There have already been some hijacks here, which was probably inevitable. I’ll TRY to stick to facts.
Whether one likes Cal Thomas or Robert Fisk (or George Will or Bob Herbert, or whoever) or not, catching them in a “lie” can be tricky. If Bob Herbert writes “George W. Bush is an evil tyrant who wants to starve children and oppress non-white peoples around the world,” is that a “lie”? If Cal Thomas writes, “Bill Clinton is an immoral sleazebag who sold out American security,” is that a “lie”?
Hyperbole, perhaps. Mean-spirited distortion, yes. But would either columnist be committing a crime? No. There’s no way either man would be prosecuted. And since Bush and Clinton are both public figures, they wouldn’t get very far with a libel suit.
Now, what if an Op-Ed columnist or cartoonist makes specific, (supposedly) factual statements that almost certainly aren’t true and can’t possibly be proven? Well, there’s no CRIMINAL penalty for that. So, suppose Tom Tomorrow says, “George W. Bush KNEW about the pending attack on the WTC, but did nothing to prevent it.” Or, suppose William Safire writes, “Hillary Clinton had Vince Foster murdered.”
Could either Tomorrow or Safire go to jail? Nope. Would Bush have a libel case to make against Tomorrow? Would Safire be subject to a libel suit from Hillary Clinton? Almost certainly not. Since both Bush and Clinton are public figures, the rules for libel suits are very tough. Not only does a public figure have to PROVE that what the columnist said was false, he must also prove that
- The columnist KNEW what he was saying was false, and
- The columnist published that falsehood with the specific intent of damaging the public figure’s reputation.
So, suing an Op-Ed columnist for libel is highly problematic. Nearly impossible, in fact.
So, the short answer to the OP is… yes. Op-Ed writers can lie, and sometimes do. There’s NOTHING the criminal justice system can do about that, and civil suits usually won’t work.
The only ways to combat “lies” are:
Put pressure on the publishers and syndicators. Even “biased” publishers don’t generally want to be seen as scurrilous rags that publish obvious untruths. Opposite though they may be, neither “The Nation” nor “National Review” is likely to keep a columnist who makes up news stories.
Use the media that are more sympathetic to your side to get YOUR version of events out there.