The Attack on Free Speech and the Press

Over the past three years, we have seen an assault on free speech and freedom of the press by those in power. Campaign finance laws have always been used less as a restriction on money in politics and more as a restriction of freedom of speech.

Citizens United should be remembered as a landmark case protecting free speech, but it is still reviled by the Left and most Americans have no clue what was truly at stake. For those not fully aware, the Obama administration originally argued that the government had the power to ban a book if it was published by a corporation and called for support or opposition of a specific candidate. And the administration made clear that unions could be forbidden from publicly supporting or opposing candidates. Citizens United was about a non-profit organization that wanted to show a movie on why Hillary Clinton should not have been president, and to repeat, it was a case about a non-profit corporation releasing a movie about Hillary Clinton. Let that sink in, as you understand why this was a great decision for free speech. A future administration could have used the logic of the Obama Administration to prevent Michael Moore from releasing political films during an election and I can think of a few Republican presidential possibilities who just might have used the Obama logic against future leftist filmmakers.

What Citizens United did was remove all of the various obstacles that Congress put in the way of political organizations to plead their case. But the struggle against free speech continues personified by Dick Durbin, who supported IRS efforts to go after Tea Party and now wants the government to distinguish between journalists and non-journalists.

Durbin noted, “we must define a journalist and the constitutional and statutory protections those journalists should receive.”

Law Professor Glenn Reynolds quipped that Durbin was a constitutional ignoramus, but Durbin’s goal is for the government to determine who is a journalist, and who is not. Like points I have made before, Durbin views the freedom of press as a gift given by the State that it can easily rescind. Of course, the problem with this should be self-evident. If the government can determine who is a member of the media, it will certainly be able to intimidate media into giving “correct coverage,” which is what Durbin is aiming for.

Durbin and others fail to see that journalism is changing, and quite frankly, much of our news coverage is now done through blogs and the internet. Some of the biggest stories over the past three elections were reported by the internet. A blogger got a copy of Romney famous “47%” speech that derailed his campaign at a crucial moment. Cable TV and talk radio has expanded the definition of journalism. In the world of sports, many sports like tennis, MMA, and boxing are covered by various internet and blog sites. Many of these sites are strictly independent, but they also expand coverage of these sports.

Durbin is no friend of free speech and neither is the Obama administration, which has already been caught spying on reporters. As Franklin Center scholar Steve Greenhut observed:

We also relied on major liberal-oriented newspapers and had few alternatives for getting and publishing contrarian information. The Internet changed all that, but one can be sure that the likes of Durbin will end up protecting only those journalists who fit a more traditional role if they get to put their definitions in law. Bloggers and others like them will be on their own. That’s not only elitist, but dangerous for those who value good watchdog reporting.
Government already holds the cards. It is so big and powerful, so secretive and arrogant that we ought not to hobble efforts by reporters and bloggers to expose its dealings. Look at how the government has reacted to Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, who provided that National Security Agency spying information.

We are seeing an assault on freedom of speech as we see the IRS targeting political opponents and politicians who not only support the IRS attacks on political opponents, but want to define who is a journalist and who is not. The attack on Citizens United is not about protecting the political process from corruption, but restricting who can participate in our political process and what can be said about politicians!


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