The following is a lightly edited transcript of remarks made by Rakim Brooks during a Newsweek debate about the Dominion lawsuit against Fox News. You can listen to the podcast here:
On-air hosts who people believe are telling them the truth are actually lying routinely about what they believe, and don’t seem to be upholding their standards as journalists. I think what’s most galling about this entire situation is the lies go to the heart of our democracy. They go to whether or not our elections are fair and have integrity, and we see that declining by the day. And so for people who hold the public trust to gradually be dragging that through the mud knowingly for profit, maybe it shouldn’t surprise us. But at the end of the day, I think it’s a sad state of affairs and I’m glad that this lawsuit was brought. Dominion is defending itself. Not only that, but potentially defending the First Amendment. You have to either have knowledge or have reckless disregard. Now in this case, it does seem like it was reckless disregard for the truth. So the standard may hold, but I think it’s worth reevaluating at this point, particularly at the scale of the damages that Dominion alleges are actually realized. Fox did real harm to a real company that was providing a public good and they shouldn’t get away with it.
I want to give some credence to the argument that someone who’s presenting information for entertainment’s value, even if it’s news kind of information, should probably be protected under the First Amendment. This was the debate that we used to have over John Stewart. He was going over real information, but he was doing it with such caricatures that one could be led to believe that some things weren’t true, or the substance of the news was not actually being communicated. That’s where I’d like to draw down the marker, but the thing that I don’t want to lose sight of is that a company was actually harmed in the process of the distribution of this news. And I think the question that we’re really confronting is whether or not it’s opinion, or whether or not it’s news. What are the standards in our society for spreading false information, knowingly false information, not just “I think something about a set of facts that might be construed in any number of ways”. To me, that’s the heart of opinion. There’s some facts and you could read them in a number of different ways, but not that I’m actually creating a mythology, calling it facts, and harming someone in the process of doing so. That’s a really dangerous thing in any society. It’s not unique to America, but that’s what we’re confronting at this particular moment.
Rakim Brooks is president of the Alliance for Justice Action Campaign.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.
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