David Dunn-Rankin

David Dunn-Rankin

It is interesting how much Ron DeSantis and I agree on the problems with big media. Here’s Governor DeSantis in his own words.

“Truth is on the cutting room floor. Damage and the narratives that they are supporting and furthering actually hurt people with their lies. Hold these big media companies accountable for their actionable lies.”

“It is one thing to say one thing and tell the truth, and the truth is not always comfortable. These companies are the biggest purveyors of misinformation in our entire society right now. When you are knowingly putting out false information, there needs to be an ability for people to defend themselves.”

“Pursue the narrative, try to advance the agenda, try to get the clicks. The fact-checking, the contrary facts, have fallen by the wayside. It just seems that is more commonly acceptable than it was 20-30 years ago.”

“All you have to say is, of course, they are going to try and smear you - that is just what they do.

Most people, most voters, just chalk it up to the bias and to the agenda. I don’t think in the long run, it has worked out for them. I think it is going to be very poor for them — just with the decline of standards and the elevation of the narrative above all else.”

Thanks, Governor, we generally agree. Although, I think Governor DeSantis was just talking about the liberal media. I would include the conservative big media as part of the problem. What has caused this big media problem the governor and I agree on?

One factor creating slanted news is that the federal government removed the requirement that TV should present both sides of a story. In 1949, with the growth of radio and TV, the government instituted the fairness doctrine requiring both radio and TV to reflect differing viewpoints fairly.

Thirty-six years ago, the fairness doctrine was removed, allowing TV and radio to become ultra-partisan.

Google, Facebook and Twitter were exempted from our standard libel laws 27 years ago, in 1996, by the federal government. This means anyone could say anything on these social media platforms, and the companies had no duty to ensure accuracy. The more scandalous, the better for clicks. To compete for clicks and revenue, big media has followed TV and internet companies into the sewer of discourse.

If it seems to us old-timers it has gotten worse, it has, because of these two government decisions. Ron DeSantis is right about how ugly this has gotten.

In addition, 59 years ago, the Supreme Court unanimously decided in Sullivan vs. N.Y. Times that the bar for libel suits had to include actual malice for public figures. Governor DeSantis wants to change Florida law contrary to this Supreme Court ruling.

The sweeping DeSantis-proposed law includes the legal presumption that anonymous sources are presumed false for purposes of a defamation claim. Failing to corroborate a false statement that is shown to be false shall be evidence of actual malice. DeSantis says defamation should fall under state law, not federal law, removing the Supreme Court from first amendment cases.

The proposed law is probably an over-step. Under the proposed change, if you call someone stubborn or angry, you could be liable for defamation. What we individually say on Facebook, Amazon, Yelp reviews, Twitter or to our neighbor will be forever changed if this becomes law in Florida.

I understand the governor’s frustration, but this ugliness did not get started after the Sullivan court case in the 1960s. It started decades later, after the fairness doctrine was repealed in 1987 and the internet companies were exempted from libel responsibility in 1996.

Let’s start by repealing the internet platform’s exemption from libel. That’s easy to do. Let’s see how that affects public discourse. Much of the race for internet clicks will dissipate as internet providers become more careful about allowing false statements onto their platforms.

We can improve civil discourse in this country. I agree with Governor DeSantis’ concern, but not his proposed solution.

What do you think? Share your thoughts.

David Dunn-Rankin may be reached at: David@d-r.media

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