What Does the MSM Owe Its Readers?

Note: This post is listed as “by Baron Bodissey”, but it isn’t really. Dymphna was using Baron’s computer today and neglected to switch the Blogger login before posting.

Now you can guess which one of us is actually writing this explantory note! We wear similar pajamas, so we’re hard to tell apart…

There has been some fruitful discussion of a recent post of Wretchard’s, The Blogosphere at War. In his essay, among a wide range of ideas, he says this:

There is considerable interest in the idea that “blogs” are somehow able to offset the mainstream media’s (MSM) ability to sell a given narrative to the public, a power which is of considerable interest in peace and even more so in war. It is widely recognized that molding public perceptions through narratives is nearly as important in war as the outcomes on the actual battlefield. Palestinian Media Watch convincingly demonstrates that Arab and Muslim organizations have long made influencing international publics through print and broadcast media a strategic goal, especially in any confrontation with Israel. This effort has historically followed two tracks: the establishment of technically sophisticated media outlets like al-Jazeera to sell messages directly to audiences; and mounting information operations aimed at shaping the way in which Western Media outlets cover any issue of interest.

As usual, there was a long, thoughtful discussion among Belmont’s commenters. What struck me most, however, was a comment early on by a reader, Nahncee. I keep going back to what she said, and now want to present it to you as an idea with interesting possibilities. To my knowledge, no one else has posed this question.

From Nahncee:

The nation’s first Muslim Congressperson was elected in November, Keith Ellison in Minnesota. PowerLine, a fairly famous and well-known blog, wrote extensively about Mr. Ellison for months prior to the election.

The local newspaper, on the other hand, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, had a news blackout on the fact that Mr. Ellison is a Muslim with ties not only to CAIR but to other terrorist organizations.

Two months later, the Strib had just been sold for $530 million, after having been worth over $1 billion some years ago. It’s readership has declined to the point where it’s becoming worthless as well as redundant.

However, this is not helpful AFTER Mr. Ellison has been elected to the Congress of the United States of America, and is now demanding that he be sworn in to his new office using a Koran. In other words, his fealty will be to Islam rather than to the US Constitution.

– – – – – – – – – –
She’s correct in this assumption. Mr. Ellison’s fealty does not lie with the U.S. Constitution. It is not his first loyalty as an office holder — a public servant — in this country. And his past, plus his present associations, most definitely point in the direction of “Koran First, Constitution Second.” And, of course, her information on the decline and sale of Minneapolis’ leading MSM outlet speaks volumes about — as she says — its redundancy. Welcome news about a continuing trend.

But here is where her line of reasoning gets most intriguing, and this is the thought I want to present to you for discussion:

It seems to me that that citizens of Minnesota have an excellent case for bringing a lawsuit for malfeasance against the Star Tribune for *not* adequately informing them of who and what they were voting for. Ignorance is not accepted as a plea for wrong-doing in a court of law, but surely normal people living their lives outside the internet should be able to expect to be warned about waves of other evil things approaching them besides tsunamis. [my emphasis]

I can see lots of counter-arguments against this proposition — e.g., freedom of speech does not demand that one is obliged to say everything one knows. However, in this case, where a newspaper presents itself as being truthful about a political campaign, what does it owe its readers in either presenting the whole case about a candidate for office, or, at the very least, providing a disclaimer that it does not purport to be even-handed and will omit knowledge it has about someone if it helps their cause?

We probably shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for Minnesotans to demand full access to the news. However, there may be some — readers of Powerline who reside in that state — who could present a class action suit, in ACLU fashion, using Nahncee’s idea as their basis. The fact that the Strib deliberately and with forethought omitted crucial information about the questionable character of Mr. Ellison, particularly his extreme anti-Semitism, his ties to CAIR, etc., could be construed as a clear harm to the commonweal.

Is such a suit constitutional? Would the very fact of attempting to bring it on put the more blatantly biased of the MSM mouthpieces on notice? Would they have to begin acting like journalists rather than merely shills?

For those of you more versed in the intricacies of interpreting the First Amendment, it would be a big help if you were to weigh in on this idea of Nahncee’s.

What do you think?

16 thoughts on “What Does the MSM Owe Its Readers?

  1. Can you imagine the uses the left would make of a favorable outcome to such a suit? Heaven forbid that it should prevail. It would be a fundamental attack on freedom of the press.

    Such a suit is woithout merit at best and dangerous at worst. We don’t need it.

    John McCain, a nominal conservative, thought we needed some form of free speech reform around campaign financing. Bush apparently agreed and look where we are now.

  2. george d—

    It would cut both ways, wouldn’t it? However, it seems such a tempting thought as a means of reining in an arrogant, mandarin journalism that does such harm…as in the Ellison case.

