You Can’t Handle The Lie

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  1. I think your framing of the events here as Fiat News is entirely legitimate, and certainly in keeping with the longstanding beliefs I have seen written here over the years. I have no argument with the framework you present. I think, though, that it may be incomplete, or at least, it ignores or discounts an important element - there may be a point where the framework that advocates rejecting thse actions by labeling them Fiat News is legitimately challenged by the Paradox of Intolerance. I understand that this is not a clear case (are there ever any?), but there are elements here that IMO raise the issue:

    Tolerance involves respect for individual autonomy—the idea that people’s minds and lives can be different from our own. 
    Intolerance means not enduring what you dislike, and seeking to harm it, whether you’re persecuting someone, prohibiting a practice, or punishing a set of beliefs.
    But how do we determine the limits of what can be done, said, or believed? Should the expression of abhorrent views be legally protected speech? A madman arguing to kill all members of an ethnic group may be considered a repulsive extremist, but he or she could also become a political leader or even a head of state, even a democracy, with the power to enforce those ideas by convincing others, through their speech, to agree with them. How do we respond to this philosophical challenge?
    If we have a head of state, speaking in his official capacity, denouncing the expression of individual autonomy imbued in the right to vote granted to each citizen of the country, I believe one could legitimately claim this an example of intolerance. The press cannot, of course, forbid that expression at the point of a rifle. I suppose you might claim cutting off the speech does just that, but the fact of the speech occurring, and the contents of the speech have certainly not been repressed, banned, or stricken from our minds' record. Rather, I'd suggest the actions each of these networks took was not to ban the speech, but rather to stigmatize it, by calling it out as a lie, and refusing to grant it, not any airtime at all, but any more airtime. That's a salient difference. (Let me disclaim the USA Today actions here, as they are much closer to the "banning" than the "stigmatizing" end of things) If a network chose to ignore the speech entirely, a claim against that behavior would be entirely appropriate in my view. But a network showing the event, and breaking away after some period of time after the intolerant views have been expressed, is more in keeping with their responsibility to hold the powerful to account. Here, stigmatizing intolerant speech is exactly the prescription called for if you want to thread the needle that the Paradox of Intolerance presents.

    Toleration may seem like a cold and impassionate response to hatred, but tolerance requires endurance, not warmth. In a free society, we can’t imprison white supremacists or Nazis for merely articulating their beliefs. Treating such views with cold revulsion, however, is a strong strategy. Social shaming is a powerful tool, but we should be thoughtful in how we use it. 

    (Quotes above from )
  2. I usually agree with you Rusty but in this case I feel the opposite … only in an authoritarian regime should the media be forced to deliver the deranged dictator’s message. Independent and privately-owned media outlets should follow their own moral, ethical and journalistic codes and refuse to publish that which they believe is damaging to the republic or clearly false. Why should they willingly be a vector for the dissemination of obvious falsehood? We have Twitter for that.

  3. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Thanks, Brent! I think you may be inserting some words that weren’t written, however. There’s nothing written above that argues in favor of “forcing” the media to deliver any message at all. That would be Orwellian indeed!

    By extension, I don’t have an issue with publications having whatever editorial stance they favor, either. The only arguments I believe I made are:

    1.) These outlets don’t trust you to make up your own mind.
    2.) These outlets want to shape how you interpret and respond to facts.
    3.) This combination is indicative of the behavior of a principal acting in its own interest, not an agent.

    I think that’s a socially unproductive state for the media. I think it’s entirely OK for you to disagree with that, but I don’t think that I’m making any points other than the above.

  4. Yes totally fair. I guess I would interpret it not as “they don’t trust us with the lies” but “it would be irresponsible to broadcast the lies”. But I dunno… I get what you mean too. Thanks - always awesome prose and always thought provoking.

  5. I felt about this cut-away the same way I felt about Sen. Tom Cotton’s NYT op-ed. Letting a proto-fascist air their views in public is far better then letting them skulk about, and wink and smirk at their “fellow travellers” like they get the inside joke (“The Storm is Coming!”). In the end, I think that op-ed ages very poorly for Cotton who has greater ambitions. And the truth is he’s still the man he is, whether someone makes a moral editorial decision or not. If you have a policy of not airing discernible lies, let him have his time and fact-check in real-time or afterwards. If we are so scared that Trump’s bullshit will overwhelm some kind of perceived collective simpleness of America, then you need to ask yourself what you’re trying to salvage. If he stepped to a microphone and said “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome Biden?”, is Joe Biden any less or more safe because the control booth at MSNBC et al clutches its pearls?

