This is a transcription of an episode from A Nation Divided Radio

Brian: You are listening to a nation divided. We are coming to you live from Culver City. I am Brian Dunn sitting right across from my best of all friends. Mr. James oats. How are you doing Jim?

Jim: Brian, I didn’t want to rattle you before we came on the air today, but I gotta tell you there’s a conspiracy man. There is a plot against our radio show. And I know it because every week we come in, either frontline or NPR does a show on exactly what we were going to talk about. I think they’ve got our cell phones bugged.

Brian: It’s so interesting that you bring that up because as you all know in this particular show, A Nation Divided, we like to look at the things that draw the lines between us as Americans. We like to think about the things that create conflict, the things that sometimes are not neatly spoken about. One of the things that we’re going to be talking about today is very personal to me because I spent so much time dedicating my life to the law and to the constitution of the United States. And it involves the concept of the first amendment, but more directly, it involves what is called fake news. It involves the concept of the media becoming an advocate for a particular political goal or a particular candidate, and sometimes putting the concept of the truth, secondary to the type of advocacy or bias that that particular media outlet wants to purvey. Let me give you some examples. There have been many people who have said that CNN constitutes fake news. MSNBC constitutes fake news. There have been many individuals who have said that Fox News is simply an arm of the conservative party and an arm of the Republican party, but notwithstanding all of those divisions. One of the things that we’re interested in is what happens when a media outlet gets it wrong? What happens when there is the deliberate reporting of false information and folks as we move forward with this discussion, we’d like you to join us, but one of the things that I always love to say, put your history books aside. It doesn’t matter if you have an education on the subject. It doesn’t matter if this is something that you’ve studied. It doesn’t matter if you’ve even graduated from high school. What we’re interested in in this particular show is taking the temperature of Americans. We want to know what you think in your gut and if you’re ready, I’m going to tell you what the question is going to be for this hour.

Should the reporting of false news be a crime?

It’s that simple. Should the reporting of false information be something that is not protected by our freedom of speech? Should it be something that we look at as a crime? And as we start to delve and peel the layers back on this very complicated subject, one of the things that we’re confronted with is the fact that we’re living in an age that is quite unprecedented. And one of the reasons why it is, is because people are not just getting their information from newspapers and from radio and from television outlets. They’re also getting their information from that pesky device called the internet. And there are all of these programs such as Facebook, such as Instagram, such as Twitter. Tell us a little bit about how that makes us different because you’ve always done so much research on this subject, Jim.

Jim: Well, it doesn’t, we don’t have to go that far, Brian. There are all kinds of research about our ability as human beings to filter out information. Why we do what we do. Even you and I were having a discussion earlier where we’re kind of arguing about how we’ve evolved as a species. Why do we react the way we do to negative information? For instance. Why do we do that? Do we react to the negative information because it’s like a survival instinct? It’s something inside us? And that’s my argument and I know you argue against that but, but there’s research that’s really solid.

Brian: But what about the fact that people are getting more information now from Facebook than they are from regular news?

Jim: Well but I mean, we can go into that and we can go down the whole social media route and I’m sure that we will in another show, but even if you just take the news that’s available now and you ask people to filter it out. There are studies that say that as we age, we lose our ability, actually lose our ability to filter information. There are studies that say that, that kids are not able to discern the difference between good information and bad information. So you’ve got on the two ends of the spectrum, you’ve got people as we age, we have a harder time filtering information I mean, people probably kind of intuitively know that. And then on the other end, you’ve got young people who don’t have enough experience to able to compare the information they’re hearing to what they maybe would have heard before, say when they’re an adult and know whether that’s right or wrong.

Brian: Because we have concluded on several occasions in this show that we’re living in an unprecedented time. One of the things that are unprecedented is that we are uniquely divided as a country right now. Things seem to be separating us and it seems like those divisions aren’t really making a lot of progress at being healed. And when we conceptualize this term which is being talked about so much called fake news, it’s something that we really have to consider because in many cases some of the news is not true. Some of the news that’s being passed off as being legitimate just isn’t, sometimes you have reputable news outlets that are reporting this fake news.

Jim: But Brian, it’s not just a matter of whether the news is true or not, it’s a matter of how people react to it. So like if you picked a little, you would have heard the terms confirmation bias, I mean, people kinda hear that you know, we know what that sort of means. Confirmation bias is the idea that you’re looking for information that kind of already agrees with what you believe going in. But then here’s another interesting term, motivated cognition, right? Here’s a study. This is a study that this article and current biology, it’s one of these scientific American magazines, but there was a study that they did of adults over the age of 60 and they were talking about their ability to filter out information. And what they found essentially is that there is this motivated cognition, this idea that not only do you not filter it even, but the way you learn new information, the way you consume that information is motivated by what you already believe.

Brian: The topic of the day is should the reporting of false news be a crime? Should people actually be held accountable criminally for deliberately putting information out for mass consumption that they know is false? And one of the things that makes this unique is that we have a pretty concrete basis for believing that this is a unique problem because there’s really hard evidence that external influences or foreign countries have inserted themselves into the discourse of American political talk for the purpose of dividing us. This is something that is not up for discussion.

Jim: Sure. I mean the department of Homeland security released a thing and it’s probably about six or eight months ago. I’ve got it right here in front of me. But yeah, the department of Homeland security released this thing to the public to basically say, watch out for the information you read on the internet because there are people really trying to put misinformation for the purpose of creating conflict.

Brian: Gill from West Hills. Thank you so much for coming in. Welcome to a nation divided brother. We are dying to know what you think, please.

Gill: It’s a great question because there’s a lot of very irresponsible spreading of rumors, but a journalist, is only a journalist if they’ve investigated the source and found out if it’s true.  I’m a real estate agent and if I make a mistake, I’m going to get sued.

Jim: Absolutely. Because someone making a mistake in your job and your occupation could very well be in trouble. That’s a very good point. You could get in trouble or maybe you lose your business.That is a great point.

Gill: We would get sued, but I also have insurance. If it’s an error then it was a mistake. Okay, then my insurance was going to take care of it. But if it’s fraudulent and I knew what I was doing and I did something against the OSI to protect fire. I could get thrown in jail and my insurance isn’t taking care of it.

Brian: Yeah. That’s a great example because you know somebody who’s studied the first amendment a lot, I know that that wouldn’t be protected. I mean, you can’t for example, if you’re selling a product, you can’t overstate what it’s going to do. VW got into a lot of trouble by saying that their products, their Volkswagens, where environmentally friendly when in reality they weren’t. You had a whole lot of situations involving food companies that say that their product will boost your immune system when it’s completely bogus. So not every type of speech is protected. I’m going to have to take this a step further because we’re going to have to actually get a little bit more intense with the discussion. What’s happening now politically is that we are in a situation where there are stark divides between Americans.  I’m 51 I’ve never lived in a time where the divisions Republican and Democrats were starker. And when you start thinking about the concept of news, you have outlets now who seem to instead of reporting the news objectively, there’s so much bias inherent in the programming that it seems like they’re actually trying to go to support a specific political goal. And these are situations where the discussion becomes very significant because the lines in terms of what is being reported are being blurred so much. And I’m talking about both sides folks. And one of the things I want everyone to know that’s listening in your car is that we’re not Republican or Democrat. Here. We are people who are generally trying to elevate the consciousness of Americans so that we understand each other better and that we actually get along better by not being forced to hate each other. We are not using the influence of another country to divide us or you know, a politician or anyone who may have disingenuous motives.