The Definition of News Has Been Legally Changed
A tipping point has been reached in what is legally considered news. Critiquing a news source by questioning the facts presented, the manner in which they were communicated, the source’s validity, the broadcaster’s motivations or any inherent biases that may exist, is no longer a fruitful activity.
That line of critique has been swept aside by legally muddying what news is. The presenter is no longer required to convey any truths and the onus of verification has entirely shifted from the news source to the audience.
There are two ways on how this has been achieved.
Burden of Verification: A “reasonable” viewer is expected to “arrive with an appropriate amount of skepticism” based on the material presented by the news outlet. Any lies that the news broadcast may convey are not actionable because the viewer is expected to filter out lies from the truth. Even if the news source is spewing lies they’re given a pass because the viewer should have known better to believe it in the first place to believe it. That is, any “reasonable” viewer. Adding this word into any court’s ruling opens up the door to say anything.
False Presupposition: The presenter can state an assumption which is very likely to be false (or known to be false) and then base future arguments on the suspect assumption. As long as what follows traces back to the false assumption, all is good and anything can be said. For example if a host says “We’re going to start by stipulating that everything Michael Cohen has told the feds is absolutely true”, then the presenter has wide latitude on what conclusions they can draw, without ever worrying about whether Cohen was lying.
There are two compounding factors which make this especially harmful.
Inability for Skepticism: The constant bombarding of rhetoric in news shows overwhelms its audience and amplifies the echo in the chamber that the viewer already lives in. There is no pause (or desire to pause) to reflect on whether the information presented should be met with skepticism. The expectation that the consumer has the ability to be skeptical is wrong. The medium has become powerful enough that it overrides a human being’s ability to be skeptical, especially one who wants to believe in the lie.
Repackaging: Having talk shows disguise as news programs is a laughably easy way of repackaging lies without risking the penalty of being called out. Twenty-four hour news channels can have talk shows with millions of viewers who tune in to get some semblance of valid information. I provide the “some semblance” qualifier only because the audience have been conditioned enough and are polarized enough that they no longer can think on their own, and only tune in to reinforce whatever they already believe. As there is no material differentiation between talk shows and news programs for the audience, the convenient repackaging gives the broadcaster an out to say anything and hide behind the argument, “it’s not news, it’s a talk show”.
US District Court, Southern District of New York: Case 1:19-cv-11161-MKV Document 39 Filed 09/24/20 Page 12 of 19