Frank Ryan: My Run-In with ‘Fake’ News

Member Group : Lincoln Institute

Imagine the headlines: “Pennsylvania representative responsible for Sen. Kamala Harris dropping out of the presidential race”

Just three days after Sen. Harris posted an article that was grossly inaccurate about a bill that I introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature, she dropped out of her presidential race.  I was ecstatic that my controversial bill, which should not have been controversial at all, forced an end to her presidential dreams.

Seriously, I was no more responsible for her dropping out of the race that she was accurate in describing my fetal remains bill. #FakeNews.

I have heard Pres. Trump make comments about fake news for almost 4 years now. Until recently however, I had no idea how serious of a problem #FakeNews is.

By way of background, I am a current member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The setting for this story is quite benign. I introduced a bill, House Bill 1890, the fetal remains bill, whose only purpose was to allow a parent who has lost a child through miscarriage or stillbirth to have the remains, at their own expense, to intern or cremate.

My bill on fetal remains is similar to an Indiana law that the United States Supreme Court found to be constitutional this year by a 7 to 2 vote.

My experience with fake news started almost immediately after the hearing in committee. First, a Democrat member of the Pennsylvania house made national news in reference to her comment that it a miscarriage as nothing more than a “mess on a napkin”.  She reluctantly seemed to apologize after public outcry even from the left.

At the same time, one member of the press latched on to some misleading information from a pro-abortion group and published a story that was grossly inaccurate saying that the bill mandated death certificates and funerals. None of that is in my three-page bill!  #FakeNews!

It seemed that in just days after the committee vote, I had managed to alienate Planned Parenthood, a Rolling Stone magazine reporter, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and Sen. Kamala Harris.  Not a bad track record for a relatively new member of the House!

The article that was originally published has since been updated after I got wind of the article. I responded to critics of my bill and sent them a link to the 3-page bill which clarified the real objective of the bill to create a voluntary program for grieving parents to take care of the remains of a stillbirth or miscarriage.  After public backlash, the reporter met with me and our staff and we refuted almost the entire original article.  The article was revised but the original article was not retracted per se. (Incidentally, to be fair, the reporter reached out to me before publication and I called her back immediately but she indicated she never received my message.)

After the initial outrage, the bill went to the full house for a vote and it passed with a bipartisan vote of 123-76.  Despite the language in the bill to the contrary, some members of the House continued the charade of mischaracterizing what the bill allowed despite continued correction. #FakeNews!

Then the fun started. Almost immediately, two articles were published which parroted the inaccurate information from the first article. Neither reporter called me for comment.  Hate mail started coming in and I responded to as many as I could. The people who saw the article that I was able to respond to were overwhelmingly supportive of my bill.

But the left continued. Sen. Kamala Harris forwarded the article on Facebook further causing some minor comments that I responded to.  Again, once people saw what the bill really did, most responded reasonably.   One person even posted the following:

‘To individuals who are emotionally charged by PA house bill 1890, please read our exchange of comments. Information is healthy and emotions are real. Please be informed before you make an emotional outburst like I did today.’

Apparently, the left did not anticipate that I would respond to the comments and defend my bill and hence #FakeNews is alive and not-well.  The damage that is done by such an irresponsible, agenda driven “reporting” is remarkable. The damage though is not done to me, Pres. Trump, or others so affected but it is to the very premise of the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Freedom of the press is a right that we should all cherish. Responsibility of the press is what we should all demand.

Trump understands what the press does not. He understands that the vast majority of Americans cherish freedom of the press but condemn the irresponsibility of the press.

There are outstanding reporters. In my own case on this bill one reporter contacted me and said this article about your bill does not sound like you. Can you explain it. I did and she reported on the bill. To this day I have no idea of whether or not she supports my bill but what I do understand is that she, the reporter who came to interview me, and the entire station cherish accuracy and trust.  That is true Freedom of the Press and should be cherished.

Frank Ryan, CPA, USMCR (Ret) represents the 101st District in the PA House of Representatives.  He is a retired Marine Reserve Colonel, a CPA and specializes in corporate restructuring.  He has served on numerous boards of publicly traded and non-profit organizations.  He can be reached at [email protected].