News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sandra Fluke: the new Emmanuel Goldstein

It is one thing to give the ignorant and mentally-challenged the right to free speech.  It is quite another to give them the right to amplify their free speech and make it part of competent dialogue, but that is what the Aberdeen American News, which is a perennial contender for the World's Worst Newspaper Award, does with its letters-to-the editor.  

In Sunday's paper, the AAN (which also stands for Asinine Always News) published a letter from an Elsie Arbach of Gettysburg.  She writes:  "I am curious as to why the extracurricular activities of Sandra Fluke are considered laudable and defensible. According to her testimony, they minimized her attention to her law degree."

Of course, Ms. Fluke's testimony, which can be read here it its entirety,  makes no mention of her "extracurricular activities."   She appears at a Congressional hearing to speak on behalf of women who are in circumstances in which they cannot afford contraceptives.  One of those women needs contraceptive pills to treat an ovarian disease.

We surmise that the comment in the letter-to-the editor originates from the false libels against Ms. Fluke uttered by Rush Limbaugh.   He stated on air that Ms. Fluke had so much sex that she wanted the taxpayers to subsidize it because she could not afford it.  Limbaugh and Elsie Arbach simply lie about what Ms. Fluke said and her purpose for testifying.  We also surmise that Arbach is one of Limbaugh's ditto heads and neither knows nor cares if she is lying.  

But the responsibility for publishing this lie goes to the Aberdeen American News.  There was a time in journalism when letters-to-the-editor were fact checked.  They were checked because if a newspaper published a false statement about a person, particularly one that defamed their morality, the newspaper could be sued.  If a newspaper back then published a statement such as the American News did, all Ms. Fluke's attorneys would have to do is bring the transcript of her testimony into court and show that she did not say what the published letter said she did.  The falseness of the statement in the letter was sufficient evidence of the presence of malice and damages were presumed.

When I last worked for a newspaper, the editors and reporters dreaded the ritual of the editor walking out of his office with a stack of letters-to-the-editor, which he would distribute to the editors and senior reporters for fact-checking.  It was also our job, if we found falsehoods and errors, to call the letter writer and explain why we could not publish the letter.  We hated this.  The stupid people who write falsehoods about other people tend to get belligerent and abusive when they are told they have written a lie.  They usually went into a defaming rage against the editor who called them and then canceled their subscription to the paper.  It was not a pleasant part of the work week.

Case law since that time has changed the way slander and libel laws are applied.  Now one has to prove that a false statement did measurable damage regarding a person's profession or occupation.  The courts have, in effect, endorsed the presence and use of malice against people as permissible as long as it does not measurably affect their earnings.  

So, that leaves wretched publications like the American News free to publish whatever libels it pleases.    That does not absolve the newspaper from being party to a falsehood and a libel. The newspaper has a right to devote itself to partisan hackery, which is abundant on its editorial pages, and it is part of the free enterprise system of selling harmful junk to the public.

In Orwell's 1984, the novel contains a hate figure named Emmanuel Goldstein who is presented as an enemy of the people by the state media.  It is doubtful whether such a person actually existed, but the purpose is to excite and distract the people with hatred as part of the brain-washing process through which they are controlled.  Sandra Fluke was created by Limbaugh as a hate object and that hate object is passed along by the letter in the American News.

In so engaging in this kind of nefarious enterprise, the American News disqualifies any claim it makes to being a medium of journalism.  It is merely a facilitator of the angry and insane incivility that possesses American politics.  But its financial success probably relies on it serving that role.  Reading the Aberdeen American News is like smoking tobacco.  Or crack.  It is not anything like reading legitimate journalism. 


Eli Blake said...
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Eli Blake said...

The problem is that a lot of small town newspapers (not sure what the population of Aberdeen is, but I live in a rural area and know that some of the newspapers here have this problem) are just plain lazy. They are short-staffed and often when they get letters, even false letters, they would rather just throw them in there to fill space than to actually fact check them.

In larger circulation newspapers the number of letters is sufficient that they can parse them and pick out the best ones, but small town papers sometimes throw them all in a pile and put in as many and of just the right length as they need to complete the page.

Not dishonest journalism, so much as lazy journalism

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States