TAMPA, July 22, 2013 – Ben Swann developed a national following with his popular Reality Check news segments while an anchor at Fox News local affiliate Fox19 in Cinicnnati, OH, culminating in his hard-hitting interview with President Obama on the presidential “kill list.”
In May, 2013, Ben left Fox19 to start the Truth in Media Project, which launches this Friday July 26. I spoke to Ben about the launch (see video) and his plans for the project going forward.
Following is the written transcript of that conversation
Tom Mullen – Communities: Ben Swann has spent 14 years working as a journalist in broadcast news, has won two Emmy Awards and two Edward R. Murrow awards. Most recently, Ben was an anchor at Fox News affiliate Fox19 in Cincinnati, OH where he developed a national audience for his fact-checking series, Reality Check.
Ben is now producing a new, independent project called Truth in Media, which launches Friday July 26. Welcome Ben.
Ben Swann – Truth in Media: Tom, thanks for having me on.
Mullen: Now, your huge national following, most of those people discovered you doing your work at Fox19 in Cincinnati. What led to your decision to leave when you were having so much success. What is the new project all about?
Swann: Well, that’s a great question because a lot of folks, I think, would hesitate to walk away when things were going so well, but my view is simply this: That we’ve seen a lot of success so far, and largely in the idea that a lot of people believe that they’re not getting good national news from national networks and from media.
And when I say “good,” I mean they’re not receiving truthful information, that media is caught in the left-right paradigm. That’s where all of the focus is right now and that there are issues that go far beyond a left vs. right issue.
And so they’re not being discussed and all of the attention that we’ve had, the support that we’ve had so far, this huge following that we’ve developed, not just here in the United States by the way, but globally, people watching in 140 countries, we realize there’s a lot more that needs to be said.
(The) Truth in Media Project is an attempt to continue to cover those kinds of stories and to cut through that left-right paradigm and to get it to a larger audience through streaming sites, Hulu, Amazon Prime, eventually having a body of work that we’re hoping to put on Netflix, and continuing to work with alternative media and even local TV stations to get that content out to a larger audience.
Mullen: And, you call it Truth in Media Project. I think most people assume that with fact and the risk of being sued if you put out information that’s not true, that most of what they’re hearing is basically true.
Why do we need something like this and why don’t the major networks want to do something that seems to have such a large following?
Swann: Well, I think that when you say that most people assume that what is being said is true, I think there’s a growing feeling that that’s not necessarily the case.
Pew Research just put out a brand new poll showing that only 28% of Americans believe that journalists provide any real service to American society. That is a staggeringly low number of people who believe in what journalists are doing. I think the reason for that is that most people have decided that journalists are not truly seeking truth, that they are the arms of, or, you know, the propaganda arms of political parties and special interest groups.
They’re not going to talk about issues from a truthful perspective. They’re going to do it from whatever position in that left-right paradigm they happen to come from. And so, I think what we’re seeing today is a huge erosion, especially generationally among people saying, “I don’t trust what media says. I feel like news media tells us only what they want us to hear, and they’re not covering very important issues.”
So, when we talk about things like the value of the U.S. dollar, we talk about the role of the Federal Reserve Bank, when we talk about drone strikes, we talk about what’s happening in Syria right now, American foreign policy, there is a huge gap, a growing gap, between where many Americans have been and where they are right now. And I see people starting to really turn away from networks, believing that networks aren’t digging into those facts.
Mullen: And why for the average American, the average American family, work-a-day, raise their kids, why do you think it’s so important that we do have accurate news reporting and an objective look at what’s really happening on the political landscape?
Swann: Well, I think it’s entirely important because folks who do go out and as you said, they have their job and they work a day and they spend time with their family and they’re trying to raise their kids, they’re hoping for a strong future. There are millions upon tens of millions of Americans who are looking around right now at their life and saying, “What is happening to our country? Why is it that it’s so much more difficult today to go out and earn that living? And why is it that we’re struggling to keep so much of our income?” Or, “The value of what we’re working for seems to be disappearing right before our eyes.”
I think many people who maybe wouldn’t even consider themselves to be very politically minded are beginning to really scratch their heads and what they’re starting to step away from is the idea that it’s all the other political party’s fault. That’s been the narrative for a very long time in this country. Republicans say it’s all the Democrats’ fault, Democrats say it’s all the Republicans’ fault, and yet, nobody seems to be improving anything.
