Almost 50 years ago Guinness decided to sell alcohol in the American market. It put up billboards with the slogan: “Guinness is good for you.“
That was OK in Ireland but not necessarily in the United States. Guinness couldn’t really prove that it was the truth.
So in fear of being sued in American courts for “misrepresentation,” they changed it to ”Guinness is for you.”
For the last four years, President Trump has used Fox and social media to build his base with willful misinformation. And after he lost the last election, he claimed the election stolen was from him, a claim repeated endlessly by him and others on Fox and social media.
He could not prove it was the truth, because it is not, but maybe he doesn’t have to.
The question is: was Trump’s misinformation worse than a Guinness hangover?
Trump used this misinformation to encourage his supporters to come to Washington on January 6th to disrupt the Electoral College certification of our election.
The House of Representatives and the Senate were attacked and our elected officials were put at risk. Five people died.
American courts recognize and award damages for the dissemination of misinformation in commercial maters in the form of false advertising and in personal matters as defamation (formally libel and slanderer). But when it comes to misinformation delivered as political speech, it gets more difficult. The 1st Amendment largely protects that speech because it is political, but let’s follow the money.
Is free speech political? Or is it property, which can be sold to make money even if it is misinformation?
On October 12, Fox paid millions to the family of Seth Rich for repeatedly publishing the lie that he had been involved in leaking the DNC emails during the 2016 presidential election when in fact a Russian intelligence officer had hacked and leaked the emails. There was no truth or factual basis for the Fox story. Fox continued to broadcast it anyway. Fox settled the case before Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity were set to testify under oath.
What makes this interesting is that part of the settlement required that it could not be disclosed until after the election in November.
Doesn’t this Fox settlement requirement both confirm that their reporting was political and acknowledge that it was false all along?
If you can afford to pay for the lie and even profit from it, it’s OK? Is the difference between the settlement and the profits generated for Fox from the marketing of misinformation the fair market value of propaganda in America?
It is business. It is politics. The business of American politics. But what is for sale?
The influence over the American voter is for sale, but is the country at stake? Is the price tag for our country the cost of the propaganda it would take to buy it?
Can this really be what the framers intended? The revolution? The Constitution? The freedom of the people from King George? And then give King George complete immunity and absolute power if he becomes the president?
It is amazing how we rationalize the truth. Over the last four years, maybe Guinness has been good for me.
You don’t really know what’s going on unless you have the courage to read the tweets and live in the misinformation of his campaign. If you really think that this all will go away with an inauguration of a Democratic president, you’re crazy!
The Biden victory did not affect most of the embedded state and local Republicans candidates who rallied around and were supported by Trump. That divisive campaigning has not stopped.
It has increased with an attack on the legitimacy of the election and certification, which has been supported by Republicans who are still afraid to challenge the president.
As reported in The New Yorker, Stuart Stevens, a Republican strategist who advised Mitt Romney in 2012, tweeted: “The bottom line is that the @GOP has become a threat to democracy…it’s a clear and present danger and should be treated as such.” (Emphasis added.)
Steve Schmidt, a Republican campaign strategist for John McCain in 2008, called Trump Republicans “an American autocratic movement with Fascistic markers.” (Emphasis added.)
Below is a video that was posted on Twitter by President Trump 12/23. It’s a 17-minute video split into two parts. I wouldn’t want you to have to watch the whole thing but check out the second half. This tweet multiplied with 111k retweets, and 10.4K quote tweets and received 265K likes.
Since the election, Trump’s efforts to take over the country have gotten more extreme, culminating in efforts to overturn the vote of the people.
Abraham Lincoln, also a Republican, has been quoted as saying “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
Actually, Abe, all you need is 49% of the vote and the Electoral College.
The primary issue of every leader in any democracy is to protect and preserve free speech based on credible facts and information to ensure that the people control the government rather than the government controlling the people.
When faced with Covid, the Democratic Party defined leadership by asking “What is the best way to solve this national crisis?” They insisted the answer was to follow the best available science. Trump, however, defined the issue by asking “Why should American freedom be curtailed by overbearing mask wearing liberals and political correctness?”
