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Washington Journal of Law, Technology & Arts

Abstract

During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, President Trump touted a number of treatments that many medical professionals considered dangerous. These treatments include hydroxychloroquine and disinfectants, which if misused could cause a patient’s death. This prompted Free Press to file an emergency petition with the FCC, arguing that broadcasters who report on Trump’s claims about these treatments without highlighting their dangers could be in violation of the Commission’s broadcast hoax rule. Free Press also requested the FCC require that broadcasters include disclaimers when reporting on such claims. This article examines whether the broadcast hoax rule has been violated here, and whether such disclaimers should be required. The preferred approach under the First Amendment is to leave it to the marketplace of ideas to ascertain the truth of Trump’s statements. This article ultimately concludes that the broadcast hoax rule is a poor fit for this case and that requiring disclaimers could chill broadcast coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the public less informed about this important public health issue. Counterspeech, or providing accurate information to help counteract false statements, is the preferable approach here.

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