The rise of fake news and the absence of the Fairness Doctrine in modern broadcasting have resulted in a lack of accountability, threatening the accuracy of the information available to the public.


T he controversial CNN Town Hall weeks ago that featured Donald Trump is a metaphor for what ails America’s 4th estate news media. It illustrated the task American newsrooms face daily, delivering news that accurately informs the public and making a profit while doing so.

The CNN Trump Town Hall also illustrates why it’s becoming difficult, maybe impossible, for America’s 2023 market-driven 4th estate news media to honor the Founding Father’s constitutional intent that the 4th estate be the American barometer, which accurately informs the public on truth, lies, and consequences.

Freedom of the press or 4th estate is a right granted to any American citizen or corporation, it’s a free speech right protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  A free 4th estate means the right of individuals or corporations to express themselves through written publication as well as audio and video dissemination of information, ideas, and opinions without interference, constraint, or prosecution from or by the government. Since the American Constitution’s priority is to grant unobstructed freedom of expression, the truthfulness or accuracy of what the 4th estate chooses to express is not required for its speech to be protected by the American Constitution, the only speech not protected by the American Constitution is speech that threatens life.

The best example of unprotected speech is not being able to yell “fire” in a crowded theater not on fire, because yelling fire would cause the crowd to wildly rush for the exits likely causing injury to many due to the panic created. The free-but-not-required-to-be-accurate-speech, protected by the American Constitution, is responsible for the creation and publication of 4th estate fake news dating back to the days of the Founding Fathers in the 1700s, right up through the yellow journalism days of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer in the 1800s, who both at times published lies, for economic profit and/or to benefit their personal social or political agenda, to an unsuspecting American public.

The government could do nothing and the courts were very limited in what they could do to prevent the news media from disseminating false information, until 1920 when a new technology empowered the government with a constitutional basis to regulate certain speech. Before 1920, the only way to report the news to the general public was through publishing written text, the written text medium allowed both an endless supply of tools to produce it and free access to everyone who wanted to use it. By 1920 the new technology of broadcasting radio transmissions of speech and music had been discovered, this meant that purveyors of news using the radio broadcast medium would be able to reach thousands to millions of more people, but the radio broadcasting medium, unlike the publishing print medium, is impossible for everyone to use because there is a finite number of available radio broadcast frequencies to transmit speech and music.

By 1927 the same technology would foster the discovery of TV broadcast frequencies. Since all TV and radio broadcast frequencies are owned by the American public, licenses for access to a broadcasting frequency are awarded by the federal government to a chosen individual or corporation. The federal government’s ability to award broadcast licenses also gives it the ability to regulate the broadcast frequency’s use. The Communications Act of 1934 created the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to both issue broadcast licenses and regulate communications by radio and television across the United States. In 1949 the FCC moved to prevent broadcast inequity by creating the Fairness Doctrine to ensure that a variety of views, besides those of the broadcast licensees and those they favored, were heard on the airwaves. It established two forms of regulation on broadcasters:

1) Provide adequate coverage of all public issues

2) Ensure all broadcasts fairly represented opposing views

In order to adhere to the first regulation, broadcasters had the latitude to provide coverage of public issues through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. The second rule required broadcasters to provide broadcast time for an opposing view to any issue broadcast by a radio or TV broadcaster.

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine in its Red Lion vs FCC 1969 ruling stating:  It is the purpose of the First Amendment to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail, rather than to countenance monopolization of that market, whether it be by the government itself or a private licensee. It is the right of the public to receive suitable access to social, political, aesthetic, moral, and other ideas and experiences which is crucial here. That right may not constitutionally be abridged either by Congress or by the FCC.

The Fairness Doctrine protected and expanded speech and debate because it prevented broadcasters from allowing only one side or one perspective to be heard. When an individual, citizen group, or corporation complained to a broadcaster about imbalance, the broadcaster would set aside time for an on-air response for the omitted perspective. If either the broadcaster, individual, citizen group, or corporation disagrees with the complaint or resolution to the complaint and felt that an adequate range of views had or had not already been presented, the decision would be appealed to the FCC for a judgment.