  6. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Good thoughts!

    I come out slightly differently on this, but I think you’re right to present it in gradations. I, too, agree that USA Today’s approach and that of the various networks differ in magnitude. I also think that presenting a clearly denoted editorial view - even a very bold, aggressive, critical one - would not only be appropriate but desirable.

    In fact, the capacity for a subsequent editorial response is such a clear and obvious remedy for all of the issues you describe that explicitly seeking to limit the exposure of the average American to primary sources on a topic of such self-evident public interest seems to me to perform practically no additional service to the viewer. It may, as Brent noted below, soothe the sensibilities or serve the values of the media outlet, but in the end, that is my primary point. I have no interest in media being compelled to carry anything, nor do I have any interest in saying that a news outlet ought not to behave as it deems fit given the values and predispositions of its personnel. I observe however, that in doing so, they cease to act as anything approaching agents of the people and begin to act as principals of their own account and with their own particular political and social aims.

    Said another way, I believe the people are fully capable of shunning intolerance, fraud and malfeasance, and that we are better served by a social structure which permits them to do that aided by a media which provides them information on the events of the world in as primary, unfiltered and unmanaged a form as possible. I do not believe that it is necessary or desirable for the media to take on a paternalistic role in ensuring that we adhere to their personal interpretations of what is just and tolerant.

  7. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    I think that is an especially apt comparison, Trevor. While I am a bit cynical on all politicians, prior to the Times publishing that Op-Ed, Tom Cotton was one I would say I considered mostly pretty good. After I read that Op-Ed, I changed my mind. Dramatically. Diametrically. The sniveling pre-script added after-the-fact by the Editors was almost as distasteful, but for all that didn’t really change my POV on the NYT.

    I don’t think there are that nearly as many “on the fence” people who would have changed their mind about President Trump after that speech, but it’s a non-zero number. More importantly, Trump’s speech provides useful color, information and context for those who want to understand all of the other discussions we are having about elections, political division, etc.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  8. Avatar for Kpaz Kpaz says:

    I would mostly agree with Rusty here. However, if the media had been consistently calling out DJT and the administration on their lies starting 4+ years ago, then yeah, air it and call it out post presser. But when they have done the fiat song and dance for this long, I think it finally got to a point where an adult had to step into the room. The bad news is they didn’t do it until it became clear he would lose. MSM fail. I didn’t see if PBS/NPR even carried it in the first place, anybody?

    Second, the media do not work for us. That is a narrative spun in journalism school. I should know, being a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism - Go Devils! We are the meal on the dinner table providing the eyeballs for the advertisers. Never forget that tender media consumer.

  9. Bravo EnochRoot! I agree.
    The fact these independent networks each made realtime editorial decisions to curtail (for once) the cooption of their live broadcasts should be applauded, not derided. Nothing he said was new news. He’s been claiming voter fraud for months (years actually), and he has plenty of access/airtime/communication options open to him. If the past 4+ years have taught us anything, it’s that he’ll continue using them to widen our sociopolitical gyre. So, honestly, of all the things to be writing about today, I don’t know why Rusty choose this The concern about not trusting viewers with unfiltered access strikes me as misplaced in this instance and context.

  10. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Hah, isn’t that the truth! Surely we are still permitted to dream?

  11. How this note lands with me depends on how much I’m thinking of these outlets as news, and how much as something else. “Entertainment” isn’t quite the right word, but in that direction.
    These outlets are owned by large, cold, corporations, whose interests aren’t very closely aligned with the idea of delivering news. They are very interested in how many people are watching, and they know that their audiences contain a lot of people whose skin would crawl at seeing the Trump speech. If MSNBC is showing it and CNN isn’t, some people are going to flip over to CNN and watch those ads for a while instead.
    Do I think the CEO of Comcast texted this MSNBC producer to cut away? No. But I do believe that this producer is in this seat because he’d make that call, optimizing ratings under the color of bravely battling disinformation, speaking truth to power, etc.

  12. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Yeah, I think we’re 100% on the same page there. Similar observations to Kpaz above. None of this should be surprising, but I still find it disappointing.

  13. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    I quite agree with most of that, but they did air the speech, and they stopped airing the speech for reasons they described themselves: because they didn’t want to air a statement from the president which they believe (rightly, I think) contained provably false statements, not because it didn’t contain new information, was demonstrated to not be newsworthy, etc.

