The network spent too long spraying its viewers with false information about the coronavirus pandemic.
You can relax, Sean Hannity, I’m not going to sue you.
Some people are suggesting that there might be grounds for legal action against the cable network that you pretty much rule — Fox News — because you and your colleagues dished out dangerous misinformation about the virus in the early days of the crisis in the United States. Some might allege that they have lost loved ones because of what was broadcast by your news organization.
But lawsuits are a bad idea. Here’s why: I believe in Fox News’s First Amendment right as a press organization, even if some of its on-air talent did not mind being egregiously bad at their jobs when it came to giving out accurate health data.
And, more to the point, when all is said and done, my Mom will listen to her children over Fox News. One of us — my brother — is an actual doctor and knows what he is talking about. And the other is a persistent annoyance — that would be me.
I’m a huge pest, in fact. “I’m going to block your number, if you don’t stop,” my mother said to me over the phone several weeks ago from Florida, after I had texted her the umpteenth chart about the spread of coronavirus across the country. All of these graphs had scary lines that went up and to the right. And all of them flashed big honking red lights: Go home and stay there until all clear.
She ignored my texts, so I had switched to calling her to make sure she had accurate information in those critical weeks at the end of February and the beginning of March. She is in the over-80 group that is most at risk of dying from infection. I worry a lot.
But she was not concerned — and it was clear why. Her primary source of news is Fox. In those days she was telling me that the Covid-19 threat was overblown by the mainstream news media (note, her daughter is in the media). She told me that it wasn’t going to be that big a deal. She told me that it was just like the flu.
And, she added, it was more likely that the Democrats were using the virus to score political points. And, did I know, by the way, that Joe Biden was addled?
Thankfully, Mom had not gone as far as claiming the coronavirus is a plot to hurt President Trump — a theory pushed by some at Fox News heavily at first. While she has been alternately appalled and amused by the president, and often takes his side, she is not enough of a superfan to think that he is any kind of victim here.
So, she kept going out with friends to restaurants and shopping and generally living her life as it always had been. “What’s the big deal, Kara? Stop bothering me,” she said over the phone. “You’re the one who is going to get sick, if you don’t stop working so much.”
And with that she was off to another social event, with me unable to stop her since I was hundreds of miles away. That spring break kid was bad, but this was also not good.
I could not lay the blame at the feet of social media this time. No, Facebook was not my mother’s source of misinformation (in fact, the company has been trying to improve in this area). It was not the fault of Dr. Google, which has at least pushed out more good information than bad. And my mom doesn’t use Twitter.
Instead, it was Fox, the whole Fox and nothing but the Fox.
Many children of older parents have come to know this news diet as the equivalent of extreme senior sugar addiction mixed with a series of truly unpleasant and conspiracy-laden doughnuts.
You know all those awful GIFs using a Meryl Streep line from “A Cry in the Dark”: “A dingo ate my baby!”? Well, it sometimes feels like Fox News is eating my mother’s brain.
My brother, a doctor working on the front lines of the crisis in San Francisco, called the misinformation “magical thinking and wishful ignorance” that persists because none of us ever wants to believe the worst. He finds it happens a lot when it comes to dire health information. “If Mom does not want coronavirus to be true, pablum from Fox News makes it easier,” he told me. “It’s classic propaganda.”
It turns out, executives at Fox News HQ were more reasonable behind the scenes. The offices were Lysol-ed and sanitized and employees were given instructions to be safe. All while the network was doing quite the opposite: spraying viewers with far too much fake news contagion.
As The Times media columnist Ben Smith wrote recently: “Fox failed its viewers and the broader public in ways both revealing and potentially lethal. In particular, Lachlan Murdoch failed to pry its most important voices away from their embrace of the president’s early line: that the virus was not a big threat in the United States.”
That would be the chief executive of the company that owns Fox News, who took over the job from his infamous father, Rupert Murdoch. It was the patriarch who set the table at Fox, and Lachlan is just an apparently lackadaisical butler of the family business, according to Mr. Smith.
Well, not completely. Lachlan Murdoch did dump a B-team player, the Fox Business host Trish Regan, after she called the media attention given to coronavirus “another attempt to impeach the president.”
In Mr. Smith’s column, Fox’s longtime public relations honcho Irena Briganti said that the virus situation “has evolved considerably over the last few weeks.” Presumably that’s an attempt to use a get-out-of-lawsuit-free card by trying to establish that the story has shifted and so has the news organization.
Mistakes were made, pandemic version.
