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Truth, justice and the American way

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By Jim Rohrer

My third and final suggestion to change our political process would be easy to do, but perhaps controversial. To establish a need for this change, I will try to convince my readers that a significant problem exists.
My premise is that even the most ardent followers of the news have trouble sorting out fact from fiction. Wikipedia lists dozens of sites that are purporting to bring us the news but have been created to bring us fake news.
These are not sites that have made reporting mistakes, rather their sole purpose it to present as legitimate news items that are factually wrong. They have clever names that make them sound like legitimate news sources, some named to appeal to specific political ideologies.
The names include Boston Tribune, Bloomberg.ma, Breaking CNN.com, Conservative 101, Liberal society, NationalReport.net and many more. They use clickbait to attract us, and cookies collected when we spend time online direct their false reports to us.
Since they are illegitimate, the normal processes used to remove us from their lists can increase the solicitations we receive. We now know that Facebook and Twitter had fake news items posted to influence our recent and current elections.
Every day our inboxes contain political fodder aimed to promote a point of view. They often contain extreme positions that stretch and exaggerate to make their points. They are almost never factual, yet they are often believed because of repetition.    
In the good old days, something existed called the Fairness Doctrine. Its purpose was to ensure that our news organizations presented events fairly, covering both sides of important questions. It was established in 1949 and repealed in 1987.
It’s likely that it did outlive its usefulness as the number of news site was about to multiply exponentially. Newspapers have always had a political perspective. The New York Times and Washington Post lean left while the Wall Street Journal leans right.
We understand their leanings and know what we will get when we read their pages. The difference is that newspapers don’t present facts that they know to be false. Generally, they admit their mistakes in reporting.
In the days of Walter Cronkite and the “Huntley-Brinkley Report,” we received the news in a uniform manner. Today the same news is presented with such different spins by rival cable news sources that we don’t know what is true and what is false.
So, my proposal is that we have a new version of the Fairness Doctrine not focused on fairness but focused on calling out fake news. Formerly, the Federal Communications Commission which is charged with regulating the radio, television and phone industries, enforced the Fairness Doctrine.
The FCC regulates all interstate communications, such as wire, satellite and cable. Again, my proposal is not focused on fairness, but rather on rooting out and exposing blatantly dishonest and distorted reporting. In my scenario, Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity can express their versions of news, but if they or anyone cross over to dishonest reporting, they will be held accountable.
It would seem that just the presence of a force for truthful reporting would cause the most egregious offenders to disappear. Freedom of speech is one of our highest values, but freedom to lie in a public manner is outside of what’s protected in our Constitution.
Democracy is a system by which everyday citizens have a voice. We want that voice to be powered by information and intelligent thought about the issues of the day. We don’t need Superman to fight a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way, but we can clean up our communication channels.

Jim Rohrer of Evergreen is a business consultant and author of the bi-books “Improve Your Bottom Line … Develop MVPs Today” and “Never Lose Your Job … Become a More Valuable Player.” Jim’s belief is that common sense is becoming less common. (More about Jim at www.theloyaltypartners.com.)