    That’s where I think it’s important to draw the line - this wasn’t a determination made because it “wasn’t important” that Americans see this, or because it was “the same old Trump fraud BS”, but rather because “Americans shouldn’t” see this. I simply feel strongly that America is better when those determinations are made by free individuals equipped with information about events, but I’m content to disagree.

    As for why I wrote it? Because I do feel strongly about that, and also because this is the Zeitgeist, where we feature the most linguistically connected news of the day…and this happens to be that!

    Thanks for reading!

  14. Avatar for rwgood rwgood says:

    My congresswoman, Abigail Spanberger, is by all accounts a decent person and if I happened to ever meet her I expect it would be very cordial, congenial even. Friends of mine who know her like her. We simply disagree about policy but the interesting thing about her rant is that she mentions attack ads that branded her a socialist. I don’t think she is a socialist and I’d be willing to bet that most of the folks in her district do not think she is a socialist, evil attack ads notwithstanding. Speaking of evil attack ads, the Spanberger campaign told us all repeatedly that her opponent was the only evil republican legislator to vote against funding for autistic children. That heartless ner-do-well, in the back pocket of big business. That this callous, unfeeling, fellow is himself the father of not one but two autistic children was, of course, not part of the public service announcement …ugh, I mean attack ad. Alas, this kind of hyperbolic ad hominem nonsense has been a feature of American political discourse since Jefferson, Hamilton etc. and I believe that thoughtful people have discounted it for equally as long. So when the President makes a speech full of unhinged hyperbolic nonsense, I do not believe that anyone with two wits to rub together should find that surprising, nor is it kowtowing to the Dictatorship for these magnanimous public servants like Lester Holt to air his silly rant and allow us to judge for ourselves. On the other hand I’m pretty sure that even the autistic kids that don’t live with Nick Freitas can see through their faux-high minded partisan game as well but I will still get out my marshmallows when it is all Burnt TFD.

  15. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Very interesting detail on the Spanberger/Freitas campaign. I think once Biden was the top-of-ticket, it became pretty difficult for any left-of-center narrative of any power to take hold other than “Get Trump Out,” so it makes sense that some of the ads became a bit more idiosyncratic/personal. Sanders, who had such control and alignment with the broader progressive narratives until the early moderate wing consolidation took hold in the primary, probably would have changed the color of those campaigns pretty significantly. The right was able to make some narrative hay out of socialism (which is a mainstay, not new), but I really do think the “defund police” narrative device Ben wrote about earlier really was the most devastating in some districts.

    Thanks, Ward!

  16. The BBC World Service (via the local NPR radio station) broadcast clips of the speech late last night, as well as noting the US networks that cut away.

    I am almost in complete agreement with Rusty, considering many other inflammatory and/or untrue quotes that have been broadcast for years. “Why start now?” was my gut response to first hearing about the cut away. Also that this could be a missed opportunity to discuss how to disprove untrue statements.

  17. Avatar for Trey Trey says:

    I agree with Rusty and I had a similar thought. What would things look like now if the MSM cut away/gave less attention to Trump when he became outlandish and unhinged during the Republican primary process four years ago?

  18. My initial thought here is that no person is allowed to yell ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater. I can discern a lie from the truth, most of the time (I think). But, to use your metaphor, I don’t think a rhinoceros can.

  19. Avatar for rwgood rwgood says:

    I agree. It is widely believed in Richmond that the police were forced to stand down. Some of that has been reported. I know policemen who refuse to comment but they’ve lost any number of people to “retirement” etc.

  20. As a “vote against Trump” voter, last night’s speech and cut-away was gratifying. Also felt dirty. But in a world where “This isn’t how capitalism is supposed to work! This isn’t how elections are supposed to work! This isn’t how politics is supposed to work! This isn’t how free speech is supposed to work! This isn’t how the Fed is supposed to work (they’re out of bullets)!”…it was PERFECT. #MercyIsGonnaBeHard

  21. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Hah! I feel you, Carl. Sometimes impossible. Just remember: a C- is still a passing grade!

  22. Chilling Rusty —-The second chilling thing I have read this morning , the first was AOC’s tweet calling for a list to be kept of Trump supporters that they can be held accountable for their complicity. ?

    Then look at the reply’s ?

