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Barack Obama vs. Free Speech

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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.

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  1. Oh, boy! A “choice” between 2 lousy records!!

  2. relevant Obama quote:

    “The one thing that I want to insist on is that, as I travel around the country, the American people are a decent people. Now they get confused sometimes. You know, they listen to the wrong talk radio shows or watch the wrong TV networks, um, but they’re, they’re basically decent, they’re basically sound.”

  3. OK, so Obama may well shit on the constitution.
    McCain *already has*.
    The choice is clear.
    We cannot do otherwise than punish those who have already transgressed, by not electing them. The alternative is to forgive the existent crime over the potential, which is surely absurd.
    This is why I am not an Obama suppporter, I am a McCain opponent. Once cannot in good conscience support any political candidate, one can only measure one’s disgust and oppose, oppose, oppose.

    no hugs for thugs,
    Shirley Knott

  4. A political ad that might be inaccurate?!!? What is this world coming to?

  5. And if they actually dispute the ad’s accuracy, is there anything SPECIFIC on what’s bothering the Obama side about this ad? (Silencing gun owners is nothing new for political types, of course — ask the Florida version of the Fred “Foghorn Leghorn” Thompson campaign just how well it worked to try to keep other Republicans out of gunshows, at great expense.)

  6. Thanks for the post. It’s a fair point, and he has to be called on it.

  7. Democrats and Republicans are scumbag assholes? Who knew?

  8. Thanks, Jesse. I’m sure this was in the works before I began carping about it earlier today. My faith in Reason is restored! Hell, I may even make a contribution.

  9. Democrats and Republicans are scumbag assholes? Who knew?

    It seems to be news to a lot of people. Of

  10. R C Dean,

    In a fit of generosity, perhaps I’ll give my Washington Mutual shares to the Reason Foundation.

  11. Who is this Pro Liberatte fellow, anyway?

    My hands are still shaking from my loss. Bastards!

  12. As a political move, this is stupid. Not only does it cast the campaign as a bunch of speech-squelching bullies

    At least they’re consistent. The idiocy from Obama supporters regarding WGN radio makes Rush Limbaugh seem lucid and rational (at least when his drugs kick in). Obama seems to not only accept the extreme wing-nuttery of too many of his followers, he seems to condone it.

  13. I don’t know if the fact Obama has some hotheads on the legal staff is any indication of how he would behave as president and whom he would appoint at Justice.

    There are many officials from the Reno days who should be kept far away from decision making authority. Anyone know if there are many retreads gaming for slots in an Obama Justice Dept.? I don’t know.

    Given Obama’s back ground in Constitutional Law I assume a tendency towards hiring serious professionals to take over instead of hack power players like Jamie Gorelick, but I easily could be wrong here.

  14. ProL
    I had a big loss earlier this year too, so I feel some of your pain.

    Obama needs to wise up, young man. He can easily win this election, especially if he puts resources into Virginia and North Carolina. This ad was small pickins (although I can’t watch the ad. summary anyone?) in comparisson to threats against television companies

  15. He needs to fire those responsible for this pronto, as in, like, 2 days ago.

  16. A political ad that might be inaccurate?!!? What is this world coming to?

    It’s a recent phenomenom. Relative to the age of the universe or the planet, anyway. Relative to the the age of the human race, not so new.

    Clon: Gronk has been eating twice his share of the antelope kills and his trollop mate Shadd is a lackadaisical gatherer at best. Pick me as tribal elder.

    Gronk: I am sooo gonna sue Clon over these blatant misrepresentations.

  17. Who is this Pro Liberatte fellow, anyway?

    From his handle, he sounds like an animal rights activist. “Free the the rodents, NOW!”

  18. I would never have visited Gunbanobama.com absent this childish tantrum from the Obama campaign. Dumbasses.

    Barr ’08.

  19. The Obama campaign has already tried this before by attempting to get the government to ban an ad made about Obama’s connections to Bill Ayers.

  20. He needs to fire those responsible for this pronto, as in, like, 2 days ago.

    Yeah, that’ll happen. Mm’kay.

  21. I saw people more fired up about Palin’s “illegal use of a yahoo account for governor business” than this.

  22. I don’t know if the fact Obama has some hotheads on the legal staff is any indication of how he would behave as president and whom he would appoint at Justice.

    Well, we don’t have much else to go on, do we? If he just lets this lie, and doesn’t take action to reel it back in, then we’ll have an even better idea.

