The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Friday, September 26, 2008
BARACK OBAMA VS. FREE SPEECH: Here's an ad the National Rifle Association is running in Pennsylvania:



The Obama campaign disputes the accuracy of the advertisement, which is fine. It has also threatened regulatory retaliation against outlets that show it, which isn't fine. Instead of, say, crafting a response ad, Obama's team had general counsel Robert F. Bauer send stations a letter [
pdf] arguing that "Failure to prevent the airing of 'false and misleading advertising may be 'probative of an underlying abdication of licensee responsibility.'" And, more directly: "For the sake of both FCC licensing requirements and the public interest, your station should refuse to continue to air this advertisement."

As a political move, this is stupid. Not only does it cast the campaign as a bunch of speech-squelching bullies, but it makes the ad itself into a story and thus guarantees that more people will see it. (A trivial example: I wouldn't have stuck it in a blog post if it weren't for the controversy.) But of course there's much more on display here than poor political judgment. Together with similar efforts elsewhere, the incident says something about how a President Obama might approach media regulation. In an article in the November Reason -- watch for it on newsstands! -- I point out that while Obama says he won't restore the Fairness Doctrine, he isn't opposed to other, more subtle ways the authorities can influence what is or isn't said on radio and TV. For those of us who are repelled by John McCain's lousy record on First Amendment issues, it's important to remember that his opponent might not prove to be any better.

(cross-posted at Hit & Run)


posted by Jesse 11:06 AM
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