Thomas Sowell has an interesting piece on the difficult decision that Rush Limbaugh faces in deciding whether to sue those who used false quotes to paint him as a racist. As Sowell notes, it’s tough for a public figure to win a libel case and many downsides to trying. And it really shouldn’t be up to the courts to right this wrong. He writes:
The question for the media to answer is: Are lies to go unchallenged when they are lies against someone you disagree with? Worse yet, are they to be excused, rationalized or even repeated?
Already there are people on television saying that, although Rush didn’t actually say the things that have been attributed to him, he has said other things that they choose to call “racist.”
If those other things really are racist, why don’t they quote them, instead of something that was made up out of whole cloth?
The Rush Limbaugh show has, after all, been broadcast for many years, three hours a day. There are thousands of hours of those broadcasts that people can go back through to look for things to quote.
If critics can’t find anything racist in all that material, why should an outright lie about what the man said be given a pass?
As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, you are entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts.
Ultimately, this is not about Rush Limbaugh or anybody else who is smeared with impunity. It is about the whole climate in which issues are discussed.
Without a range of opposing opinions being available to the public, the basic concept of a self-governing democracy is a mockery. If views that some people don’t like can be silenced or discredited by character assassination, the whole country loses.
The courts should not be the only line of defense. Common decency should be the first line of defense, so that people who smear others will pay a price in the outrage that their lies should provoke, even among decent people who do not agree with the target of their smears.
This brings us to a related topic — the Administration’s war on Fox News. Aren’t good liberals just a little bit uncomfortable with this? An Administration punishing a news outlet for aggressively questioning its officials and policies?
And where is the presentation of actual wrongdoing, or even bias, by Fox News? No doubt, Fox has many conservative commentators. And some of their news people have actually had affiliations with conservative groups or politicians in the past. But how does that make them different from, say, MSNBC with Chris Matthews or ABC with George Stephanopoulos? Does the rest of the mainstream media forget that these guys were once Democratic aides? And they are supposed to be hard news journalists.
Surveys have repeatedly shown that most journalists lean left. Is the Administration so uncomfortable with an actual discussion of its facts and policies that it can only tolerate questions from the most fawning media outlets?
Fox News has better ratings than any other news channel. But that shouldn’t matter to the Administration or the public. This should be an affront to all Democrats and independents who value a truly free press.