Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.
Showing posts with label fake news. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fake news. Show all posts

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Communication education makes people better

Preparing for my Trump Litigation Seminar next week, I just re-read the final chapter of James Zirin's Plaintiff in Chief.  Variously attributed, Zirin catalogs the vocabulary of our truth-challenged culture, discussing "post-truth" (Oxford Word of the Year 2016), "truth [that] isn't truth," (Rudy Giuliani), "truth decay" (RAND), and "alternative facts" (Kellyanne Conway).  And, of course, who could forget the great Stephen Colbert's groundbreaking "truthiness" (The Wørd, and a real word).  Along with Trevor Noah, I've wondered at the breakdown in distinction between fact and opinion.  More than once, my wife, in slack-jawed witness of the news on TV, has declared the need for media literacy education in our K12 schools (and perhaps, I add, in our senior centers). 

Dr. Sherry Morreale (UCCS)
It turns out that media literacy is just one piece in the puzzle of what might be missing in our society today. Communication Professor Sherwyn P. Morreale has co-authored a series of scholarly articles on Why Communication Education Is Important.  Her third installment, co-authored with Joseph M. Valenzano and Janessa A. Bauer, has just won the 2020 Distinguished Article Award in the Basic Course Division of the National Communication Association (NCA).  The abstract speaks to the range of life skills that are bolstered by communication education (my highlighting).

The results of this study argue that communication, and specifically oral communication education, is critical to students’ future personal and professional success. Similar to two earlier studies, thematic analysis of 679 documents in academic and popular press publications, published from 2008 to 2015, provide support for the centrality of the communication discipline’s content and pedagogy. These results reinforce the importance of communication to enhancing organizational processes and organizational life; promoting health communication; enriching the educational enterprise; understanding crisis, safety, risk, and security; improving interpersonal communication and relationships; influencing diplomacy and government relations; being a responsible participant in the world, socially and culturally; developing as a whole person; and succeeding as an individual in one’s career and in business. The kinds of communication addressed as important in each of these nine general themes are outlined, and the results are compared with those in the first two iterations of the study.

This conclusion might seem self-evident to the academic outsider (technical term, "real people") but it readily escapes the grasp of the bean counters who run today's STEM-obsessed universities, where faculty in the social sciences (law included) are tormented with demands that their departments generate revenue to justify their existence.  Because that's why we educate people, for the money.

The current study is titled, Why communication education is important: a third study on the centrality of the discipline’s content and pedagogy, and appears at 66:4 J. Communication Educ. 402 (2017).  Dr. Morreale previously published, with co-author Judy C. Pearson, Why Communication Education is Important: The Centrality of the Discipline in the 21st Century, 57:2 J. Communication Educ. 224 (2008); and, with co-authors Pearson and Michael M. Osborn, Why communication is important: A rationale for the centrality of the study of communication, 29:1 J. Ass'n Communication Admin. 1 (2000).

Full disclosure: Dr. Morreale is my aunt.  She always was the cool aunt.  So her parents are probably to blame for my academic nature, and she, in part, for the nurture.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Informe costarricense mixto sobre libertad de expresión: tribunales presionan por transparencia; ley se mueve contra discurso de odio, desinformación


[English translation by Google.]

Desde la perspectiva norteamericana, Costa Rica ha sido aclamada durante mucho tiempo como un modelo de democracia en las Américas. Eso es lo que me llevó a enfocarme en Costa Rica para estudios universitarios en periodismo comparativo, y fue así que desperté un amor por el país. Es importante destacar que San José opera como la sede de la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos. La afinidad de Costa Rica con los Estados Unidos se remonta en los tiempos modernos a la transformadora y ahora legendaria primera presidencia de Óscar Arias en la década de 1980 (sin dejar de mencionar las recientes acusaciones, e.g., Time). Si hoy es cierto, en algún sentido, que Costa Rica está a la vanguardia de los derechos humanos regionales, entonces vale la pena ver los acontecimientos en Costa Rica como un referente.

