Thursday, August 02, 2007

INNUENDO, LIES AND CHICKEN: IS THE MEDIA BIAS ILLEGAL?

In the summer of 2003 Kentucky Fried Chicken began an advertising campaign that positioned it’s product as “healthy”. Now to be fair there was some tiny print in the commercials that mentions something about needing to remove the skin to get rid of the carbohydrate soaked breading. With this said, the overall impression they conveyed was that they were in line with contemporary thinking of the time that protein is good and carbs are evil. Now for some reason I’m not sure that the late Dr. Atkins would have written a prescription for two buckets of extra crispy and told the patient to call him in the morning. What I am sure of is that because of this ad campaign KFC was sued for being in violation of section 5 of the Federal Trade Act. This is the section that prohibits a company from performing “deceptive and unfair acts or practices”. KFC’s claims that their product was healthy fell close enough to the line of deception that their assertion became legally actionable by any parties who felt that they could blame their oversized posterior on Colonel Sanders. In short, the type of people who now show up on the Discovery Channels show “Big Medicine” sued the feathers off the Colonel.

It’s easy to look at a fast food restaurant and point the finger of blame at them when they try to convince the general public their product is actually health food. Lets do a little out of the box thinking and point that finger at other parties who regularly and at times gleefully, violate the very same section of the Federal Trade Act. I find my finger pointing in the direction of many of our news agencies.

When a program puts the word news in its title (ABC News, Newscorp, CBS Evening News, etc) it conveys that it will be reporting on the events of the day. There is also an inherent, unspoken, public trust that news outlets will be conveying these events accurately. That is where we get into a breech of the Federal Trade Act.

Let’s remember that news is a product, and as a product is subject to the same laws that allowed KFC to be sued for eluding that it’s product was health food. Over the past few years the major news outlets have engaged in a campaign of half truths, innuendo, and verifiable lies that were more about the personal beliefs of those who run the news organizations then about responsible, impartial journalism. Here are a couple examples:

On Thursday, July 10, 2003 the CBS News website ran an article about President Bush’s alleged knowledge of a false charge about Iraq’s nuclear program. The headline was, "Bush Knew Iraq Info Was False." Later, the headline was changed to, "Bush Knew Iraq Info Was Dubious." There is actually more evidence to support the notion KFC extra crispy will help you shed pounds and inches then there is to sustain this particular charge.

On October 21, 2001 the New York Times had reported on its front page that "The Czech president, Vaclav Havel, has quietly told the White House he has concluded that there is no evidence to confirm earlier reports that Mohamed Atta, the leader in the Sept. 11 attacks, met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague." Within hours of its publication, President Havel denied that he had ever spoken to President Bush about the meeting. His spokesman, Ladislav Spacek, termed the New York Times "a fabrication," adding "Nothing like this has occurred."

Although Havel had declared its scoop as a "fabrication", the Times continued to beat this drum and used it again as the basis of an editorial on October 23, entitled "The Illusory Prague Connection." This kept the story in the Times clip file.

Czech officials produced a report from the Czech intelligence service (BIS) that detailed a meeting in Prague between hijacker Mohamed Atta and Iraq Consul al-Ani in April of 2001. No Czech official or Intelligence agent ever stated that the intelligence about the meeting was "false." The editors of the New York Times are welcome to their opinions, about an Al-Qaeda/Iraq link but when they must present a lie as a news story in support of that opinion, they violate Federal laws regarding deceptive and unfair acts or practices.

These are only two examples of verifiable lies that have been presented to the public as news. Need we even mention Dan Rather using fabricated documents to smear President Bush’s service record and influence the 2004 Presidential election? There are literally hundreds more examples. Is it logical that the bar for ethical standard is higher for a local Chicken shack then for a national news organization? Should Colonel Sanders be held to a higher moral standard of truth then Dan Rather? Of course not. News is a product and no different then fast food or an automobile. I simply don’t think it has occurred to many people that lies masquerading as news are not only immoral, but they are legally actionable.
Section 5 of the Federal Trade Act expressly outlaws “deceptive and unfair acts or practices”. On top of this there are reams of state laws that protect the consumer from defective products. In many cases news is now a defective and harmful product. A number of companies try to influence public opinion with verifiable lies and innuendo. This is done with the full knowledge that the public’s inherent trust of “The news” will keep them from noticing that a number of people in the media have replaced journalism with activism. It’s about time somebody hit them with the same legal stick that cost Joe Camel billions. Does anybody know a good lawyer?

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