    However, you’re right. Darn it.

  3. ..
    absurd thought –
    God of the Universe says
    never confront Islamists

    just let them push you around
    change your culture to fit them

  4. In my opinion, MSM compared to blogs is like propaganda compared to free speech, the first is homogeneous, well-polished, and false, the second is by nature very diverse in viewpoints as well in quality, but far superior to propaganda.

    We definitely a have a crisis on our hands with the MSM. Our nation really needs to come up with a workable framework to censor the media coverage in wartime. This used to be the rule rather then the exception. Leaking classified operations that undermines targeting off enemy and leads to US soldiers losing their lives (As New York Times and ABC did with “coverage” of Abu Ghraib, and the various intelligence gathering programs) is not “free speech”, it’s a crime, and if it is not punishable and preventable currently under US law, that has to change.

    Media falsely reporting “WE ARE LOSING, WE ARE LOSING” when, as historical studies have now proven, the US Army overall assesment was right (in that the North Vietnamese were losing, and were merely hoping to hang on long enough to get it’s US 5th column to swing the elections), cost us much of what the sacrifices of the brave US serviceman won us in Vietanam. I know this has to be done carefully, and undoubtedly raises legitimate free speech issues, but, traditionally, democracies have censored coverage of military conflicts and ended the wartime censorship without becoming totalitarian.

    The US can’t afford to have Democratic presidents ignore global threats as they build, and then when a Republican president takes on those threats, have the media leak war operations details and create the false impression that we are losing the war so that Democrats can get elected. Some sort of a reasonable wartime censorship framework to prevent the MSM leaking strategy and acting as enemy propagandist has to be put in place.

    I’m not really interested in reading Iraqi President’s Muqta Al Sadr’s memoirs 30 years from now, about how his militias 30 years ago were barely hanging on against the US Army, and were hoping to hold out long enough until the MSM convinces the American public we are losing and a Democratic president got elected.

    Our country owes this much to our brave serviceman and women, not to allow the criminals at ABC and New York Times that leaked intelligence to the enemy, walk around free men, enjoying all the perks of American democracy, while brave US serviceman are living under rough conditions fighting for that American democracy.

    If the New York Times met with an Al-Qaeda operative and gave him the details of a classified US program, that’s espionage for a foreign enemy, but if they print it for him to read in the New York Times, that’s free speech? So if the Soviets had their moles print classified US information in the New York Times, that would have been legal? Well, apparently it is…

  5. When the AP wishes to change the subject and challenge someone that is asking about the validity of its reportings, it is attempting to change the subject from that of the reports to the honesty of the organization. That is unethical. I know that having read their code of ethics and I now question them on why they are seeking to lose both their honesty and their ethics by not answering the original question. And as my blather is rather long here is Ethics Code: Associated Press Managing Editors, upated 04 MAY 2004.

  6. I doubt if readers can successfully sue a newspaper because of its failure to present political information with reasonable accuracy. Such suits would, if successful, be very harmful to freedom of the press.

    However, I wonder about shareholders. If a newspaper is owned by a public corporation, then its officers have a fiduciary duty to the shareholders. If they use the newspaper as a platform for their own opinions to the serious deteriment of its financial value, then it seems that *at some point* they violate their fiduciary duty.

    Any lawyers like to comment on this?

  7. I write for a living, including reports that are used by both commercial and governmental agencies. Any lie, omission of crucial information, or attempt to deceive in those reports would result in my being arrested for fraud. If convicted, I could get fined, jailed or both.

    However, the books I write are free speech; I could lie in them, but I don’t. My conscience wouldn’t let me. Maybe these folks just don’t have a conscience.

    More likely, it is ideological bullying backed up by a lack of accountability. When one of them gets caught lying, the rest of them circle the wagons. Remember, 60 Minutes has done an expose on just about every trade, vocation, art and profession except one, their own.

  8. Newspapers are free not to inform as well as to inform. You can mock their cowardice or suicidal stupidity, but legally they are under no obligation to print anything but their own slant. Which can be “advocacy by distortion, supression and misdirection”. A slimy manifesto, but completely “legitimate”.

    More important is now to question Ellison about whether he supports the Constitution/Bill of Rights OVER the Koran. If not, what is his need for the Koran at his swearing in, since the playbook of the pedophile warlord declares all earthly governments illegitimate and to be subsumed and destroyed by an Islamic world theocratic government.

    The adherence to this anti-Constitutional ideology (Islam) would render his “swearing to uphold the Constitution” a tactical “political” deception, if not outright sedition.

    Let him declare his true fealty. And his desires for the future of America. Does he prefer Sharia Law to the Bill of Rights?

    And quiz him with: how can any true Muslim pledge allegiance to an infidel state without lying?