    And, as noted above, its not like this is an isolated incident (to coin a phrase). This is merely an escalation of previous pattern of behavior. This is bare-knuckle Chicago street politics writ large. Not what we were led to expect from the Dali Bama, no?

    Predicted MSM attention as compared to Sarah Palin’s mumblings? Zero.

  23. That Obama’s campaign has to resort to legal bullying tactics only goes to show how absolutely antagonistic he is toward the Second Amendment.

    The NRA is spot on with this one, and taking down his pathetic attempts at claiming to be pro-rights is absolutely the right thing to do.

  24. “Hell, I may even make a contribution.”

    Why do they have to ask for money? Isn’t the magazine profitable? People Magazine never asks for donations. It doesn’t make sense.

  25. “Obama seems to not only accept the extreme wing-nuttery of too many of his followers, he seems to condone it.”

    Any means necessary.

  26. “”Free the the rodents, NOW!””

    Only a jerk pig would call the National Organization of Women rodents.

  27. Democrats and Republicans are scumbag assholes? Who knew?

    It seems to be news to a lot of people.

    Someone might want to tell Weigel.

  28. Given Obama’s background in Constitutional Law

    You mean his “I believe the Second Amendment protects an individual right but the D.C. handgun/self-defense ban is Constitutional” background?

    Given that attitude toward the Bill of Rights, we should expect an “I believe in freedom of Speech but a ban on political ads is Constitutional” attitude.

    Disclaimer: I’ve been a firearms instructor for 25 years, so I’m biased. OTOH I’ve been active in the gun control controversy since the Gun Control Act of 1968. I remember the debates on “armor piercing” ammo and “assault weapons.” I know what a politicians mean when they say they’ll “Protect the rights of hunters and other legal gun owners.”

    I also know when the MSM claims, “He said that way back in 1999 (9 years) and hasn’t repeated it while running for president” it doesn’t mean Obama’s changed his mind.

  29. The Barack Obama campaign is asking Missouri law enforcement to target anyone who lies or runs a misleading TV ad during the presidential campaign.

    Saying bad things about Obama is lying. The scary thing is two Missouri prosecutors have jumped on board to hunt down those evil lairs who say bad things about Obama.

  30. Aside –

    Where is joe to defend his golden boy?

  31. Given Obama’s background in Constitutional Law

    You mean his “I believe the Second Amendment protects an individual right but the D.C. handgun/self-defense ban is Constitutional” background?

    If you are addressing a point I made, please use it in the limited context I meant it, that Obama’s background in law likely (not necessarily) means he has a degree of concern for the calibre of people he appoints to the Dapartment of Justice just as an ex milatary guy would likely have a better understanding of what kind of officers should be appointed to the Joint Chiefs. I thought I covered the spread with the rest of what I wrote to avoid this sort of conflation, but I guess not.

    Then, again my theory here that an experienced
    guy in a particular field would have greater insight has shown to work really well with Henry Paulson as Secretary of Leninism.

  32. joshua corning | September 26, 2008, 12:56pm | #
    The Barack Obama campaign is asking Missouri law enforcement to target anyone who lies or runs a misleading TV ad during the presidential campaign.

    Saying bad things about Obama is lying. The scary thing is two Missouri prosecutors have jumped on board to hunt down those evil lairs who say bad things about Obama.

    It would be interesting to see if these stations filed complaints of political extortion against the Obama campaign and those
    Missouri prosecutors (I hate them as a species).

    We should send letters to those prosecutors, stating, ‘you think you got the balls to stomach opposition from the NRA, one of the bigus dickus swinging in DC? Nice going, chump. See you in the breadlines.’

  33. s, it’s important to remember that his opponent might not prove to be any better.

    Might? Might? You are fucking kidding me Jessee. McCain feingold was bad I think threatening to take the broadcast license of any tv station that runs an ad you don’t like is a hell of a lot worse. What is worse than that is that if Obama wins, there is little to no chance that anyone in the major media will be willing to call him on it. Expect DOJ and the FCC and the FEC to launch a jihad against anyone and everyone who criticized Obama. Yeah, they may not win every fight in court but they will make life miserable for people and the word will get out that it doesn’t pay to criticize the chosen one.

    It will be interesting to see if Reason will have its head far enough out of Obama’s ass to say anything about it. I doubt you guys will. In the end it is just a cultural thing. You just can’t quite bring yourself to criticize a good lefty. You can say they might be as bad as Republicans. But you never really will go after the guy. I hope for the country’s sake that Obama isn’t that bad because if he is no one in the media will stand up to stop him.