This provision alone was a game changer because it kept radio and TV broadcasters honest. When a broadcaster knew anyone could provoke a process that potentially could end up with an FCC judgment against them, all broadcasters took 3 steps to assure observance of the fair broadcasting rules.

Step 1. Whatever news is broadcast must be FACTUAL, be it Republican, Democrat, religious, black, white, male, female, gay, straight, old, or young, it must be fact-based.

Step 2. Use the most credible sources to broadcast whatever the subject matter is.

Step 3. Whenever a non-fact or opinion-based subject is broadcast, a balanced opposing view from a credible source must also be presented.

Because public TV and radio were the only wide people-reaching mediums available during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and most of the 1980s radio and TV Fairness Doctrine operating procedures dominated and set the standard for the entire news media industry. In an attempt to compete with the popular TV and radio broadcast medium all fact-based newspapers and news magazines adhered to the same Fairness Doctrine operating standard, even though they were not regulated by the FCC and therefore not required to do so. The print publications that did not adhere to the Fairness Doctrine, like the National Enquirer, were relegated to grocery store stands and not considered credible sources for factual news.

By 1980 new technological advances allowed video broadcast through satellite or cable networks, and Cable News Network (CNN) was founded by Ted Turner as a 24-hour cable news channel. It was the first television channel to provide live 24-hour news coverage and was the first all-news television channel in the world. Since CNN was not broadcast over public airwaves but through privately owned satellite and cable networks it was not subject to the Fairness Doctrine, but because of the personal integrity of then-visionary owner Ted Turner CNN voluntarily adhered to the Fairness Doctrine.

The Fairness Doctrine served America’s 4th estate well. From 1950-1996 Americans’ trust in the news media was so strong that news media outlets were thought of and feared by some as if they were government agencies. The news media could go places the government couldn’t. It could get people to talk to it that the government couldn’t, in some cases, exposure by the news media was perceived as affording protection to a citizen that even the government could not provide, and in other cases, news media exposure was perceived as offering guaranteed whistle-blower protection to a citizen from government retaliation. Now based on the current news media landscape 1950-1996 might be considered by future historians as the golden peak years of America’s 4th estate.

Because by August 1987, 4 Republican-appointed FCC Commissioners voted unanimously to abolish the Fairness Doctrine, after the 4-0 vote then-FCC Chairman Dennis R. Patrick said, “We seek to extend to the electronic press the same First Amendment guarantees that the print media have enjoyed since our country’s inception”. In other words, we seek to return to the days before the public radio and TV Fairness Doctrine when the news media was free to disseminate anything, regardless of its truth or accuracy, free of government regulation.

Before the August FCC vote in June 1987, the Democrat-controlled U.S. House and Senate attempted to preempt the FCC decision by codifying the Fairness Doctrine into law. The law passed in the House 302 to 102 and in the Senate 59 to 31 but was vetoed by then-President Ronald Reagan who said “In any other medium besides broadcasting, such federal policing of the editorial judgment of journalists would be unthinkable”.

Abolishing the Fairness Doctrine changed the business model of America’s 4th estate. The 4th estate business model changed from disseminating fact-based information and news as a public service, for individual or private company profit, to disseminating ratings-based information for market-share domination and huge corporate profit. It cleared the way for the Fairness Doctrine procedures, voluntarily adhered to by Ted Turner and CNN, to be replaced by the fake news for ratings and profit procedures adhered to and perfected by Rupert Murdoch and Fox News. Just as public radio and TV news set the standard for news dissemination in the 20th century, 24/7 cable news now sets the standard for news dissemination in 21st-century America and the number one cable news disseminator is the Fox Fake News Channel with its half-truth, no truth, ideological or politically spun ratings-based fake news for profit standard.