    Newspapers will crumble under their own prejudices and strident calls to unreality, and ultimately report themselves into bankruptcy.

    But our country may follow down the same unravelling path if we do not examine those of the Muslim faith -coming into U.S. political power- seriously, strongly and with the factual information about Mohammadism (knowing the Koran, Hadiths, et al) to back up any interrogations of all such current and upcoming “Islamic” members joining our secular government.

    (Bloggers needs some of their own “reporters” at his press conferences to start asking the real questions.)

  9. Just a couple of naive thoughts if by swearing on the Koran, Ellison suggests that he adopts the Koran over the constitution, then why has the constitution been sworn to on the bible for so many years. A document which says that there shall be no religious test for membership of the political community has been sworn to on a document which frequently captures the killing of non-Jews by Jews in the Old Testament and which says that all those who aren’t Christians are damned in the New. Is it the different messages of the Books or is it the fact of swearing on a book that people are objecting to?

    Sorry that’s a side point and as a Briton its rather impertinant to question Americans about their constitution so I’ll drop it but my much more substantive point is below.

    Apart from that question I see what you are saying with respect to the mainstream media- Blogging is a good adjunct to the MSM because it reveals things you might not otherwise know- Jacksonian’s pieces on Iranian oil do that well- however it is only an adjunct for a couple of reasons. Take myself and Jacksonian both of us are anonymous, neither have any credentials to certify that we are taking the facts seriously. Big news organisations do check facts and do publish corrections, only the good bloggers do but bad bloggers don’t and you have no way of knowing on stumbling across a site whether its a good un or a bad un. I’m not saying that blogs are bad- they are good- but the MSM has advantages too and we shouldn’t neglect those. The other thing that has advantages is people like Juan Cole, who you can know has a backgroudn in researching an area- you don’t know that I or any anonymous blogger has any background or has ever done proper research, someone with an advanced degree in the area demonstrates both that they have and that they have the language skills to thoroughly understand what’s going on. None of the above is meant as a criticism of blogs- but there are advantages to more traditional communication as well.

  10. gracchi,
    One document laid the foundation for Western Civilization and the US Constitution. The other religious document has been warring against it for ~1400 years.


  11. You have to prove that the newspaper is doing something wrong, some crime. Propaganda is not. Unless you explicitly claim that you are balanced. Then the whole point is in that demonstration. Are they claiming that? How strong is the obligation they do accept?

    In Switzerland, some media are bound to a special law (national radio and TV). In order to get tax-payers’ money, they have to accept staying balanced and propose all relevant views on a given subject. It is probably the best case you can have. But it can be the affiliation to some association of journalism, which demands from their members that they stay balanced and thus give a special credibility to the affiliated media. Or it can be some contract with journalism schools, where the media declares being balanced, well, real journalistic. I guess that case is very difficult to present in the US.

    And then you can try to argue that there is subversion (covering up of Islamism, which you can show is subversive). Such actions have to be backed by politics. You have to support laws or measures similar to those engaged back then against Communism. It sure would be a good idea to unearth those things and try to adapt and optimize them.

  12. I doubt it would work in the context of a class-action lawsuit, but couldn’t someone use the “informed citizenry” argument against the Strib? Make a case that they are deliberately not meeting their obligations to educate/inform the people? Perhaps do away with any sort of tax breaks that they get from the State?

    It seems to me that it wouldn’t really work, MN being a pretty liberal place, but it might hit them right square in their Ethical weak point. Because the MSM always believes they’re doing The Right Thing when they mislead us.

    Chip away at their arrogance, and perhaps re-educate them a bit. If enough people complain, then it might start to even turn the occasional media person’s head.

    Get people that know the facts and write clearly, and bombard the Strib with letters to the editor, asking the tough questions.

    Sorry, I’m kind of rambling here, but it’s all done Stream of Consciousness…

  13. It should have been up to the political opponent of Ellison to bring to light the odious facts of Ellison’s background and then let the voters decide.
    If, however, the “patriots” surrender their votes be refusing to vote (through apathy), than the community will get what they deserve.
    From what I’ve read, the race wasn’t close. The Democrat vote garnering machine was in full force, the Muslim community united and Ellison made it to the hill. He won’t be the first radical in government and we’ll be watching him and his office to see what comes out. By his fruits, we WILL know him. -cp

  14. I see how that would give rise to confusion. AuntZilla and I don’t wear pajamas, but we generally keep the lights off, so I guess it’s kind of a wash.

  15. Since a newspaper is a business perhaps the best strategy is not to buy this paper except to identify for a boycott anyone who supports this paper by paying for advertisement. It sould not take long to force a change of behavior or economic destruction

    Is the free market is the best solution?

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