Given the growing number of cases and deaths in the United States, Fox stopped playing down the crisis, a move that closely tracks the rocky evolution in thinking by Mr. Trump. Fox may also seek cover from some early pronouncements from another powerful Fox host, Tucker Carlson. While Mr. Hannity spun the hoax line, Mr. Carlson was quite firmly in the taking-it-seriously camp, urging Mr. Trump to act.
But back then, Mr. Carlson was a lone prominent voice on Fox, and his more grounded views did not break through to my mother in the early days. In this, Fox failed my mother and countless others of its fans. While we can joke all we want about the “Fair and Balanced” motto, it’s a very low bar to simply give your audience decent health information.
Fox News finally got much more serious in its reporting on the coronavirus, as has Mr. Trump (the My Pillow guy aside). Convinced by experts’ new estimates that millions of Americans would be at risk for infection and hundreds of thousands at risk for dying if he prematurely reopened the country, Mr. Trump and Fox have gone into reverse.
And, to my surprise, as the pandemic has worsened, my mother started to listen to other sources of information, like her children and other news outlets. She’s been sheltering in place at home for at least two weeks and not going out — except to get food and perhaps an ice cream sundae. (“It’s my daily joy,” she said to me, and so I do not argue.)
It was when Mr. Trump and Fox News initially shifted to a story line about getting back to work — even though it was too early — that the problems with Fox really sank in for her. She now seems to realize that she bears some of the burden as a news consumer, though she remains a Fox News acolyte.
So by the time the lieutenant governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, was on Fox on March 23 declaring that the elderly might take a virus bullet for the young people to bolster the country’s economic future — a line that was then echoed through the network — she was having none of it.
She read up. She looked at my charts. She stopped thinking so magically. And, most of all, she decided she wanted a lot more ice cream sundaes.
“Are they crazy? That’s crazy,” she said. “I am not dying for anyone.”
She was talking to me, for sure — but she’s also talking to you, Sean.
Google is resisting efforts to surrender emails, text messages and other documents sought by state investigators probing possible anticompetitive practices, according to records and interviews.
Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., also hasn’t agreed to a waiver that would give the coalition of state attorneys general access to documents obtained by the Justice Department for its own probe, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is leading the investigation by 48 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam, said the company’s actions suggest it is withholding information that could be damaging.
“Every indication right now is they don’t believe that they’re clean because they don’t act in any way like they are,” Mr. Paxton said in an interview.
A Google spokeswoman said the company has cooperated with the probe and that such discussions over access to information are common during investigations. She also raised concerns that the Texas-led investigation has been advised by outside business consultants who could potentially share confidential information from Google with rival companies.
“To date, Texas has requested, and we have provided, over 100,000 pages of information,” the spokeswoman said. “But we’re also concerned with the irregular way this investigation is proceeding, including unusual arrangements with advisers who work with our competitors and vocal complainants.”
The investigation by state attorneys general seeks to determine whether Google engaged in anticompetitive behavior in building up its ad business, among other issues.
As part of their probe, state investigators have sought emails and other documents from high-level executives and directors at the company, as well as texts and instant messages of other Google employees who might have information on suspect practices, according to letters reviewed by The Wall Street Journal under a public-records-act request.
Google attorneys have raised concerns to Texas investigators about the scope of their requests.
In a letter dated Dec. 26, for example, lawyers for Google in Texas said that in a recent phone call, Texas investigators had made “significant and new requests” beyond their September civil subpoena, including demands for chats and text messages from Google employees. Google lawyers asked for “a reasonable approach and timeframe for responding” to the demands.
In a Jan. 6 reply, the chief of the Texas Office of the Attorney General’s antitrust division responded, “This is not true: the instructions accompanying our [civil subpoena] clearly indicate that these types of electronic materials are both covered and requested, and we have not agreed or implied that mere email searches could suffice to satisfy Google’s [subpoena] obligations.”
The two sides have also clashed over how many Google employees must be included in the search for responsive information. During the first five months of the investigation, Texas proposed 96 while Google proposed 11, according to a Feb. 4 letter from Google lawyers. Google has since increased the number of employees it was willing to include in the search, according to the letter.
In a suit filed in Texas on Oct. 31, Google sought protections to prevent consultants hired for the Texas-led investigation from improperly using information obtained during the probe.
The Google suit said that one of the consultants, Cristina Caffarra of Charles River Associates, “has worked directly for numerous Google adversaries on antitrust and competition matters,” including Microsoft Corp. and News Corp, owner of The Wall Street Journal.
Texas filed a response opposing Google’s suit. Texas officials believe Google’s concerns about potentially improper disclosure of sensitive information are adequately addressed by existing state confidentiality protections. Ms. Caffarra declined to comment. A settlement of the suit was reached Thursday, according to the person familiar with the matter.
