The apparent collusion between politicos, advocacy journalists and supposed objective journalists on the infamous JournoList forum raises an interesting legal question.
Could some of the journalists participating in the list have committed legal fraud against their readers?
We live in a world of implied contracts. When you buy any physical product there exists an implied contract that the product meets some vaguely defined level of acceptable risk. Every time you buy anything: food, gadgets, cars, houses, etc., you enter into an implied contract in which the manufacturer commits to the product meeting this fuzzy level of acceptable risk. Product “safety” trial lawyers make their considerable fortunes suing manufacturers for failing to meet this ambiguous level of “safety”.
It would seem that a similar implied contract exists between those who sell “news” and those who buy it. In this implied contract, the information being purchased is supposed to be as objective as humanly possible. When you buy a news product you do so to get concrete information for your own needs. You don’t spend your own money so that someone else can manipulate you for their own ends.
If a news-selling organization claims to sell objective information for the benefit of the buyer, but nevertheless knowingly employs reporters who secretly collude to manipulate the readers, hasn’t that organization defrauded its readership? If you offer one kind of product but deliver another, how is that not fraud?
Just because the product is information should make very little difference. After all, if I sold a map that claimed to be accurate down to the meter but it was actually only accurate down to 10 meters, that would be a clear case of fraud. How is that any different from a reporter that claims to sell you an objective summation of events but who instead sells you a story fabricated specifically to manipulate you? If you pay for one thing but get another, that is fraud.
Journalists have long lived in a legal environment of staggering irresponsibility. Virtually alone of all the businesses and individuals in the country, they operate completely free of legal consequence. Hell, journalism is the only field wherein a claim of incompetence is an actual defense in a lawsuit. Everyone else has to meet strict standards and fulfill explicit and implicit contractual obligations. Journalists, by contrast, are like kindergartners. They just have to try their best.
Well, their “best” is no longer good enough. It is high time journalists grew up with the rest of us. We can start by holding them accountable when they intentionally sell propaganda deceitfully marketed as objective news.
Note that I’m not talking about libel issues here. I’m talking news sellers advertising that they sell objective news while behind the scenes they are engaged in conscious collusion to push propaganda for the benefit of others without the knowledge of the buyer.
It’s the plain fraud of the classic bait and switch.
Perhaps some lawyers can weigh in on this but from my layperson’s perspective I smell a class-action lawsuit.