Un nuevo informe exhaustivo sobre la libertad de expresión y la libertad de información en Costa Rica ha sido emitido por el Programa de Libertad de Expresión y Derecho a la Información y el Centro de Investigación de Comunicación de la Universidad de Costa Rica (HT@ Observacom). En general, este informe revela un sistema legal que lucha con problemas que son familiares en otros países—por ejemplo, el acceso público y periodístico a las plataformas de redes sociales cuando un político aparentemente elige hacer negocios allí. Un informe de este tipo no es único en las Américas (mira, e.g., México 2019), y este no es el primero de Costa Rica; admito que me atrajo debido a la coincidencia de algunos problemas que me interesan, incluso colegiación de periodismo, mencionados a continuación.

El primer capítulo del informe (y el único que he leído) está escrito por la abogada, periodista, y académica, Giselle Boza Solano. Boza concluye con preocupación que no ha habido movimiento legislativo en Costa Rica para garantizar la proliferación de las diversas voces en la era de internet, donde el mercado del discurso y la elaboración de la política del habla están cada vez más dominados por los grandes proveedores de servicios, como Google. Su preocupación está sincronizada con los movimientos en Europa, con Francia a la cabeza, y en América Latina, con Uruguay como organizador. Costa Rica parece ser próximo en esta lista. Sin embargo, Boza, y el informe, reconocen y examinan las iniciativas para financiar los esfuerzos cinematográficos y audiovisuales con un impuesto a las plataformas digitales y la televisión por suscripción.

Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos
(foto por Eli NW CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Además, me anima el comentario de Boza sobre la jurisprudencia costarricense. Si la selección es indicativa, los tribunales, en la mayor parte, parecen mantenerse a la par con su compromiso histórico con las libertades de expresión e información. En el área de libertad de información, el Tribunal Constitucional dictó decisiones que facilitan el acceso electrónico a datos meteorológicos y el registro electrónico de la policía en lugares públicos. Los tribunales dictaron decisiones que facilitaron el acceso de los ciudadanos al proceso legislativo y a la legislación. La inclinación por los legisladores a retirarse a la oscuridad en nuestros tiempos difíciles parece ser una norma universal.

El Tribunal Constitucional también reprendió al Colégio de Periodistas por afirmar una provincia exclusiva sobre el derecho a llamarse a sí mismo periodista, ante la queja de un periodista digital sin el título universitario, como se requiere. El tribunal reiteró la consecuente opinión consultiva de la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos de 1985, incluso antes de que el periodismo digital existiera propiamente. Es bastante sorprendente que esto todavía sea algo que deba adjudicarse 35 años después. (Escribí sobre este caso cuando era estudiante en 1993 y, para ser justo, la situación es un poco más complicada de lo que parece en la superficie. Aún así….)

Hay motivos de preocupación más allá de la falta de impulso para la libertad de internet. El proyecto de ley mejoraría o aplicaría el castigo penal por el discurso de odio y la difusión de desinformación ("noticias falsas"). Tales leyes se encontrarían en conflicto contra la libertad de expresión. Costa Rica ciertamente no es el único país con tales propuestas sobre la mesa, pero, nuevamente, esto es problemático en una democracia de vanguardia.

Eso es solo el capítulo 1. El informe presenta un análisis cuantitativo de la autopercepción de los medios, y, también, capítulos sobre publicidad, violencia contra las mujeres en las noticias, y más. La publicación es el II Informe sobre el estado de la libertad de expresión en Costa Rica (2020) (descargar por capítulo).

Muchas gracias a mi editor en español, Ricardo Serrano, politólogo, periodista, estudiante de derecho, y creador de contenido electrónico.  Los errores son todos míos.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Sandy Hook father wins $450,000 in Wisconsin defamation case against conspiracy theorists

A Sandy Hook parent won a $450,000 defamation award in Wisconsin last week, when I was out of town.  The case is interesting not only as a collateral installment in the litigation aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, but as an installment in the legal system's ongoing grappling with misinformation in mass media, so-called "fake news."

