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National View: Fact-free speech is not free speech

From the column: "The ambition for power, fueled by purposeful lying, will be the death of the United States as a moral force in the world."

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Research shows that a variety of factors unrelated to the availability of new factual knowledge make people resistant to correcting beliefs based on misinformation.
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The proliferation of lying in the body politic and certain news media has reached proportions so great that America finds itself on the brink of a revolution that threatens our entire system of government.

The weaponization of fact-free speech should be criminalized and offenders penalized by either removing the bully pulpit from which they perpetuate their lies or by streamlining legal channels by which the target of such attacks can extract monetary damages more easily.

How many Republican candidates are running for office under the debunked "stolen election" theory? How many still deny that the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol was a deliberate effort to undermine the peaceful transition of power after legal efforts to do so failed miserably?

Anyone generating election funding using either strategy is defrauding their donors, plain and simple. And even worse, they are radicalizing a growing segment of the population to distrust fact-based efforts to restore confidence in our institutions and the guiding principle of respect for the rule of law and the checks and balances built into our Constitution.

Our political parties should be made to openly declare that no one can run for office under their name by knowingly manipulating public opinion through conspiracy theories, propaganda, or disinformation.

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Those who are elected and proven to be serial liars should have their voting privileges on the House or the Senate floor suspended until they take ownership of their distortions of facts. Repeat offenders should be banned from ever being allowed to serve their party again.

Reducing a political party's numerical advantage in this way presumably would disincentivize its reliance on fabricated alternate realities as a substitute for a thoughtful, time-tested platform of ideas.

Any Congress member or senator found to have enriched themselves in ways that contradict moral principles, that they have made known through public statements or by their voting record, should be stripped of their position and forced to surrender the profits that they derived from their hypocritical actions.

Any journalistic entity that knowingly engages in fact-free speech by disseminating disinformation, representing unproven theories as being factual, or engaging in personal attacks without any substantiation should be sanctioned and eventually made to lose their credentials as a news organization.

Commentators or columnists for such organizations who routinely use their influence to spread theories or manipulate public opinion by deliberately weaponizing non-truths to demonize, polarize, and divide should be made to quickly back up their hate rhetoric in court or pay restitution. Their employers should be made to pay ever-increasing fines and to suspend their employee's on-air privileges for increasingly long periods of time.

As long as ratings and revenue drive the media, and principles of journalistic standards fall to a distant second (if they exist at all), using financial consequences to address abuses of free speech will be the most effective solution.

I await Dominion Voting Systems' massive lawsuit against Fox News with great anticipation, as this will be the bellwether from which the future of unfettered fact-free speech in the news media will be measured.

Altruism and integrity in public service inspires American voters. Conversely, the ambition for power, fueled by purposeful lying, will be the death of the United States as a moral force in the world.

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If we demand that our elected officials tell us the truth, perhaps we can repair the damage that has been done to the very flawed but workable two-party system that has struggled to serve our nation for so long.

Neil Rauch is an engineering staffing consultant in Maryland.

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