in full.
The field widely agrees that race is a social construct, but gets into trouble when it ignores semantics.
In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, “How Genetics is Changing Our Understanding of Race,” the geneticist David Reich challenged what he called an “orthodoxy” in genetics. Due to concerns of political correctness, he argued, scientists are unwilling to do research on—or, in some cases, even discuss—genetic variation between human populations, despite the fact that genetic variations do exist. “It is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among ‘races,’” he wrote.
The piece was widely circulated, drawing condemnation from some social scientists who were appalled by its implications and praise from people who believe that discussion of racial differences has become taboo. Predictably, it rang the bell for another round of an ongoing media fight over why there’s a gap between black and white IQ scores. Ezra Klein referenced the piece in Vox, and debated it with Sam Harris. Andrew Sullivan riffed on campus leftists and culture war.
In entertainment, when does empathy become exploitation?
The most chilling scene in the early new episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale comes when a 15-year-old Econowife, Eden (Sydney Sweeney), shyly tells June (Elisabeth Moss) that her new husband refuses to lie with her. June gently explains that she should be patient, that the strangeness of the arranged marriage is hard for her husband, too. “I can’t wait,” Eden replies. “It’s our duty to God.” Then her face hardens. “What if I don’t? What if he can’t?” She wonders if her husband is a “gender traitor,” a crime that carries a death sentence in the theocratic Republic of Gilead.
During the scene, the camera lingers—as it tends to do in The Handmaid’s Tale—on Moss’s face. The shock for the viewer comes as June processes what Eden has said, and what it implies. June’s affect beforehand is sisterly, treating the teenager with a gentle kind of authority. But over the space of a few seconds she realizes how dangerous Eden is—that her devotion to Gilead’s regime could spur a man’s execution in a heartbeat. The moment is quietly terrifying; its menace comes from what isn’t shown or said, but what’s left to viewers to imagine.
A new research center at Columbia University is committed to figuring out how to turn failure into success.
Every kid has that moment when she realizes that the adults she admires aren’t perfect. Few children ever learn, however, that the same is true for the inventors and intellectual giants whose distinguished portraits permeate their history textbooks.
As it turns out, recognizing that visionaries such as Albert Einstein experienced failure can actually help students perform better in school. In 2016, the cognitive-studies researcher Xiaodong Lin-Siegler of Columbia University’s Teachers College published a study that found that high-school students’ science grades improved after they learned about the personal and intellectual struggles of scientists including Einstein and Marie Curie. Students who only learned about the scientists’ achievements saw their grades decline.