For Trump, the primary issue has always been how to define the Democrats. He vilifies them on Twitter and supports media that broadcasts conspiracy theories, unsupported false information and propaganda in order to polarize his base. The Democrats have always been blind to this. It is really not a policy dispute.
Trump lost the election but this argument isn’t over.
Trump received 74 million votes and remains the voice of the Republican Party. It has been reported that over half of all Republicans believe that the election was stolen and Trump won.
The issue now is how can the country address this polarization in order to preserve its democracy.
The First Amendment broadly protects anything related to free political speech, so a democracy cannot rely on the government to police and protect the voting public.
In the alternative, the president of a publicly-held company would be liable for a breach of fiduciary duty for the Covid loss of life which could’ve been prevented if not for his self-dealing at the public’s expense.
Could the Justice Department create a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute Trump for obstruction of justice, violations of the Hatch Act and many other examples of malfeasance? Yes.
What if Trump pardons himself? This has never been tested and the authorities are split, but I am virtually certain that he could not. There are endless Constitutional textual analyses available, but a self-pardon would imply the founders granted an American president more power than the king they hated, and placed the President above the law.
The people could, through their legislators, lift the protection preventing civil law suits against private companies, such as social media in defamation cases. That is not government shutting down political speech — it is just permitting damages for false speech at the expense of a private citizen or companies. But it sure could change behavior if their revenues were put at risk for profiting from the political polarization.
The only solution is that the people must protect their own government.
Public discussion to change public opinion is the only solution. It is our own individual responsibility to find ways to revive public speech.
Democrats need to listen and may need to forego prosecution or vindication rather than prove to themselves they were always right. The Democrats have always been blind to this. It is really not a policy dispute. It is a private obligation.
America, when it was created by its Constitution, mandated free political speech as a necessity for an open and free society.
All of that is at risk now, given the past administration. The most damaging is the legacy of “fake news” and the resulting propaganda.
Prior to the Internet, political news was sold by a press that was dependent on the reputation of the newspaper which sold it. The source and credibility of the information is what gave it value to the consumer and the advertiser.
Since the Internet and social media, these safeguards have been largely lost because the credibility of the writer and supporting facts need not be disclosed at all and therefore anything can be pitched as credible including propaganda and fabricated conspiracy theories. It is all the same unless the factual credibility and bias can be challenged reliably.
A newspaper Publisher is presently liable for “actual malice,” as liable as the writer of the article. However, social media platforms are legislatively protected from this same liability by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. What makes it worse is if there is no liability there is little or no incentive for these media platforms to police the speech they publish. And what makes it even worse is political advertising in a polarized country has been very lucrative.
The media platforms claim that they cannot possibly police all those who publish anonymously on their portals. But they can and the price to our country is too great if they don’t.
If we file to create a corporation, drive a car on the highway, use the court system, or do just about anything affecting the health and safety of our city or country, we as individuals are accountable for the truth of our identity and the information we provide in order to get licensing. But anyone, American or not, can publish on the Internet and disappear.
This is a battle which is about to go into full swing and where we live will be determined by the outcome. Our free speech and our democratic government are not “free.” We assume responsibility for preserving them or we all lose together.
For almost 45 years, I have lived in Baltimore. As a family, we always went to Orioles games together. However, I grew up in Boston and every once in a while, my son looks at me and says, “You’d better not be a closet Red Sox fan!”
I said nothing under the heavy weight of the unspoken politically correct vote to make Baltimore great again: There would be no Red Sox swag or such propaganda allowed in our house!
What is this propaganda, this loyalty that shuts down discussions of the merits of the Red Sox, my former home team, and why can’t I have this debate in my house?
A long time ago, a law professor asked me, “What is the difference between a catcher who receives the pitch and moves it over the plate to convince the umpire it was a strike and a football player who fakes an injury to stop the clock?” The catcher was an advocate, because the umpire always could see the pitch. But the football player was a propagandist — a marketer of misinformation and a liar — not an advocate.
Has propaganda fed the polarization for the last 30-plus years at the expense of the love of the game?