  34. It will be interesting to see if Reason will have its head far enough out of Obama’s ass to say anything about it. I doubt you guys will. In the end it is just a cultural thing. You just can’t quite bring yourself to criticize a good lefty. You can say they might be as bad as Republicans. But you never really will go after the guy.

    John apparently gets a different version on Reason OnLine than I do. How do his comments end up here?

  35. Remember those 100 post threads when there was evidence that Sarah Palin once asked hypothetically how a town librarian would go about removing books from the library in 1996?

    Here, Obama’s campaign is suppressing political speech and it generates a lot less heat and light.

  36. makes the ad itself into a story and thus guarantees that more people will see it

    Are you sure that’s not what they want? Maybe they want the story to be “NRA says Obama will take your guns, but really he won’t”

  37. My plan is to vote for Obama, and then to continue paying for my ACLU membership. (And yes, some chapters of the ACLU support the right to bear arms: http://aclunv.org/aclu-nevada-supports-individual%E2%80%99s-right-bear-arms)

  38. If all the Obama camp was doing here was trying to block First Amendment rights, they would be doing it for all of McCain’s ads too because they’re all lies

  39. it’s important to remember that his opponent might not prove to be any better.

    Speaking of which, has Obama ever said he would roll back or reduce McCain-Feingold, or that he had any problem with it?

    I note that his website claims

    Unlike other candidates Obama’s campaign refuses to accept contributions from Washington lobbyists and political action committees.

    Isn’t that a flat-out lie?

  40. The Obama campaign is just playing a new card to try and counteract the negative FALSE ads. Sure, they could put up a counter-ad, but how many times can you do that and still be effective? If he throws out another ‘This isn’t true’ ad, the McCain supporters will say ‘If this isn’t true, why doesn’t he take LEGAL action??’ Now he’s trying to take legal action and McCain supporters say ‘What doesn’t he just put up a counter ad??’ ‘HE’S IMPEDING OUR FREEDOMS!!!!’

    By the way, freedom of speech does not protect against slander or liabel, both of which are so hard to prove, they are usually quelched through cease and decist writs, just like this one…

    All in all, this is how slander ads WORK. No matter what the victim of the slander does to disprove it, they’re going to be questioned. Hopefully the American people won’t allow themselves to be fooled by the lies. Barack Obama will take steps to straighten out our economy, end the unpopular and unneeded war in Iraq, and uphold the constitution INCLUDING the 2nd amendment. John McCain will not… He’ll likely let you keep your gun, (just like Obama will) but McCain will expect you to use it when he enacts the draft and doesn’t have enough money left in the treasury to supply our troops with weapons…

  41. @ R C Dean

    No, a ‘flat out lie’ is saying you ‘killed’ The Bridge to Nowhere when you supported it to win one campaign and then magically started opposing it when it became unpopular.

    A ‘flat out lie’ is saying that you’re for cuting ALL earmarks when your senate record clearly shows that you have requested earmarks previously.

    A ‘flat out lie’ is telling American workers that Barack Obama will raise their taxes when 95% of American families will have their taxes CUT under the Obama plan

    A ‘flat out lie’ is telling the American people you don’t know how many houses you own… At least, I HOPE this was just a lie, and not senility rearing it’s head…

    Accepting contributions from individual donors who may have at some point in their life known someone who was affiliated with a Washington lobbyist is NOT the same thing as taking money from lobbyists.

    Your Obama-ties-to-lobbyists crusade is akin to a witchhunt… The kind Sarah Palin’s Pastor Muthie will be happy to join you in…

  42. threatening to take the broadcast license of any tv station that runs an ad you don’t like is a hell of a lot worse.

    Well, it’s a good thing he’s not proposing any law to do that.

  43. The Obama campaign is just playing a new card to try and counteract the negative FALSE ads.

    What’s false about this ad?

  44. Well, it’s a good thing he’s not proposing any law to do that.

    Which is irrelevant, since he doesn’t need to pass a law, he just needs to pressure the FCC.

  45. I don’t know how accurate the ad is or isn’t, but suing someone for inaccurate statements about you or libel is an entirely different pancake from denying or restricting free speech. If the material in the ad proves to be accurate enough to get by, then the Obama campaign has no case. But this really has no bearing on regular issues of free speech.

