As an American living in Europe, I have to say that watching the US news is like watching your beloved Aunt Agatha slowly go insane. What's worse is watching it with my wife. She's French and though we have similar political views, because her background is as a French political advisor in Paris and my political background can best be summed up as "whining", we often have different views on how to approach problems. She's very much in the "what are we able to get done" camp as opposed to my "what should we get done" attitude. So when the subject of US politics comes up, particularly given her legal background (she has a Masters Degree in French law), she has a particular talent for asking questions which make me squirm.
Case in point: given the recent brouhaha regarding a law requiring truth in Canadian news, my wife asked me why the US didn't require news to be honest (she has been repeatedly shocked by some of the blatant lies that Fox News puts forward). I tried to explain about our First Amendment and why, sadly, Fox News used this to win a court case giving them the right to lie on air, and I also tried to explain how the US used to have a "Fairness doctrine" which at least required air time for opposing views, thus mitigating the problem somewhat.
Then she hit me with the question that her legal mind would naturally conjure up: don't you have truth in advertising laws?
Um, er, uh, yeah. The FTC Website lists three legal requirements for advertising:
- Advertising must be truthful and non-deceptive;
- Advertisers must have evidence to back up their claims; and
- Advertisements cannot be unfair.
Do you have any idea how embarrassing this was? I was sitting there trying to explain to my lovely French wife why the US requires advertising to be honest, but not the news. I couldn't. No amount of sophistry or twisting my mind around this problem could allow me to get around the core issue that if news is allowed to lie and advertising isn't, something is seriously wrong in the US.