Watch Out Fox News: FTC Seeks To Halt Fake News Sites

Fox NewsFrom the Federal Trade Commission,
April 19, 2011

“The Federal Trade Commission is requesting federal courts to temporarily halt the allegedly deceptive tactics of 10 operations using fake news websites […] According to the FTC, the defendants operate websites that are meant to appear as if they belong to legitimate news-gathering
organizations, but in reality the sites are simply advertisements aimed at deceptively enticing consumers…”

Fox News is not one of the ten operations cited in this action, but given the description of the violations, could they be far behind? The FTC is taking aggressive steps toward reigning in deceptive practices that “attempt to portray an objective, journalistic endeavor,” says David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Almost everything about these sites is fake.”

If that is the basis for this action, then Fox News ought to be the next target of the FTC’s investigative unit. They blatantly endeavor to portray themselves as a legitimate news-gathering organization while deliberately deceiving viewers. They employ anchors who openly advocate for political issues and candidates despite claiming to be “fair and balanced,” a slogan that in itself violates the FTC’s truth-in-advertising statutes. In fact, some of their paid contributors are actually candidates themselves.

The Fox network is notorious for making false claims that misinform viewers and produce tangible harm. For instance, they spent weeks promoting heavily edited videos that defamed the community service organization, ACORN. They served as the PR agency for Tea Party interests and events. They disparaged health care reform as socialistic. During that debate a memo from Fox’s Washington managing editor instructed his staff to refrain from using the term “public option” because focus group testing had proven that “government-run” would produce a more negative response.

Even with routine reporting that is objectively factual, Fox purposely manipulated their broadcasts. They reported falsely that President Obama spent $2 billion on an overseas trade mission. They invented stories about the Department of Justice declining to prosecute civil rights cases if the plaintiff was white (and then failed to report that those allegations were proven false by an independent Congressional study). And on more than one occasion their anchor scripts and on-screen charts reversed the numbers for polling to show that the President, or the Democratic position, was disfavored by respondents when the actual poll result was the opposite.

To be clear, the FTC actions in the announcement above were taken in response to complaints levied about companies marketing acai berries for weight loss. But are the allegations really that different? If there is an institutional objection to fake news operations selling dubious nutritional products, wouldn’t it be even more critical to police fake news operations selling lies that could influence legislation and elections that impact millions of lives?

I don’t expect to see the FTC halting fake news operations like Fox any time soon. But it would be nice if they could prohibit the word “news” from being used in conjunction with such an operation. And if phony programs that misrepresent weight loss can be regulated to protect consumers, then why not phony programs that misrepresent news?


5 thoughts on “Watch Out Fox News: FTC Seeks To Halt Fake News Sites

  1. The only criticizm I have of what you say here is that it leads people into thinking there is a real connection between the possible shutting-down of Faux News and the FTC decision. The journalistic technique you employed here is the same kind of tactic those at Faux News use all the time. Just wanted to point that out. You really got my hopes up…

    But on the other hand, it really is fun to toy with the notion that fake news sources are being cracked down upon which might lead to the end of Faux News. All we can do is hope.

    • Sorry to get your hopes up. But it was meant to be humorous. Too subtle?

      • LOL!!! It kinda made your point whether intentional or not—in a “subtle”(wink, wink) kind of way.

  2. I’ve always thought that the FTC or some state AG should go after Fox News based on deceptive advertising and deceptive trade practices laws, because “News” connotes objective journalism that strives for truth rather than “lies and propaganda” as David Byrne would say. I once tried to convince Ken Salazar of this when he was Colorado’s AG but he was clearly spooked by the idea of taking on Fox News. Maybe Obama, after he’s safely ensconced in his second term, can get the FTC to move against Fox News–at least, as you suggest, to order it to remove the word “News” from its name, and also to stop using “fair and balanced” to describe itself, which is clearly a deceptive trade practice.

  3. Fox News is a joke for, the most part, with the younger demographic. This group represents the future and they see Fox as a completely biased organization. SNL, Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert et al, are always making fun of their product and personalities. I have been out of college for over 30 years but I got to think that the overwelming majority of college age kids laugh at this network as complete frauds and mouthpieces for the GOP/TP faction in this country. We can only hope that as Fox’s core demographic(55-85) dies off and the younger demograpic gets older, they stop watching this pathetic source of misinformation and tune out. After Rupert and Roger are gone maybe they will morph into a more honest purveyor of information. We can only hope!

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