News Corp has complained that Google and other digital companies siphon ad revenue from content creators. Microsoft competes with Google on several fronts including cloud services and office-productivity tools.
The current tensions with Google are reminiscent of past run-ins with the company, said Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.), who investigated the company in 2017 as attorney general of Missouri on possible antitrust and consumer-protection issues.
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“First they said they weren’t subject to Missouri’s antitrust and consumer-protection laws,” Mr. Hawley said. “Then they refused to turn over documents and information. Then they didn’t turn over what they said they would. It’s the Google playbook—stall, stonewall, deflect and deny, because they are afraid the public will finally get the truth.”
Mr. Hawley has emerged as an outspoken congressional critic of Google and other big tech firms since being elected to the Senate.
The Google spokeswoman responded: “We have always acted in good faith in answering regulators’ questions promptly, honestly and thoroughly, providing millions of pages of documents over the years about our various businesses and technologies. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply false.”
Google also fought a broad subpoena issued by then-Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood in 2014. That subpoena sought information on Google’s platforms, ad practices and efforts to police “dangerous” or “illegal” content related to illicit drug sales, consumer credit-card information, human trafficking and copyright infringement.
In response, Google filed a suit against Mr. Hood that resulted in a federal judge enjoining the Mississippi probe for a time. The judge said Google had presented “significant evidence of bad faith,” suggesting that the attorney general’s investigation represented an effort to coerce Google to comply with Mr. Hood’s requests regarding content removal.
Google’s complaint came as emails surfaced from a hack of Sony Pictures, suggesting movie studios were working behind the scenes with Mr. Hood’s office to discredit Google. The motion-picture industry has long complained about copyright abuses on the internet. The injunction against Mr. Hood was eventually overturned on appeal.
State attorneys general investigating Google have been in discussions with Mr. Hood—who left office in January—about joining their effort, likely as an expert.
Will 21 young plaintiffs ultimately be able to persuade a conservative-dominated US Supreme Court that the federal government is violating their constitutional right to a livable planet? It depends on whether the Court is willing to heed the scientific evidence.
.. In 1992, countries, including the US, China, India, and all European states (and a total of 189 by 2006) accepted responsibility for addressing climate change. Meeting at the “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro, they agreed to stabilize greenhouse gases “at a low enough level to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”
The agreement did not specify what level is low enough to prevent such dangerous interference with our climate, but the scientific consensus is that to allow the global temperature to rise to an average of more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels is to risk catastrophe.
.. The first climate litigation to win a positive decision was Urgenda Foundation v. The State of Netherlands, in which a Dutch court ruled, in 2015, that the government must ensure that the country’s emissions are cut by one quarter within five years.
.. Juliana v. United States is by far the most significant climate case to date. If ever a case has deserved to be called “the trial of the century,” this is it.
.. The US is the world’s second-largest greenhouse-gas emitter, and its per capita emissions are about twice those of the largest emitter, China.
.. If we take the view that every person on this planet is entitled to an equal share of the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb our greenhouse-gas emissions, then the US is emitting 3.5 times its fair share. The US emits more greenhouse gases than India, for example, although it has only one-quarter of the population.
Moreover, the principle of equal per capita emissions is generous to the old industrialized countries, because it ignores their historical responsibility for the past emissions that have led to the situation we face today.
.. The plaintiffs claim that their government’s active contribution to climate change has violated their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. When the government sought to prevent the case from being heard, the federal district court of Oregon issued a historic ruling that “the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.”
.. When Juliana v. United States is appealed to the US Supreme Court, as seems inevitable, the question may no longer be whether the preservation of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights requires “a climate system capable of sustaining human life”; it undeniably does. Instead, the Court will have to decide whether it is willing to heed the scientific evidence that the actions of the US government are indeed jeopardizing the survival of human life on our planet. If it is, even the most conservative justices will find it difficult to escape the conclusion that the government is in violation of the US Constitution.
“If it wasn’t for the possibility of a pardon, it would be insane for him not to cut a deal at this point,” said Cotter. “He’s already guaranteed to go to prison for years, he’s got little reasonable chance of winning in D.C., it’s incredibly expensive, and there’s no benefit to him (in going to trial). And he’s in the enviable position that, even after a conviction, if he’s willing to tell the truth, the government is still interested in talking to him. That’s pretty rare.”
.. By pleading, Manafort would also duck the cost of paying his legal team to represent him over a weeks-long trial. For complex white-collar cases like Manafort’s, the tab for such a trial could be $1 million or more.