Elimination of Fairness Doctrine regulations and Fox Fake News setting the standard means corporations no longer view news as providing fact-based information as a public service with minimum profit, corporations now view news as providing unregulated and sometimes fake information as a new source of maximum profits for corporate bottom lines.

The new corporate view of profits from unregulated and fake news started the trend of thousands of independently-owned newspapers across America, by 2018, being bought and consolidated under the ownership of 25 corporations ranging in size from the 30 papers owned by Morris Multimedia to the 451 papers owned by New Media/GateHouse. Similar consolidation occurred among locally-owned TV stations and they suffered the same brutal cost savings to their news-gathering operations as news print publications. Since the Fairness Doctrine no longer exist and Fox Fake News has eliminated the fact-based information for-profit standard, corporate America decided 30 newsrooms for 30 newspapers was no longer needed, so 30 newsrooms were reduced to 1 supposedly big newsroom for 30 papers, which effectively meant the elimination in many cities and counties of local news coverage and huge profits for corporate bottom lines.

Unfortunately, the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s golden years of fact-based information for profit have changed in the 21st century now and forever more, thanks to the 1996 creation of the Fox Fake News Channel and its ratings-based half-truth or false information for-profit business model!!! That’s the reason for the CNN Trump Town Hall. CNN, the network that invented in 1980 Fairness Doctrine fact-based 24/7 live news coverage, is making a business decision not the public service decision it made in 1980, to follow in the footsteps of the ratings-based 24/7 fake or half-truth information standard-bearer, Fox Fake News, to increase CNN’s bottom line profits by disseminating ratings-based information regardless of its truth, accuracy, or morality.

CNN’s new owner, John Malone, foretold this in 2021 when he was asked about the future of CNN saying “Fox News, in my opinion, has followed an interesting trajectory of trying to have news, news I mean some actual journalism, embedded in a program schedule of all opinions” In other words, I want CNN to make the same huge profits as Fox by broadcasting fake or half-truth information influenced exclusively by Republican conservative ideology. Since the vast majority of newsrooms in America are no longer controlled by Fairness Doctrine visionaries like Ted Turner, but by corporations and Republican conservative ideologues like Rupert Murdoch and John Malone, other cable and print newsrooms have followed their lead and implemented the Fox fake news profit model, which is partly responsible for the January 6th insurrection death threat to American democracy.

It’s no exaggeration to cite the January 6th Capitol Hill riot/insurrection attempt to change American democracy to American autocracy, as a failure of the current market-driven 4th estate. America’s Founding Fathers granted the 4th estate the constitutional right of unobstructed freedom of speech so that it could act as American democracy’s watchdog of impropriety, American democracy’s alarm system to wrongdoing, American democracy’s independent impartial truth proclaimer informing on whose lying and who’s telling the truth. Thomas Jefferson expressed the Founding Father’s sentiment about the importance of a fact-based 4th estate to American democracy in 1787 when he said: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter”.

The Founding Fathers made the 4th estate a constitutional right, with the intention, to prevent a January 6th from occurring, instead their 18th-century constitutional 4th estate intended to prevent January 6th has evolved, in the 21st century, into the market-driven 4th estate that contributed to making January 6th happen. Donald Trump is correctly blamed for inciting the 978 people charged so far with either destruction of federal property, assaulting police officers, insurrection for attempting to overturn the 2020 election, or all the above. But Trump’s lies of a rigged or stolen election were given creditability to the 978 rioters by the most-watched market-driven 4th estate cable news channel, Fox Fake News, and its Fox-wannabes News Max Media and One America News Network repeating Trump’s election lies as news facts.

