Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Citizens United, the FIrst Amendment, and the Daily News

I bow to no man in my love of the Philadelphia Daily News, but I'm occasionally driven to distraction by one odd habit of the newspaper: Printing letters to the editor that are simply wrong or misleading on the facts—without correction or any indication to readers that the information in the letter is incorrect.

Understand, I'm not talking about a difference of opinion here. I'm talking about easily quantifiable distortions, like Michael Kubacki's letter in today's paper:

In fact, prior to Citizens United, there were a number of corporations that enjoyed unlimited political-speech rights. Philadelphia Media Network Inc., which owns the Daily News, was one of them. In fact, every corporation that owned a newspaper or a radio or TV station was allowed to say whatever it wished, whenever it wished. Other corporations, however, could not. The major effect of the Citizens United case was simply to level that playing field. 
Let us cut through the usual dreary rhetoric about "billionaires" and the "super-rich" who "buy themselves a candidate," and ask some simpler questions. First, why should corporations like Philadelphia Media Network Inc., CBS and the New York Times be permitted to pummel us daily with their political views while Monsanto and Target and BP must be completely silent? And second, when did political speech in America, by anyone, become something that must be suppressed? What an strange attitude for a newspaper to adopt.
Here's the problem: Kubacki is muddling two different kinds of "speech."

In terms of shouting one's opinions to the world, Monsanto, Target, and BP don't have to be completely silent—they're as free as the Daily News or the New York Times to spread word of their views through print and broadcast, and often do. Who hasn't seen BP's "greenwashing" ads in print on TV, for example? 

By the same token, the Daily News—which I'm guessing has not made corporate contributions to campaigns, at least not recently—has never had any more freedom (or less) to make cash donations to political campaigns than BP, Monsanto, etc.

So Kubacki's thesis—that papers somehow have more speech rights, before Citizens United, than other businesses—is simply, demonstrably wrong. But the Daily News' readers won't know that. That's a disservice to those readers and to the Daily News. 

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