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Profile: Gannett Corporation
Gannett Corporation was a participant or observer in the following events:
Florida’s Second Court of Appeals overturns a wrongful-firing ruling against Fox Television by a lower court (see August 18, 2000), finding in favor of the network against two citizen plaintiffs who claim they were fired by Fox News for refusing to falsify a news segment they were producing for a local affiliate. In essence, the court rules that Fox, and by extension other media outlets, can legally lie to their consumers: that there is no law against distorting or falsifying the news in the US. The appeals court holds that the plaintiffs’ threat to report the network to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not deserve protection under Florida’s whistleblower statute, because a whistleblower must report “an employer breaking an adopted law, rule, or regulation.” The FCC has a policy against falsification of the news, but the court, in what the St. Louis Journalism Review will call “a stunningly narrow interpretation of FCC rules,” rules that the policy does not rise to the level of a “law, rule, or regulation.” Therefore, Fox Television’s Fox News Channel or any other news producer can produce willfully false stories and claim they are true, without fear of reprisal. In their court arguments, lawyers for Fox Television asserted that no rules or laws exist that prohibit distorting or falsifying news reports: that, under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on the public airwaves. The attorneys did not dispute that network officials pressured the plaintiffs to produce a false story; instead, they argued that it was the network’s right to do so. Fox Television won “friend of the court” support from five major news owners: Belo Corporation, Cox Television, Gannett, Media General Operations, and Post-Newsweek Stations. [St. Louis Journalism Review, 12/1/2007] After the verdict, the local Fox affiliate, WTVT-TV, airs a news report saying it is “totally vindicated” by the verdict. [Sierra Times, 2/28/2009]
Slate’s war reporter, Fred Kaplan, publishes an online editorial in response to the morning’s Army Times editorial calling for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (see November 6, 2006). Kaplan’s editorial is published just hours before Rumsfeld resigns (see November 6-December 18, 2006). Kaplan calls the editorial “fairly astonishing.” He explains the use of the word “fairly” by noting that the Army Times, and its brethren Military Times Media Group publications Navy Times, Air Force Times, and Marine Corps Times (all of which publish the Army Times editorial) are privately owned and published by the Gannett Corporation. Had the official Defense Department publication Stars & Stripes published the editorial, Kaplan writes, “it would be prelude to insurrection.” Kaplan notes that the Military Times audience is almost all military personnel; and the reporters and editors “are nearly all veterans with close ties to the senior officer corps.” The publications are, Kaplan writes, “essentially trade papers, covering issues from the perspective of the men and women of the armed forces.” The Military Times publications “would not run an editorial like the one in today’s editions unless they knew that it reflected a broad and deep consensus among high-ranking, active-duty officers across the military establishment,” he writes: “That’s the remarkable thing about the editorial—that the military’s disaffection from the war, and from its civilian leadership, has grown so widespread that even the editors of the Military Times newspapers fear no backlash from amplifying the chorus.” Kaplan adds his own voice to the Military Times’s call for Rumsfeld’s firing, writing: “Rumsfeld chose the strategy for this war. As the Defense Department’s chief civilian authority, he had every right to overrule his military commanders and impose his own notion of how to fight the war. But once his way proved disastrous, he should have been held accountable. The only person who can hold him accountable is the president. Most presidents fire a Cabinet officer whose judgment is no longer deserving of trust.” [Slate, 11/6/2006]
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