Lenny Pozner, father of decedent six-year-old Noah Pozner, won his defamation suit against Sandy Hook deniers James H. Fetzer and Mike Palecek in June, on summary judgment.  A jury trial was had only on the question of damages.  In the complaint, Pozner claimed severe mental distress, besides the requisite reputational harm.  Now This News has more about Pozner's ordeal, beyond the traumatic loss of his son:



The crux of the falsity in the defamation claim was defendants' assertion that Pozner was in possession of and distributing a falsified death certificate.  Attached to the complaint, Noah Pozner's death certificate reports the cause of death, "Multiple Gunshot Wounds."  Lenny Pozner alleged that the defendants' assertion appeared in a 2016 book, edited by Fetzer and Palecek, Nobody Died at Sandy Hook, and on Fetzer's conspiracy-theory blog.  The book publisher earlier settled and agreed to stop selling the book.

Fetzer, who resides in Wisconsin, is, amazingly, a distinguished professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Minnesota Duluth.  His work included JFK conspiracy research.  Fetzer's university home page bears this disclaimer:

James Fetzer is a UMD Philosophy Professor Emeritus and conspiracy theorist. He retired from UMD in 2006. His theories are his own and are not endorsed by the University of Minnesota Duluth or the University of Minnesota System.  As faculty emeriti, Fetzer's work is protected by the University of Minnesota Regents Policy on Academic Freedom, which protects creative expression and the ability to speak or write on matters of public interest without institutional discipline or restraint. 

The university deserves a lot of credit for respecting academic freedom even in these challenging circumstances.  Fetzer meanwhile has cast the loss in Wisconsin as a book banning and offense to freedom of the press.

Fetzer and Palecek have books for all occasions.  One title, still for sale, is And Nobody Died in Boston Either, referring to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.  Three people were killed at the scene in Boston, and more than 200 were injured.

Meanwhile on the Sandy Hook litigation front, the Connecticut litigation against Remington Arms is still pending cert. petition in the U.S. Supreme Court.  Remington seeks to nullify the Connecticut Supreme Court ruling allowing victim-family plaintiffs a thin-reed theory to circumvent federal statutory immunity.  Plaintiffs filed their responsive brief on October 4, and Remington filed a reply on October 18.

[UPDATE, Nov. 13, 2019: The U.S. Supreme Court denied cert. in the Remington case, so it will go back to the trial court in Connecticut.]

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Amity Dubai hosts global mass comm conference

My plenary session on "the death of journalism?" and desinformación online.
In June, I had the privilege of talking about mass communication and the law as a plenary speaker at the International Conference on Current Practices and Future Trends in Media Communication at Amity University Dubai (#CPFTMC2019).  I'm indebted for the opportunity to my long-time friend and colleague Dr. Manish Verma; to Dr. Fazal Malik, dean of humanities, arts and applied sciences at Amity Dubai; and to Prof. Marut Bisht at Amity Dubai.

Dean Fazal Malik and Professor Manish Verma
They gave me the latitude to talk about my nascent theoretical framework for analyzing legal responses to the problem of media misinformation / disinformation —colloquially if ambiguously termed "fake news," or unambiguously, as I prefer, in Spanish, desinformación.  My rubric ranges from non-responses, what I call "the Wild West" approach, to authoritarian responses.

The best of the conference of course came from what I was able to learn from my colleagues of such far-ranging experiences, backgrounds, and focuses of study.  I'll comment on some photographic highlights here, though this testimony will not express how deeply this program enriched my experience in comparativism.


Top paper honors went to Abdulla Saad of Amity Dubai. I was fortunate to serve as a judge on his panel, and his presentation was a favorite of mine. A mass communication scholar and proclaimed leading world expert on karak chai, Abdulla is researching online humor in the face of the gravest of circumstances, such as oppression and war.

Interdisciplinary presenters brought perspective to problems in mass communication. Social media researchers Fathima Linsha Basheer and Sudha Bhattia are considering the implications of this factoid: ten minutes' tweeting yields 13% oxytocin increase in brain.  Oxytocin is also known as "the love hormone."

"Dr. G.," Dr. Geentanjali Chandra, is the head of the law school at Amity Dubai.  Amity Dubai is the only school outside of India accredited to allow its graduates to sit for the bar in India.