And I think where media has dropped the ball and where journalists have dropped the ball is that we have an obligation to say, “Look, this isn’t really about one party over the other. It’s about policies that both parties are responsible for. It’s about 13,000 lobbyists working in Washington, D.C. It’s about lobbying being a $3.3 billion industry and the fact that there is no one, for the most part, who’s advocating on behalf of the American people.
Special interests are controlling so much of the process and as journalists I think we need to do much more to expose that and to stand with the people and for the people as opposed to wanting to have access and therefore ignoring a lot of the major issues that have become problems for those families that are just trying to take care of their family and create a future for themselves.
Mullen: How do you see the political landscape if the American public was better informed? What would be different?
Swann: Well, I think one thing that would be different, is that the American people would have a much clearer idea of who was actually benefitting from their lack of freedom and who was benefitting from so many of our constitutional rights disappearing on a regular basis. You know, one of the issues that we have with this left-right paradigm is that media on the right defend certain constitutional rights and liberties and media on the left defend certain constitutional rights and liberties, and they defend different liberties and then attack other liberties.
And so, I think for the most part if Americans were more informed they could see through that. What they would see is that their voice is disappearing, that the voice of the individual in this country is all but gone. And yet, the foundation of the country is really based upon the idea that the individual is sovereign, and that individual liberty is even more important than the greater good concept. And that’s something that I think a lot of people might struggle with because we live in a culture today that says that that’s not true, that says however the greater population feels about something – and not even necessarily what the facts are, here – but how they feel about something trumps everything else.
So, we spend a lot of time in media trying to control how people feel as opposed to presenting them information that’s truthful. And I think if we spent more time talking about truthful information, a lot of what we see in society today would shift. I think responsibility and accountability for lawmakers would change. I think the demand for corporations and lobbyists to get out of Washington and stop affecting legislation would change.
I think the fact that we have enormous, powerful bills that are being written and passed as laws in Washington, but are not written by lawmakers – they’re written by lobbyists, lawmakers don’t even bother to read them and then pass them – they have enormous ramifications, not just for Americans today but for future generations of Americans.
I think if people could see that, they would demand more accountability and ultimately I think a lot of people right now who are working in Washington and serving there in office wouldn’t be there very long.
Mullen: And do you think we might see a viable third or even a fourth party as a result of Americans being better informed?
Swann: I think that we would not necessarily see a third party because the system is so rigged. I think if people were better informed about the system and how it’s rigged, then yes, I think that absolutely could happen. But the American political system, and most Americans I think are so in the dark about this, has been set up to become a two-party system and to prevent anyone else from becoming involved in it.
I think if you go back to 2012 of last year – and I’m not saying he would have been president – but if you had inserted Gary Johnson as the libertarian candidate into the debates between President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, you would have seen a dramatic shift in the way the outcome of the election would have looked. Not necessarily changing the outcome, but certainly changing the demographics and how people voted and where people voted in certain states.
Most Americas don’t realize they have more than two options in a presidential election. And in fact, I had a, when I was covering this while working for Fox19, I had a couple of different teachers who contacted me who teach political science and they teach about election law and American history and different subjects, who were writing to me saying, “I didn’t realize there were more than two candidates running for president until you’re talking about this in your newscast, all of these different parties that are referred to as alternative or minor parties.”
So, I think if we educated the American public as to just that there are a vast number of other ideas out there, it would shift the political landscape, certainly.
Mullen: Your website, benswann.com says that the new project launches next week, July 26th on Friday. Is that correct?
Swann: That’s correct. On Friday, we’re going to do a live stream event from New Hampshire. We have several people who will be guests there, the president of the Free State Project, which is based out of New Hampshire will be speaking, journalist Amber Lyon will be doing a message for us, as well as Judge Jim Gray, who ran as the vice-presidential candidate for Governor Johnson.
What we want to do – we’re going to have some other speakers, by the way, we’ll be announcing those – but what we want to do is launch the project and share with people what this crowd source effort so far has looked like, and we want to lay out for them our vision not just for this particular project but for the larger vision.
And there is a larger vision here. In part, what we’re going to explain to people is our three level platform, which is to inform people, to engage them and then to activate them. We really want to restore power to the individual and to people and to get it out of the hands of lawmakers on a national level and even on a local level.
Help people to shift the outcome of decisions that are made on local levels because those have as much if not more effect on their daily lives than do decisions made on the federal level.
