Just Above Sunset
June 20, 2004 - Fox News Officially Censured for Lying (but not here)

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

We like being lied to, we really do…



The most popular cable news network in the United States, Fox News, the only news outlet Dick Cheney says he trusts, has a habit of lying.  Perhaps that is a little too blunt.  But they keep getting called on their lies.  And they keep getting slapped down. 

The topic has been around a long time.  You will find it covered in some detail in the pages of Just Above Sunset here: October 19, 2003 Opinion: Thoughts on nailing mashed potatoes to a wall.  Or - "We report, you decide." "Disseminating Ignorance." Basically, how watching the news can actually sometimes make you dumber, and have you believe things that just aren't so. 

Al Franken’s book about Fox News, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, pointing this out, is the seminal work on the topic, so to speak.  Fox sued over this book, and for a review of the full court transcript of the Fox-Franken hearing where Fox News was laughed out of court see the Just Above Sunset "Links and Recommendations" page, here (scroll down for the link). 

In the Washington Post of June 14, 2004 you will find more of this silliness:


On his show the other day, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly apologized to Texas columnist Molly Ivins for calling her a socialist.  Now liberal author Eric Alterman wants a retraction from O'Reilly, who recently labeled him a fellow traveler of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. 

Alterman's Miami-based attorney, Sarah Clasby Engel, sent a demand letter to O'Reilly last week, saying, "We would like to take this opportunity to identify a lie you recently broadcast."  On his show in early May, the conservative yakker called Alterman "another Fidel Castro confidant."

Threatening a defamation suit unless O'Reilly makes a retraction, Engel states: "We are certain that you will be unable to point us to any proof whatever of a personal relationship between Alterman, a proud anti-Communist liberal, and Fidel Castro."  The letter notes that in mid-May, Alterman signed a public rebuke of Castro, assailing the "brute repression" of his dictatorship. 

The lawyer gave O'Reilly five business days to respond.  A Fox News spokesman told us the missive arrived only yesterday and "our legal department is reviewing it."


What’s with these guys at Fox? 

And over at Media Matters we find this: Bill O'Reilly, on air, comparing Michael Moore and Al Franken to Goebbels – and saying Hollywood celebrities are just like the Nazi faithful in the forties. 

Well, that’s just name-calling.  It’s not really lying.  It’s a comparison - not the same as saying a liberal columnist is a close friend and supporter of Castro, or another liberal columnist is a member of this or that socialist party. 

But there are lies.  And the British government has just censured Fox News for flat-out lying. 

See Fox News censured for rant at BBC
Ofcom says Murdoch station broke programme code
Matt Wells, media correspondent, The Guardian (UK), Tuesday June 15, 2004

What’s this about?  It’s about the British Office of Communications, the office that controls who gets on the air in the UK, saying Fox News lies:


Fox News, the US news network owned by Rupert Murdoch, has been found in breach of British broadcasting rules for an on-air tirade that accused the BBC of "frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism". 

Television regulators said the broadcaster failed to show "respect for truth" in a strongly worded opinion item … which also accused BBC executives of giving reporters a "right to lie". 

Ofcom, which licenses commercial channels shown in Britain regardless of where they are based, received 24 complaints about the remarks.  In a ruling published yesterday, it described the offending item as a "damning critique" but said it did not stand up to scrutiny. 

It is the third ruling by British regulators against Fox News, which is available in Britain to Sky Digital customers, in the past year.  It broke the rules on "undue prominence" in two previous news items which plugged beauty products and a seed manufacturer.


Ah, habitual liars. 

But the rules are different over there:


The Independent Television Commission, which preceded Ofcom, responded to complaints last year that Fox did not meet its strict "due impartiality" rules by issuing a ruling that is regarded in some quarters as a fudge to avoid a standoff with Mr Murdoch: it said "due" meant "adequate or appropriate", and Fox News could justifiably claim to have achieved a level of accuracy and impartiality that was appropriate to its audience in the US, where different rules apply. 


Ah yes, we Yanks expect to be lied to. 

But the Brits do not seem to like rants that lack any basis in facts. 

According the The Guardian -


John Gibson, said in a segment entitled My Word that the BBC had "a frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism that was obsessive, irrational and dishonest"; that the BBC "felt entitled to lie and, when caught lying, felt entitled to defend its lying reporters and executives"; that the BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan, in Baghdad during the US invasion, had "insisted on air that the Iraqi army was heroically repulsing an incompetent American military"; and that "the BBC, far from blaming itself, insisted its reporter had a right to lie - exaggerate - because, well, the BBC knew that the war was wrong, and anything they could say to underscore that point had to be right". 


Well, yes, he said that. 

The British regulators had three issues here. 