Dr. G. kindly invited me to talk to a law class. Students studying at Amity Dubai are surprisingly diverse. The UAE creates a curious dynamic: Indian migrants--already an intrinsically diverse population--make up some quarter of the population of the Emirates and have established multi-generational households. Yet they remain Indian citizens. As a result, the young generation has a unique global identity.




Amity Dubai studded the scholarly program with creative contributions from the range of student talents fostered at the university, including fashion, dance, and film. Film students spent just one week creating a short-film horror project titled, "Out of Order." I'm getting in the ground floor as a fan of up-and-coming director Ruslan Baiazov.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Journalism is dead. Long live journalism.


ournalism is no longer a viable business model, and it’s not coming back.  Journalism is on life support.  And we have to decide what to do.

That seems to be the consensus of the public interest advocates at this year’s RightsCon 2019—the premier global conference on human rights in the digital age, meeting now in Tunisia.  The problem being discussed here is not how to lure readers through pay walls and into subscriptions, but how to harness public investment in lump sums.  Public investment is also known as government subsidy.

I have resisted the idea that independent journalism is not up to the challenges of the information age.  Personally, I was inculcated with the “professional” tradition of journalism by Watergate-era teachers.


atergate journalism was the product of a great evolutionary leap in the early 20th century.  When President Teddy Roosevelt didn’t like what the press printed, he derided journalists as “muckrakers.”  He sued newspapers for reporting corruption, but his fussing only sold more papers.  Muckraking became a badge of honor, and a tradition was born of objective and balanced journalistic revelation of public and corporate corruption, independent of government entanglement.  Modern journalism was animated by the same post-war idealism that birthed the (underrated) League of Nations.  However incidental, the First Amendment’s simultaneous treatment of press and religion bolstered the notion of press-state separation.

In journalism by the late 20th century, we believed we had achieved the end of history, the ultimate model of a Fourth Estate in a liberal democracy.  I wrote an honors thesis on seemingly archaic journalist licensing in Central America.  When I posited to my professors, the Watergate crowd, the devil’s advocacy that maybe journalist licensing has an upside, we shared a good laugh.  Of course it would never work to have government oversight of journalism.  It would be the death of journalism and government accountability in one fell swoop.

In ethics class, we were taught to be wary of any entanglement with the subject of a story, and government is the greatest subject of all.  We grumbled our collective didactic disapproval of the sports reporter who accepted a free ride to the game on the team bus.  White House press credentials were a reality that made us swallow hard, but we took on faith that access to the press room would never be restricted based on content or viewpoint.  The American public wouldn’t abide it.  And hey, the room is only so big.

That was the heyday.  That was when journalism was alive and kicking.  We looked the other way when journalism had a coughing fit of consolidation.  We pretended everything was OK when journalism went 24/7.  We started new programs in j-schools when journalism went online.

Eventually, though, we had to admit that we were in denial.  It wasn’t the end of history.  It was just the end.

Journalism is dying.


dvocates here at RightsCon borrow liberally from the language of socioeconomic development, which in turn generalized upon environmentalism.  Brittan Heller, now a fellow at Harvard, admonished her audience to “stop saying ‘fake news,’” and, instead, to think more broadly about “the entire information ecosystem.”  At a panel organized by Reporters WithoutBorders (RSF, for Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontières), Mira Milosevic expanded on the problem of “news deserts” in various countries, the United States included, where local news already is extinct.  Milosevic is executive director of the Global Forum for Media Development, and she worries about the “lack of sustainability” in journalism.  Consistently with UNESCO policy, this language portrays healthy journalism as an essential condition of human prosperity.  The language of environmentalism meanwhile tends to elevate the crisis in journalism to accordingly catastrophic scale: journalism is to political freedom as a green earth is to biological life.
RSF panel at RightsCon 2019 in Tunis. Including, from left to right: moderator
Elodie Vialle, RSF; Julie Owono, Internet Without Borders; Mira Milosevic.
My photo (CC BY 4.0).