Mullen: And without spoiling too much of the launch and the surprise, what is the channel going to look like? Is it going to be a web stream? Is it going to be 24/7? What are some of the details about the project itself?
Swann: Well, in the beginning, what we’re starting with is a launch of five-minute digital cinema episodes of a show called Ben Swann Full Disclosure, which we plan to place on streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and we also want to get that content out on a local level to local stations, so that we can disperse it around the country as much as possible. We want to begin with that project, because that’s the first step, because what we want to do is create a body of work to begin with.
But yes, one thing we will lay out for people is a plan to eventually launch a streaming news network on the internet that we believe will not only take advantage of where all of the emerging technologies are headed, but beyond that, working to really kind of reshape the way so many Americans think. Not because we want to control how they think, but rather we put ideas in their minds that maybe they haven’t had before. And these are not our ideas. These are ideas that go back to the founders and framers of this country. And many people, throughout the nation, who for a long time have discussed ideas that are all but gone.
I had a great conversation with someone today about Austrian economics and the fact that even most journalists in this country really don’t understand any other economic theory other than Keynesianism, and they probably wouldn’t call it “Keynesian.”
They would just say this is basic economics. I think that there are a lot of great ideas out there that people aren’t being exposed to that this project will work to expose them to.
Mullen: Yeah, I know when I took economics in the 80’s, during the Reagan years, in college, Keynesianism was taught to me as the only economics. So, you’re definitely right there.
You know, Ben, a lot of the things you say would lead one to believe that there is a libertarian bent to the program, but I did watch your preview of the Truth in Media launch and you say there things there not only for the Tea Party crowd, libertarians, but also the Occupy Wall Street crowd.
That there is going to be aspects of your message that appeal to even those groups. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Swann: Sure, because what we see in the Tea Party movement and within the Occupy movement is a great deal of what I would call justified anger at what is happening in Washington. And so, the Occupy movement, although it was really billed as being an anarchist movement at times, really had kind of a bad reputation, certainly within that left-right paradigm, and the Tea Party movement has been given a bad connotation in the left-right paradigm, depending upon which side you are on.
But we believe there is justified anger on both sides of those issues and within those groups. And it’s anger that I think has not been given an appropriate place in media. The media spends a lot of time talking about, if there’s a problem, there’s a fight breaks out, someone throws a trash can, and so that’s where all the focus goes, instead of saying, “What is it that these folks actually were justifiably angry about?”
And then again, part of our problem is to provide people with answers, not violent answers, because that doesn’t solve anything, But there is a process by which solutions come in this country and we want to encourage people to use those avenues.
So we’re going to appeal to those groups, I think. The main thing we want to do, though, is not necessarily – a lot of people assume that we are, as I said, as you said, libertarian-based. We’re not necessarily libertarian-based. What we are seeking though is truth. And I believe that when you seek truth, ultimately it leads you back to that message of individual liberty.
Because again, that is where our constitutional foundation is rooted.
I didn’t decide that. I didn’t decide that the oath of office would be a president vowing and taking this oath to uphold and protect the Constitution. Military members, police officers, members of Congress, judges – I didn’t decide that, but because that is rule of law in this country, then I think that as a journalist we have to work to uphold that.
And so, there is certainly, we have a strong libertarian following, a strong liberty movement following, we have a strong Tea Party following, but I think it’s because a lot of those groups can agree on certain things. And that is that they want limited government and they want government to be responsive to the people, not dictate to them.
And so, that’s kind of what our message is, we want to make government responsive, we want to make journalism responsive to the people. Right now, for the most part, it’s not responsive. Journalists tell you what to think and tell you what you should know, rather than stepping back and saying, “Ok, how can I serve the people to whom I’m providing this information?”
Mullen: Again, the launch is next Friday July 26th. For those interested in finding out more information, what’s the best website for them to go to right now and start to find out what they might see next week.
Swann: They can go to benswann.com and while you’re there you can read about the Truth in Media Project, and you can also go over to, on the right side of the screen, a place there where you can back the project and help support it, because in the beginning as I mentioned we’re doing this as a crowd source project.
So, we have over 4,000 people who have pledged to back the project so far, which is tremendous. The average $67.00. And so, we’re very excited about what that looks like, and I encourage people to go and check it out and look at it for yourselves.
Mullen: Ben, I’d like to thank you for coming on today and speaking with me and we look forward to the launch of your project. Best of luck with it.
Swann: Tom, thank you.
Minor non substantial edits made only to transcribe the spoken interview to text.