  46. Senator Obama,

    What about the broadcasters that have aired these spots?

  47. Some examples of what Obama would look for in a justice:

    http://volokh.com/posts/1204053060.shtml

    excerpt:
    “And part of the role of the Court is that it is going to protect people who may be vulnerable in the political process, the outsider, the minority, those who are vulnerable, those who don’t have a lot of clout.
    . . . [S]ometimes we’re only looking at academics or people who’ve been in the [lower] court. If we can find people who have life experience and they understand what it means to be on the outside, what it means to have the system not work for them, that’s the kind of person I want on the Supreme Court.’

  48. As a political move, this is not stupid. Why do you think campaigns constantly work the refs by threatening and cajoling the media? Sometimes the broadcasters DO in fact pull the ads in question.

    Where’s your angry post about NBC pulling the Brave New Pac ad about McCain’s post-POW health issues?

    The number of 1st Amendment absolutist voters who mistakenly believe the 1st Amendment requires broadcasters to air anything that comes to them is diminishingly low.

    Besides, we all know the letter is not going to result in any sort of regulatory action, even if it does convince the broadcasters to pull the ad.

  49. Get a clue: the guy is not gonna be swiftboated.

  50. Obama hates the 1st Amendment.

    He also hates the 2nd Amendment.

    But he supports giving his friends $100,000 to spend on a garden which instead goes into their pockets. Who says money doesn’t grow on trees?

  51. “And part of the role of the Court is that it is going to protect people who may be vulnerable in the political process, the outsider, the minority, those who are vulnerable, those who don’t have a lot of clout.

    That’s just scary. In my opinion, a proper judiciary should recognize that when they’re right, the powerful, the insider, the majority, should win. Apparently this rule of law must be changed, according to Obama.

  52. JB:
    “Obama hates the 1st Amendment.

    He also hates the 2nd Amendment.

    But he supports giving his friends $100,000 to spend on a garden which instead goes into their pockets. Who says money doesn’t grow on trees?”

    Eyes rolling back in head….

  53. Note in that quote about the court that he’s acting exactly like a community organizer: agitating for the benefit of the underdog because they’re the underdog and not because they’re right.

    This is power politics. Power is the only thing that matters when the law is based on granting government power, rather than on inalienable rights restricting government power.

    This is the One we’ve been waiting for.

  54. Think about the power a corrupt prosecutor can exercise by filing criminal libel charges against a campaign committee, PAC, or 527 committee – all of that organization’s books and records can be seized, and their bank accounts can even be seized for the initiation of asset forfeiture proceedings.

    Good luck getting back in operation before the election, even if the charges are rapidly thrown out. Remember that even if criminal charges are dropped, they can still proceed in asset forfeiture.

    And any campaign secrets you had on your computers (lists of volunteers and small donors, polling numbers, research files, spending plans, etc.) will most likely surreptitiously make their way into your adversary’s hands.

    Boss Tweed would tip his hat and bow to Barack Obama, if he were alive to see the depth and breadth of Obama’s efforts to use the power of government to reward his friends, punish his enemies, and maintain power.

  55. For all you Obama haters, think about what Bush has done to your rights…

    Thats what I thought. You can get arrested and not be charged, held forever.

    Bush increased the size of government larger than any president since FDR and you’re AGAINST OBAMA because he is a liberal??????

    Republicans promised small government = Bush and a Republican congress INCREASED BIG GOVERNMENT!

    Nobody is taking your damn guns (I dont own one, dont want one. I have friends that have them, but I know it will be a cold day in hell before they give them up) I feel you are just being paranoid.

  56. Well, it’s a good thing he’s not proposing any law to do that.

    Government authorities conspiring to repress 1st amendment rights isn’t something that can realistically be legalized. Go ahead and vote for the guy who thinks it’s OK to shut people up by force. Just don’t be surprised when someone violently shuts your piehole too.

    All the usual Reason thread big government libertarians are missing in action on this one? what a surprise. they approve.

  57. What is the best way to handle slander? Should Obama prove how good he is with a huntimg rifle, by shooting these liars. He is too much of a man not to defend his name. He is too smart not to use the law instead to do it.
    The fools who made this must be scarred of their own shadows or getting paid by gun corporations and willing to sell out a good leader for a gun manufacturers profit.

    Barack Obama is not anything but a defender of every bit of OUR US CONSTITUTION. Read and look around a little. CHeck out his records and turn off Faux News!

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