    I have it all on screenshots for when twitter takes it down

  23. Welcome to the K shaped world, it’s everywhere. As a thought exercise, is the US so divided that we could split into two countries? The US of D and the US of R. I’m not sure, but I’m more worried about the next presidential election.

  24. I go back and forth on this one, but I appreciate the article, Rusty. My gut reaction is to agree. Ultimately it feels very much the bottom of layers of the broad argument of tolerating intolerance right up until intolerance is the new norm. At what point do you not participate in the dissemination of information that would seek to undermine the rules that protects the rights to disseminate anything you like. Its not whether there is a point, but when.

    Taking your argument to its logical endpoint, should news networks cut from a President calling for violence from his supporters against others? The fact that that is not ‘protected speech’ doesn’t change the real time decision for news networks because its an incredibly grey area. These are ‘penumbra of doubt’ questions, not easy ones. There are no right answers, but decisions need to be made nevertheless.

    Fact is, news networks ought to have a heavy bias toward covering the elected president like you say, and its about trusting you or me to make up our minds, almost all of the time. But when the message isn’t for us (99%+ of ppl), but rather for those who have already made up the minds, and when that message seeks to destroy the country/incite violence or some other harm, then I think it does need to be cut away from.

    Was this instance at that point? No, probably not. But it’s not inconceivable in the coming months, sadly. Then, the issue isn’t about ‘trusting us to discern the lies’ but rather not providing effective communication tools to aid those that seek to do some great wrong to the country or people, elected president or not.

  25. I note EnochRoot mentions similar points below (I hadn’t seen that comment before I gave my two cents!)

  26. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    The original reference was indeed deleted. The lists thing was a major metagame fail, and probably the first major such misstep for the Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez in narrative world.

  27. Avatar for Zenzei Zenzei says:

    This comment section is fascinating. We are all dancing around the question of who gets editorial control and gets to set the line(s) in the sand of where the “truth” ends and the “lies” begin.

    since this is ET…I’ll share a poem that most closely represents my view.

    We dance round in a ring and suppose,
    But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

    —Robert Frost
  28. Indeed Rafa - In reading John’s section about the dangers of questioning the legitimately of an election without evidence. I had to laugh , as the legitimacy of the 2016 election was questioned for 24/7 for 2 years , and as it turns out —without any evidence.

    I don’t trust the media - any media-- to be the barometer for what truths I should be allowed to see. The fact that they cut away is one thing, the fact that ALL three major networks cut away at the same time - is very disturbing.

    Like FB and TWTR both deciding simultaneously that the NY POST article on Hunter cant be shared…I mean what a coincidence.

  29. I’m late here - circling back through articles. I have been preaching this concept to my kids: Listen to everything Trump and others like him say, and make up your own mind about what they say. Media does not exist to shield us from lies - they exist to make sure free people hear the lies, and process them accordingly.

  30. Great article and valid opinion. The competition in the media today is fierce as the likes of ET, Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan and hundreds of other very capable and independent minded journalists and commentators break away from the monopolistic main stream media and begin to find their own forums.

    For me, I subscribe to centrist independent minded journalist and commentators and I find that I am very well informed and very open to compromise on a broad array of major policy issues. For those glued to MSNBC and Fox News, I cannot say the same for them. Close minded, manipulated, brainwashed are words that come to mind.

  31. 'Independent broadcasts making realtime editorial decisions ’ ? All I could think of at the time was the off-camera crews watching all the other network’s broadcasts and trying to judge when was the exact right time to break in so that they would be perceived by the crowd as not too hot …not too cold …but just right.

    Nice write up Rusty. Felt like TV news was the only option there for a few days, but quickly reminded me why I’ve abandoned them.

  32. When does “the Media” have the right to lie in its effort to convince us that the President is a blatant liar? Would it have been a more or less effective statement for Media Person to say, “Neither President Trump nor his supporters have presented evidence that there was sufficient election fraud to materially affect the outcome of the election.” For MP to state that there was no election fraud, period, is a lie. Is it as big a lie as was told by the President? Probably not, except that MP has lost credibility, though he/she may have sold more eyeballs to sponsors.

  33. The difference between ‘reporting’ and ‘journalism’, I suppose. Journalists nudge.

    “In psychology and behavioral economics, people have shown that if you just describe options in a certain way, or make some features of a situation salient, you can get people to do and even see what you want. You don’t have to be a Jedi to manipulate people’s attention.”

    -Cass Sunstein

  34. At a certain point he is screaming “Fire” in a theatre

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