The towel already has been thrown in from Walter Cronkite’s corner.  By RSF’s reckoning, journalism needs “a multi-stakeholder approach.”  If that’s right, then we stand on the brink of another evolutionary leap.  Though maybe the evolution metaphor peters out if, like me, you’re not convinced that change can only be for the better.  The stakeholders that journalism’s rescuers would bring to the table include the public, civic service organizations, and—here’s the kicker—“the ‘good’ forces of government,” as another RightsCon panelist put it.

Milosevic conceded that meaningful government commitment is essential if media watchdogs are going to tackle the populous public affairs machinery of contemporary corporations.  And there’s plenty of corporatocracy to tackle.  A RightsCon workshop moderated by Privacy International's  Francisco Vera, formerly of Derechos Digitales in Chile, discussed how nations are mis-regulating personal data through trade agreements, such as our old friend, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP, now the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPATPP, which is better because it’s comprehensive).  Our governments—the bad parts—are more than eager, under the misleading banner of free trade, to cater to corporations by signing away our fundamental privacy rights and allowing data to be exported beyond the reach of jurisdictional law.

So it all shakes out this way:  Bad government is the problem.  Good government is the solution.  We don’t have to worry about absolute journalistic independence from government.  We need to get good government to fund journalism that will fight bad government and its corporate cronies.  Save the journalism, save the world.  And don’t worry that good government will be holding the purse strings.  Because, try to keep up, it’s good.

Milosevic suggested that fines for corporate abuses of the public trust might be channeled into funding public interest journalism.  That’s not a bad idea.  There is an appealing symmetry to buying the watchdog’s food with a share of the savings.  It’s like preventive qui tam.

It’s also not a wholly new idea.  If with waning enthusiasm, the United States, like many countries, supports the arts and public libraries.  We experimented successfully with this approach in 20th-century broadcasting.  Public funding gave birth to such instrumental institutions as National Public Radio and Sesame Street.  As the public tap has been cinched off, both have turned to the private sector for a lifeline.  Sesame Street succumbed to HBO.  


Pngimg.com (CC BY-NC 4.0)
f we’re going to do public investment in free expression, the challenge is to keep an arm’s length between investor and speaker.  On that score, America has a lousy track record.  The American Library Association is so battle weary on the intellectual freedom front that a RightsCon dinner companion accused it of cowardice: a far fall from its heroism of yore, when it championed opposition to internet filtering and national security gag orders.  When Americans pledge public resources, passion for individual ingenuity is soon overwhelmed by feverish fealty to the Middle Ages maxim: whoever pays the piper calls the tune.

Yet, I am told, journalism must now turn to government to ensure its survival—to ensure all our survival.  I don’t disagree.  I’m just worried.

I’m giddy at the idea that we are witnessing an evolutionary renaissance of the Fourth Estate.  At the same time, I’m nauseated at the prospect of a Faustian bargain.

Journalism is dying.  If we try to save it with a multitude of stakeholders, maybe we can resuscitate the journalism of our ideals.

Or, like Dr. Frankenstein, we’ll zap into existence an all new hybrid.  Maybe we’ll have zombie journalism on our hands, and it will devour the stringy remaining flesh of our gaunt democracy.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

'Ink' splashes journalism's muck on public stage

Bertie Carvel and Jonny Lee Miller
Saturday I saw Ink, by British playwright James Graham, at the Manhattan Theatre Club, Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in New York.  I wanted to see Ink primarily to fan-boy Jonny Lee Miller.  I’ve idolized him since he appeared alongside Ewan McGregor in the brilliant 1996 Danny Boyle film adaptation of Ian Welsh’s Trainspotting.  I fell in love with him all over again as the reimagined Sherlock Holmes of U.S. CBS’s Elementary, the longest-ever screen-time run of an actor in the role and complement to Lucy Liu’s equally landmark portrayal of Watson.

As newspaper editor Larry Lamb, Miller live was all that I dreamed.  His jaunty spirit and dark-edge demeanor gave life to the tidal forces of moral conflict that tore Lamb apart as he labored under Australian upstart Rupert Murdoch—played by Bertie Carvel, who has owned the role to deserved acclaim since Ink’s debut at the London Almeida and then the West End—to reinvent news in the British tabloid Sun, circa 1970.