Fox had failed to honor the “respect for truth” rule.  They had failed to give the BBC an opportunity to respond.  They failed to apply the rule that says, in a personal view section, "opinions expressed must not rest upon false evidence.”

These guys simply do not understand Americans.  We’re used to false evidence.  We love it.  Think of the WMD stuff.  Think of how the majority of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein was personally responsible for the 9/11 attacks. 

These Brits are so picky about facts and truth (exclude Tony Blair here). 

The official report is here, with comments. 

You will find there is no objective evidence of BBC having an anti-American bias – which is explained in detail.  There is no objective evidence the BBC felt “entitled to lie” – not a shred.  And what John Gibson claimed the BBC reporters said on the air?  They did not say what he claimed.  The transcripts show John was being a tad fanciful, he was, well, interpreting … or, ah … flat-out lying. 

We’re used to that.  I guess the Brits aren’t. 

From the report – “Fox News accepted that Andrew Gilligan had not actually said the words that John Gibson appeared to attribute to him.  However, Gibson was paraphrasing …”

Close enough. 


To quote the report:


We recognise how important freedom of expression is within the media.  This item was part of a well-established spot, in which the presenter put forwards his own opinion in an uncompromising manner.  However, such items should not make false statements by undermining facts.  Fox News was unable to provide any substantial evidence to support the overall allegation that the BBC management had lied and the BBC had an anti-American obsession.  It had also incorrectly attributed quotes to the reporter Andrew Gilligan. 

Even taking into account that this was a 'personal view' item, the strength and number of allegations that John Gibson made against the BBC meant that Fox News should have offered the BBC an opportunity to respond. 


Fox News didn’t. 


At the Fox News site Gibson responds with this:

The U.K. Investigates John Gibson
John Gibson, Tuesday, June 15, 2004

He says he did nothing wrong. 


My opinions about this major Brit media outfit are entirely buttressed by the truth, and they know it...  which is what makes them so mad. 

The Guardian newspaper in Britain now says this particular "My Word" from last January was so incendiary it "shocked many in the U.K."

I can't imagine that's accurate.  I shocked many in the U.K.?  How is that possible if they listen to and believe their major media outlet, which routinely trashes Americans, the American president, the American military and American policy? 

That is what is truly shocking, and I suspect that even though 24 Brits complained, the vast majority knows that all the nasty things the major media outlet says about us cannot be true.


Get it? 

Good Brits know the BBC hates Bush.  And everyone, the Brits included, knows Bush, and his policies, should be loved and respected. 
And lying a bit to prove that is okay. 

Such is American news these days. 

I ran this past my old college friend in Atlanta, Rick Brown, who worked for years for the Associated Press and then had a long career at CNN. 
When he read these items, then the Gibson response?  He wasn’t happy. 


Jesus H. Christ, he's gone and done it again! 

And correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems this Gibson guy gave this response in the very same Fox News segment in which he committed his original offense!  (Or is it "offence"?  The offence was committed, after all, over there, where I suppose British rules ought to apply.)

I do hope they get 24-hundred, or even 24-thousand, letters this time.  I wonder; does Ofcom have the power to deny Fox News permission to broadcast in that country?  Or do they just have the right to levy a fine?  Whichever, I would think UK public opinion will for sure be against the network on this one, which should be enough to make Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes to think twice about letting this continue. 

It is interesting to see how someone can take the phrase "I'm at the centre of Baghdad ...  and I don't see anything, but the Americans have a history of making these premature announcements," and, with neither shame nor explanation, paraphrase it so as to say Gilligan "insisted on air that the Iraqi Army was heroically repulsing an incompetent American Military.”

Just incredible! 

I know his comments are supposed to qualify as privileged opinion, but it's an opinion that contains within it a lie!  Listeners or viewers who didn't know any better would think a BBC reporter actually said those things, which of course he didn't.  And that's why this sort of thing is dangerous.  If racism would not be allowed in its opinion pieces, why should a network allow outright lies? 

If Fox were serious about its responsibilities as an information outlet, it would persuade Gibson to either straighten up or take a hike. 

The irony is, if Fox doesn't do take serious action against Gibson, it is doing what Gibson falsely accused the BBC of doing: acting as if one of its on-air people has a right to lie! 

And that would be reason enough for anyone, no matter what country they live in, to not trust, and therefore not patronize, a news network that willfully allows disinformation to get out, uncorrected, onto its air. 


But Rick, Dick Cheney himself says Fox News in the only reliable news source out there. 

A preliminary conclusion?  Americans LIKE being lied to.  They LIKE believing what they want to believe.  Fox News has dominated the news market because they say what we WANT to think is true.  We sort of know they lie.  That’s okay.  We like that.  It’s patriotic. 

And these Brits want to rip away our comfortable, pleasant delusions.  Heck, they're getting to be as bad as the French - except for Tony, except for Tony ….  


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....