The Dominion defamation lawsuit against Fox illustrated, how and why, America’s 2023 market-driven 4th estate disseminates ratings-based half-truths or fake news for market-share domination and huge profit, a profit that’s still possible even after Fox pays a $700 million legal judgment for disseminating fake news. Depositions and other lawsuit documents revealed that after Fox reported the fact-based projection that Trump would lose the state of Arizona (AZ) in the 2020 election, Fox immediately began to lose viewers and rating points. Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott texted Lachlan Murdoch, the Fox Corp. Co-Chairman, that “the AZ [call] was damaging but we will highlight our stars and plant flags letting the viewers know we hear them and respect them”. In other words, we will correct the mistake of reporting facts that truthfully informed viewers by reporting lies that will attract viewers back to our channel.

Bill Sammon, the executive who oversaw Fox’s 2020 election night “decision desk” that accurately called Arizona for Joe Biden, was fired from Fox because he supervised the reporting of truth and facts. In a note about his firing to a Fox publicity executive, Fox News CEO Scott denounced Sammon, saying he did not understand “the impact to the brand and the arrogance” in projecting Arizona for Biden, saying it was Sammon’s job “to protect the brand”, apparently what Sammon didn’t understand or protect was the Fox ratings-based fake or half-truth information for-profit brand. As a result, Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch suggested Sammon be fired saying in an internal communication “Maybe best to let Bill go right away” as a “big message with Trump people”.

Dominion depositions and documents also revealed that Fox management was not alone in advocating the dissemination of ratings-based fake news. Fox TV hosts Maria Bartiromo, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro, and former hosts Tucker Carlson and Lou Dobbs all expressed concern over lost ratings and advocated lying to the public to restore viewers to the Fox Fake News network.

The Fox fake news profit model is also responsible for another potential death knell to American democracy. The 21st annual Edelman Trust Barometer indicates that for the 1st time in American history, more than half of all Americans have no news media trust. 56% of Americans agree with the statement that “Journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations,” and 58% think that “most news organizations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position than with informing the public”.

Therefore for the survival of American democracy in the 21st century America’s news media, the 4th estate, must be regenerated!!! Regeneration means providing a profit incentive for the 4th estate to return to Fairness Doctrine operating procedures. And providing a profit incentive for the 4th estate to implement a no-conflict of interest standard that restores the public’s trust in the 4th estate. The best profit incentive for 4th estate owners, to voluntarily submit to the requirements of regeneration, is to designate any profits derived from accurate news media operations as tax-free and designate certain operating costs to produce accurate news as tax-deductible.

Tax-free for an individual owner or corporate owner means they pay no income tax on any profits their accurate news operation generates. Tax-deductible for a corporation like NBC, which has a news division and an entertainment division, means not only would NBC not pay taxes on news division profits but the total, of certain accurate news production expenses, could be used to reduce the tax liability of the entertainment division profits.

For any print, public broadcast, cable broadcast, satellite broadcast, or internet news operation to qualify for the tax-free and/or tax-deductible status it must adhere to 3 things which would be monitored, regulated, and sanctioned, when necessary, by the same type of pier regulatory boards that regulate doctors and lawyers. The 3 requirements for 4th estate tax-free regeneration are:

1) Implement Fairness Doctrine Operating Procedures

Before America knew what words like mainstream media, right-wing media, left-wing media, far-right media, and far-left media meant or heard the Fox News lie of “Fair and Balanced”, the aforementioned Fairness Doctrine existed, which required the presentation of contrasting views on the same subject. Any news operation unwilling to implement Fairness Doctrine procedures becomes vulnerable in the 21st century to implementing the Fox fake news model.

2) Reestablish A Wall of Separation

Based on Journalism Ethics and Standards, there are 2 words a news reporter should never use in their reporting. The 2 words “I think” should never be used by a news reporter, regardless of what medium they are using to disseminate the information. The 2 words a correct news reporter always uses are the 2 words “I KNOW” due to the research and fact-checking investigative work a correct news reporter does. The 2 words “I think” are reserved for opinion journalists whose job is to analyze the facts and then profess what they think about the facts.