The victorious Democratic Party had better start celebrating the game, not the team, because the game is at stake. It will be very hard to do, because the Democratic Party has done nothing to understand the 70 million people who voted for Trump. The party has furthered polarization by caricaturing and mocking the Trump Republicans. Maybe they are not all racists, sexists, hayseeds, or billionaires?
In 2014, I ran for office as a Democrat in a gerrymandered Republican district and was summarily defeated. I knocked on well over 5,000 doors, and almost everyone I met was open and friendly until I disclosed I was a Democrat. Then they slammed the door in my face.
In 2016, my neighborhood was flooded with Trump signs. This election, there were far fewer Trump signs, but often in their place were signs for a Republican candidate running for Elijah Cummings’ vacant Congressional seat. The Republican candidate was African-American and a woman. Was the Republican Party more important to my neighbors than her race or sex?
In a democracy, there is little or no protection against propaganda. Because we value free political speech, we cannot legislate against it. One person’s advocacy is another person’s lies. The only defense we have to protect the game is to talk to each other, discover the propaganda on both sides, and reject it together.
When my son was seven or eight years old, I took him to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox play the Orioles. He insisted that he deck himself out in full Orioles regalia, orange hat and shirt. He was loaded for bear, as were the Red Sox fans all around us. For about three innings they heckled each other, which ultimately turned into a mix of respect and laughter. As we were walking out, he turned to me and pronounced, “Dad, their fans aren’t that bad. And Ted Williams? They may be right about him… maybe.”
Baseball is America’s pastime and maybe that’s why there are so many innings. Maybe it’s a long game because everyone around you must talk to you, if only just a little, no matter who they are or what their political party may be. It’s part of the game.
If we let them, they will argue about everything: balls, strikes, the wisdom of that pitch or this player — but there is no propaganda. Everyone has a seat at the game. You argue for what you actually see. If you buy obstructed vision, you pay less.
I want to get back to the American pastime. To start talking to strangers again when we meet and we are reseated at a game where we have come to cheer on our team, yes, but are also celebrating the game itself and its longevity and history. After all, we are Americans who have historically thrived on disagreement and compromise. It is what has made us who we are.
Maybe it’s time to throw out the first pitch, ask the first question, and then listen and learn.
It is unfair, but once again I am the lucky one. These people are unique!
This Sunday, October 25 at 8:00 pm (ET) my play, The Grace of God & The Man Machine, will be performed in a Zoom/virtual public reading by director Van Dirk Fisher and the Riant Theatre. CLICK HERE to get tickets.
When the theaters open up, it will be presented live on an open stage with audiences seated to watch it, but for now this performance is an example of an industry‘s remarkable ability to maintain itself and continue to create.
In early March of this year, we had just finished a table reading of the latest draft when New York started to shut down because of the pandemic. Just two days ago, nine months into this, Kevin R. Free, the New York director who ran that reading, begged on Facebook for people to please wear masks as he described the devastation on the performing arts industry and its 12 million artists:
“This is personal to us, our whole livelihood depends on social solidarity and we will not be labeled ‘non-essentials.’”
Artists have always been essential. They are the counterpoint to propaganda.
Now in an American election year which will define who we are, the theaters are closed. But this industry defines itself like no other: “The show must go on.”
In these times, an amazing cast of professionals (several of whom have Broadway credentials and all of whom are brilliant) are the ones to uphold this responsibility under these very difficult situations.
Artists in all forms are examples of independent courage. I found the same grit and determination when I first started to learn about writing for theater in Baltimore at the Baltimore Playwrights Festival years ago. I have come to love these people and this world which these artists create even though I am forever new to it.
There is a tenacity and courage in every member which is profound. Repeatedly, as I have met and worked with Van Dirk Fisher and the Riant Theatre on this production, and with others like Christian De Gré Cardenas and Mind the Art Entertainment, Sue Conover Marinello, Katie Marinello, and Parker Bennett, I have learned grit and courage from them.
For this production on Sunday night, I benefit from this resilience and creativity. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Van has responded to this nightmare by developing the art of virtual backgrounds and performance skills for virtual reality theatrical productions.
Think about that. You get knocked down you get back up.
Please join me and watch these remarkable people offer a counterpoint to the propaganda of an election year.
Come if you can. And if you can’t, please donate to support the theater if possible.