Fake News vs. Truth and the First Amendment

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

If you read this and thought this sounded familiar, it’s probably because you had to memorize it in grade school, you’ve heard it on the news an awful lot lately, or you are a history buff.

The first amendment in the Bill of Rights was created by America’s forefathers in order to create a society in which people could experience true freedom. Many of these freedoms have come under scrutiny since they were created, including the freedom of the press.

The 2016 election highlighted the press more so than the elections preceding it. President Trump popularized the term “fake news” and condemned certain media organizations for being dishonest.

According to a CNN article, he went so far as to post a tweet “depicting him attacking someone WWE-style with the CNN logo superimposed over the person’s head.”

The “Fake News Awards” were created shortly after, awarding leading news organizations like the New York Times, ABC and CNN for producing fake stories according to Trump.

Reporters have had to endure the repercussions of the “fake news” dilemma as they have encountered more physical attacks now than ever.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation launched the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which logged “over 125 press freedom incidents — ranging from a congressman body-slamming a journalist to protesters smashing reporters’ cameras.”

While the president claimed to be mistreated by the press, many press members felt they were being mistreated by the way the president was presenting them to the American people.

The point is “fake news” has consumed American journalism. Numerous people are working to tackle the problem of fake news, but where does it leave the relationship between fake news and journalists?

How does this all fit in with the first amendment? The question boils down this: are reporters required to report the truth and nothing but the truth, or does that infringe on the right given to us in the first amendment?

According to University of Leeds’ Associate Professor of Law, Paul Wragg, the answer to these questions all depend on our definition of ‘freedom of the press.’

“The law, for example, accepts that the press performs a vital function in society by informing the public and enabling democratic participation,” Wragg said in his article, “Fake news and press freedom.”

“There is also something in the view that the press should act professionally, which should include the sense of pride that comes from truthful reporting and shame from untruthful reporting. But these are more matters of morality than law.”

Wragg comes to the conclusion that while the press shouldn’t publish inaccurate stories that could harm a person’s reputation or would discriminate against particular groups of people, it is not because “it has a duty to tell the truth … rather, it has an obligation to provide redress where it breaches the the law (or the codes of conduct).”

He says the press does not have a duty to do anything, and while according to the first amendment, Wragg would be correct, I am going to extend his argument.

I would go so far as to say that journalists do not have a duty to report the truth, but Christian journalists do. And though, there are many journalists not bound to truth by duty, they should be bound to truth because of its benefits.

In the Bible, truth characterizes love, worship, freedom, the Holy Spirit, Scripture, Godliness and Jesus himself.

When writing to a fellow Christian, Paul — an apostle of Jesus — says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be shamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

While writing and reporting truth may only be Biblically required for Christians, the Bible also highlights it’s benefits for everyone.

Have your ever heard the saying ‘the truth hurts’? Well, according to the Bible, lying hurts worse, and it not only hurts you, but the other people around you.

This concept is clearly illustrated in history. Think about Nazi propaganda, Watergate, and President Clinton’s affair. These lies ruined careers, reputations, and even destroyed the lives of more than just the one person primarily involved.

The purpose of truth is not to bind someone to a higher morale but to do the exact opposite.

The truth will liberate you and those around you.

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32).

Telling the truth provides integrity, credibility, and saves time and energy — all things that journalists should strive for.

My new question for you is this: though it is not required by law, why would we as Americans settle for reporting that is anything less then the truth?

We shouldn’t, and, for most of us, we don’t.

To my fellow Americans, let it be your duty to hold your journalists (also known as your primary sources for important information) to the highest standards. Do not let them get away with white lies or unconfirmed facts.

To my fellow journalists, hold your name and representations of your name (your stories) in the highest regard. Report in undeniable truth and you will never fail.

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