Before the corporate takeover of America’s news media, there was a clear wall of separation between the duties of a news reporter and an opinion journalist. Now to successfully manage the production demands of the 24-hour news cycle while increasing corporate bottom-line profits, news reporters do double duty as a talk show guest, a talk show host, or a podcast host revealing their personal thoughts and opinions, not investigated facts, on subjects and people they are currently assigned to do objective reporting on. Newsrooms should stipulate when a reporter is being interviewed on a subject matter or person they are currently reporting on, the reporter is limited to answering fact-seeking questions on the subject or person they are reporting on. The theory-seeking questions and the tweeting of personal thoughts on a subject or person they are assigned to report on, must all be left solely to opinion journalists.

3) Eliminate An Obvious Conflict of Interest

The American news media is better than any news media establishment in the world at ferreting out and identifying actual government or private sector conflicts of interest, and also at identifying what is just the appearance of a conflict of interest even if an actual one does not exist. Unfortunately, they appear to be blind to an internal news media industry conflict of interest that has become standard practice. News reporters whose responsibility is to provide continuing objective reporting on a subject or person as their day job, write books on the same subject or person for personal financial gain as a side job.

This more than anything else is the deadliest threat to news media trust and creditability because it raises conflict of interest questions like: is the reporter choosing what they are reporting based on a future book contract, is the reporter withholding information the public should know now for a future book, or is the reporter choosing what to report based on recent book sales. All news media outlets should prohibit reporters from writing books that are the subject of their current assignments and, require that they have not reported on a subject or person for 12 months before they do write a book for personal profit on that same person or subject.

Shortly before Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch suggested “best to let Bill go right away”, for what Fox News CEO Scott described as Bill Sammon not protecting Fox’s fake news brand, Sammon expressed to a colleague “It’s remarkable how weak ratings make good journalists do bad things”. Unfortunately, one of the bad things Sammon refers to is the response to Fox reporter, Jacqui Heinrich, tweeting a fact-check to a Donald Trump election lie and declaring there was no evidence of voter fraud from Dominion. Tucker Carlson responded to Heinrich’s fact-based Trump fact-check by texting his Fox colleagues Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity “Please get her fired, it needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke”.

The sad joke is that Carlson’s text to Ingraham and Hannity reflects the 21st-century American 4th estate market-driven reality. It is no longer the Founding Father’s free speech 4th estate that accurately informs for profit, now it’s a free speech 4th estate that falsely informs or lies for market-share domination, boosting the stock price, and huge profit. A profit so huge that it can withstand the $700 million legal judgment against Fox with little harm to its bottom line profits.

Proclaiming the TRUTH for profit was the reason the Founding Fathers granted the 4th estate an unobstructed constitutional right of free speech not so the 4th estate could proclaim fake news or lies for profit

Profits like that from fake news guarantee that the Founding Fathers’ original 4th estate intent, of truth and accuracy for profit, is null and void, until the 4th estate is regenerated with a profit incentive for news media accuracy by abolishing income taxes on profits gained from disseminating true and accurate news, and by granting tax write-offs for the cost to produce and disseminate fact-based news to anyone or any corporation that submits to Fairness Doctrine regulation, adheres to journalism ethics and standards, and maintains a conflict-of-interest-free news operation.

PMP Magazine


GOING FURTHER:

  • ‘Extra Trumpy’: Atlantic profile of CNN chief Licht details town hall disaster | The Guardian
  • CNN Boss Chris Licht Wanted the Donald Trump Town Hall Audience to Be “Extra Trumpy”: Report | Vanity Fair
  • Christiane Amanpour voices dissent over Trump town hall, says she had ‘very robust exchange’ with CNN chief | CNN


  • Sources

    Text: This piece was originally published in Isaac Newton Farris Jr and re-published in PMP Magazine on 3 June 2023, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
    Cover: Jasper. (Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)

    Creative Commons License

    Written by:









    [Read our Comments Guidelines]