Saturday, August 14, 2004

Three Thoughts

I had the following three things on my QuickNote pad. They're old now, but let's at least get them out there. Discuss amongst yourselves.

1. With the release of The Passion of the Christ on DVD it's a good time to ask: Where was all the predicted anti-Semitism? The Anti-Defamation League was making all sorts of threats based on their dire predictions of outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence after the movie's release. Doesn't seem to have happened. Where is the ADL to apologise for the hysteria?

2. Some enterprising bureaucrat or lawyer should look into extending consumer safety regulations to encompass the sale of newspapers and magazines. Almost every other product on the market falls under the Consumer Product Safety Commission, why not newspapers? Editors and publishers will claim First Amendment protections, but those were never intended for commercial speech, just individual speech. I'd like to see someone try to make a case that newspapers and magazines, because they are products sold on the market for the purpose of producing a profit, fall into a commercial product definition.

Remember, the primary purpose of modern newspapers is to sell eyeballs to advertisers. Paper stories are partly tailored to attract a certain segment of the community. Newspapers set their ad rates based on how many and what quality of eyeballs are looking at their pages. Higher circulation figures and high-spending readers mean big profits. That's the newspaper game.

So, why not hold newspapers accountable for the damages they cause to businesses and individuals? Allow lawsuits and recovery for faulty reporting that causes harm, to enforce accountability? Sort of like libel laws, but with wider scope and reach.

After all, what business is allowed to police itself? Why should newspapers (not individual or non-profit speech) be insulated from the courts?

It's just a thought.

3. Speaking of newspapers, what other business can get away with saying that numerous and sustained complaints about their product are a sign of the product being good? If Ford got an unending series of complaints on the Focus could they plausibly argue it's a sign of a good car? If Focus sales declined year after year, while other classes of cars, trucks and SUVs saw climbing sales, would they be allowed to say that drivers simply had more driving options available to them, as an explanation?

If people complained that, say, the cars sold to them as green were really another color, or that the automatic transmissions they were sold were more like manuals, or that the CD players never played music quite right, could the manufacturer simply dismiss those claims by stating that their production lines were just fine and the problem was with drivers' perceptions?

Could they defend the widespread disrepute of their product as a reason to merely do their job better? Would that company be allowed to police itself and take ownership of the process of correcting the problems?

So why do we accept this kind of talk from newspapers?

Again, just an idea, some lateral thinking to up-end the usual assumptions and ways of looking at things.

Have fun!

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