We were sitting at a political luncheon a month or so ago, when one of the people at our table started to complain about all the untruths that are disseminated on Fox News. Her position was that before things got on the news, they had to be checked for accuracy and only if they were accurate could they be broadcast to the public. We pointed out to her that those who cherish their Fox News believe that the accounts told by MSNBC and sometimes CNN are as false as she believed the Fox News programs were. We pointed out to her that the First Amendment demands that not only true speech be allowed to be spoken, but false speech equally as well.
On a practical note, we also questioned who would be that arbiter of the truth and would all points of view agree that the arbiter was fair, impartial and had the right to make that decision. It is because there is no fair arbiter to all and because many see truths differently than others that the remedy for false speech is not censorship but rather enlightenment through more speech.
For years Brian Williams of NBC News has championed himself as a war correspondent braving peril to bring the news. In fact, he was just that. His downfall was his embellishments that have come to light and now have taken away from the dangers that he went through and the accurate reporting that made him the shining star of NBC. Now, he is thought of as a false reporter who cared more about tooting his own horn than telling the truth.
As we told that nice lady at the luncheon, having more speech remedied the inaccuracies of falsehood of Brian Williams. As long as speech is allowed to flourish, eventually the truth will be told. Sometimes it is told and not listened to. Under that lady’s scenario would the reports from that helicopter pilot that contradicted Brian Williams account of the helicopter being shot at have come to light, or would that censor have determined that they were false and therefore not allowed to be broadcast. Brian Williams accounts of what transpired in Iraq were true until they were false. His stories were true until they were discredited and till this moment, there still seems to be many truths as to what happened with Brian Williams in Iraq.
Nothing can exemplify that people hear and see different truths or have different reactions to the truth than the most recent revelations that Bill O’Reilly may have embellished his reporting when he actually was a reporter. Fans and foes of Brian Williams denounced his false claims with the kindest responses being in line with “by and large he has been a great reporter and some exaggerations should not mar a stellar career”. On the other hand, the supporters of Bill O’Reilly and Fox News have come out in support of Bill O’Reilly and have defended his obvious exaggerations as being true.
Even this article is guilty in taking sides in what is true and what is not true. We just have proclaimed that Bill O’Reilly’s exaggerations as far as his reporting about the Falklands war were untruths. Knowing quite well that others will disagree with us. Simply no one owns the truth.
No, the First Amendment and Freedom of Speech is not perfect. It allows truths to be told and it allows lies to run rampant. It does not have the ability, in and of itself, to determine what is correct and what is incorrect. Rather, this imperfect amendment, with no safeguards as to veracity, allows the listener to make their own decision, allows the teller to put his foot in his moth and allows those with various opinions to have various takes of what was said and what they heard. Anything short of this imperfect amendment would show just how perfect this amendment is.