I don’t want to give away too much of the play’s awestriking climaxes, so I’ll only mention that one moment comprises a thundering explosion of physicality by Miller as Lamb, as he literally pounds his newspaper vision into reality over union workers’ refusal to roll the presses.  Miller seemed to be losing his voice by the matinee’s end, and my wife and I wondered that he could pull off this exhausting feat a second time that day, much less eight times per week.  Ink opened on Broadway in April and was just extended to July 7.

Playwright James Graham
speaks at his alma mater
University of Hull in 2018.
(By Robin S. Taylor
CC BY-SA 4.0.)
To my giddy delight, Ink delivered so much more than a stellar cast.  Mansfield-born James Graham is an accomplished writer of stage, TV, and film, and he’s evidenced an award-winning capacity to grapple with social issues through context.  (His film adaptation of Mikey Walsh’s Romany-expose memoir Gypsy Boy is in pre-production.)  Graham’s socially provocative Privacy in 2014 was informed by the Edward Snowden affair, and Daniel Radcliffe joined the cast for its New York debut in 2016.  With Privacy, though, lukewarm reviews suggested that Graham modestly missed the mark, giving audiences angst, but not much that was new.  He might have bitten off more than he could chew by trying to tackle a subject of such wide-ranging complexity.

If Privacy was Graham’s faltering early exploration of the social landscape, Ink is his finished dissertation.  I knew Ink would be about the birth of modern tabloid journalism—the less modern iteration being the Hearst-Pulitzer yellow journalism of the 1890s, another turning point in the history of news, evidencing my journalism professors’ admonition that nothing ever happens for the first time.  I did not understand before I went that Ink is calculated as a commentary on our present-day problem of “fake news,” or, otherwise packaged, the consumer-driven, 24-hour news cycle that undoubtedly represents another centennial shift in the enterprise of journalism and signifies to many a circular cause and symptom of moral decay in human civilization.

Set principally in 1969, Graham’s play never mentions “fake news” in modern terms.  But it does talk about populism, and therein lies Graham’s clever contextualization.  He locates Murdoch’s revolutionary arrival on the global media scene relative implicitly to the Fox Corporation of 2019, five decades hence, and at the same time relative explicitly to the spilling of populism onto the world stage in 1939, three decades earlier.

Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu talk Elementary at San Diego Comic-Con in
2012.  (By Genevieve CC BY 2.0.)
As the cast discussed on stage in a talk after the show on May 11, an insightful feature of Graham’s Murdoch and Lamb arises in their portrayal as protagonists.  Part of you roots for them to succeed in overturning the staid paternalism of post-World War II journalism.  Fleet Street had become entangled with elitism, arguably peddling news as nothing more meaningful than a new opiate for the masses.  Media had fallen out of touch with the everyday plight of the working classes that post-war chroniclers had purported to protect with anti-establishment bulwarks.  Sound familiar?

Lamb’s fall reminds us that the shortest path from Cronkite-esque public servant to Alex-Jones-town social menace is more slippery slope than cliff-edge drop.  Murdoch is the devil to Lamb’s Doctor Faustus, and one must remember that the devil was not really the villain of that story.  Protagonist and antagonist at once, Faustus was everyman.

Graham artfully traced the unraveling of countless threads in social policy in Ink’s Sorkin-paced script.  Almost in the play’s background, the aforementioned union press workers evolve from butt of ridicule to moral compass as Lamb loses his grip.  Characters’ commentary collateral to the business of newspapering portends the looming behemoth of television, à la Marshall McLuhan.  Lamb’s dogged insistence that absolute freedom of information is the best way to save the life of kidnapped Muriel McKay evokes pondering of Julian Assange’s access-to-information fundamentalism, such as birthed Wikileaks.

Front and center, the advent of the Murdochian media empire, portrayed in Ink, posits a simple question that has haunted ethicists since the construction of the Fourth Estate:  Is the role of journalism in a democracy to give the public what it needs or what it wants?


 Elementary s7 premieres May 23 on CBS.