NBC reported a story that (sadly) came from unnamed sources. In the story, they claimed that in July the President called for “what amounted to” a tenfold increase in the US stockpile of nuclear weapons. Not only did the White House deny the story had any validity, but the President then tweeted this chilling statement:
“Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked.”
This was an all too familiar threat to me. Once upon a time, there was a war that the United States got involved in – Vietnam. It was such a sad failure that President Johnson was hounded away from seeking a second term. Nixon got elected and proceeded to possibly do an even worse job. There was a lot of campus unrest about the War, particularly because of the draft that was being used to support it. The Nixon administration drew up an enemies list, and somewhere near the top of the list were some of the campus radio stations that aired content that was critical of the administration.
A college radio station on campus had to have a license to broadcast their shows, and there was a collection of rules that governed the licenses. Several campus radio stations were clearly targeted as a result of being on the enemies list. One station was broadcasting a football game live, and they were a little bit late one hour with their station identification announcement. Each station was required to announce their call letters and the city they were broadcasting from within a specified number of minutes of the top of the hour. The station lost their license because they missed the announcement window by only a few minutes. I’m not aware of any serious enforcement of that rule since the Nixon era, let alone any station losing their right to broadcast because of not making an announcement on a timely basis.
The President’s threat? There are lots of laws related to television broadcasts, and I’m pretty sure that if a squad was put on the job they could find violations by almost any station. NBC itself is a much harder target since they mostly create content rather than broadcasting it directly. NBC or their parent corporation (General Electric) might own some local stations directly, and it would be possible to go after their licenses. NBC, of course, could simply continue to distribute shows through cable and the Internet, making attacking them directly a lot more difficult in the universe of the future where streaming has replaced other forms of broadcasting.
I’m not aware of NBC issuing a retraction over the story, and that leads us to another dilemma. How do we deal with “fake news” that is actually fake? Wikipedia allows users to update entries and has been forced to change invalid entries and sometimes lock content to prevent ongoing attacks on the truth. How do we deal with NBC’s story? Nobody has the standing to challenge the story in court. The President and his staff have access to sufficient news sources to deny the story and make sure everybody hears their side, so it’s difficult for them to claim any damages. A bigger concern is the worry that there are other stories coming to us from the news media and from the President and his staff that are lacking in validity and we have no way to easily detect the falsehoods.
How do we deal with NBC’s story? Nobody has the standing to challenge the story in court. The President and his staff have access to sufficient news sources to deny the story and make sure everybody hears their side. How does a simple citizen dig through the news and decide what’s true and what’s fake?
Should there be an official truth squad of some sort or should we simply depend on multiple Internet sources that measure the validity of claims? My guess is we just continue to tune out all the noise.
Quarterflash insisted “it’s time you got the news” in their one big hit, Harden My Heart. No word on whether their hearts really did get hardened.