Another Day, Another Dumb New York Times' Story on Corporations and Free Speech

An error-filled op-ed from a liberal Times pundit.


Credit: White House /

Last week several of America's biggest corporations spoke out in favor of gay rights and against Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Writing at The New York Times, liberal pundit Timothy Egan responded to those sentiments by mocking the very idea of corporate political speech.

"Since when," Egan scoffed, "did [corporations] start spouting off about the deeply held convictions guiding their corporate consciences?" He's got an answer:

You can blame last year's Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case for unleashing a herd of ponies that have gone off in quite unpredicted directions. There, in a partisan 5-to-4 ruling straight from Republican fever nests, the court gave certain corporations the right to challenge laws that they claim violate their religious beliefs.

In reality, the phenomenon of corporations expressing "deeply held convictions" about political issues dates back somewhat further than 2013. For example, the New York Times Company, a corporation, litigated and prevailed at the U.S. Supreme Court in several landmark free speech cases decided some five decades ago. More recently, as The New York Times itself happily reported in 2003, "corporate America put on a remarkable display of support for affirmative action when more than 60 companies signed briefs this year backing up the University of Michigan's use of race as a factor in deciding who can attend its law school." Those pro-affirmative action briefs were submitted to the Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger by corporations, acting in their capacity as corporations. Hobby Lobby had nothing to do with it.

But that's not the end of Egan's troubles. A few paragraphs later, he made another glaring error. "In 2010," he asserted, referring to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, "five judges created the notion of corporate personhood."

In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has accepted the notion of corporate personhood in constitutional cases dating back more than a century. In its 1897 decision in Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad Company v. Ellis, for example, the Court said that it was "well-settled that corporations are persons within the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment." Citizens United accomplished several things, but creating the notion of corporate personhood was simply not one of them.

Judging by the tone of his op-ed, Egan seems to have thought he was launching a devastating attack on corporate power. But thanks to his lousy grasp of the facts, he only managed to hurt himself.

Related: New York Times Opposes Corporate Speech in Citizens United, Cheers Corporate Speech Against Indiana RFRA

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  1. You've got to be incredibly ignorant of the subject your are pontificating on to not know that corporate personhood goes back to the 1800s.

    1. Ignorant, perhaps. But even if he does know, would he disclose that fact to Times readers?

    2. It is worse than even that. You have to be even more ignorant to think you can treat corporations as non persons for some purposes and not for others. If you can't do that, then if the 1st Amendment doesn't cover corporations, neither do any of the other amendments. So, that means the government could take corporate property without compensation or due process, enforce a state established religion on them, quarter soldiers in their offices and so forth.

      Yeah, I know the people at the New York Times drool a little bit at the thought of that. Except that they are not even that clever. The implications never occur to them. They just know they want people they don't like to shut up.

      1. How about a demonstration shot across the bow, a few warrantless searches of Huffington Post or NARAL offices? Fourth amendment? Nah, you're a corporation.

        1. Yes. And why stop there. Just subject them to constant monitoring and require prior approval from the government for everything they print. Sorry, you are a corporation and not a person. If your employees want free speech, they can start a blog.

          1. Or, you know, Freedom of the Press.

        2. How about stationing troops in Planned Parenthood offices or union offices?

          Even better, a warrantless search of Democratic Party headquarters?

          1. Holy crap, abolishing corporate personhood would have legalized the Watergate break-in if the perpetrators had been government officials!

      2. I've mentioned this to some people who dislike "corporate personhood" before. They shrug their shoulders and say "oh well". They want that to happen. Partially because they assume they'll always be in power, so it's only the wrong thinking corporations that will be treated that way.

        1. The left does like them some violence.

      3. Yes there is all that, and there is the most basic paradox of the paper itself being a corporation, as is Fox News, etc. I was only being sarcastic about not knowing that corporate personhood was pronounced in the 1800s and how ignorant he appears to be.

      4. So, that means the government could take corporate property without compensation or due process, enforce a state established religion on them, quarter soldiers in their offices and so forth.

        I honestly don't think most progressives would have any problem with that.
        Why would they?

        1. No. But I also don't think they are bright enough to even consider what that means.

          1. They are smart enough, but too blinded by their own biases to see.

    3. Seriously, what a buffoon. A few seconds on wikipedia would've done Egan a lot of good.

    4. corporate personhood goes back to the 1800s.

      And that's just in the U.S. There are a dozen corporations still in business that were chartered before 1000CE.

  2. KKKorporations r not peeple!!!!!!! /socialistderp

  3. I don't think that many people share your grasp of history. Most people will take the NYT article as fact and a job well done.

    1. Certainly most of the people who still read the Times. And that, in a nutshell, is the issue. The Times still has some shreds of the reputation it earned in the days when it was something more than a deeply provincial partisan hack rag. Not that it ever wasn't that, but it was once also a decent, if biased, world-wide news source. But it hasn't really serve any non-idiological readership beyond the Five Burroughs for decades. And, frankly, its self-imposed ideological isolation is beginning to make it a tad strange; sort of like Aunt Margie who never gets out of the house, never watches any television, and listens all day to recordings of radio shows from the 1930's.

  4. Judging by the tone of his op-ed, Egan seems to have thought he was launching a devastating attack on corporate power. But thanks to his lousy grasp of the facts, he only managed to hurt himself.

    Since when did the facts matter so long as the narrative is followed?

    1. Around the end of last year, when facts presented themselves and inconvenienced a narrative rather badly.

      It's okay, though, as of this week it's been demonstrated that reporting lies as fact carries no real punishment.

    2. Let's be fair. This article was researched as well as, say, Rolling Stone would have.

  5. Next thing you know, the Supreme Court will allow corporations to get into "The business of printing, publishing and selling newspapers, books, pamphlets and other publications, gathering, transmitting and supplying news reports" etc.

    1. No, see, the BoR specifies the press. And look at that, the NYT has many presses.

      1. So can General Electric buy presses?

        No - they're a...wait, this is a trick question, isn't it?

      2. Most corporste ofgices have several presses in them, often made by Xerox or HP. What is special about ghe NYT presses?

      3. NYT has those big electronic computer laser thingys. If it doesn't press lead type against paper, it's a printer, not a press.

        If Ben Franklin wouldn't recognize it, the government can ban it.

        Ref: Second Amendment; muzzleloaders


  6. Corporation\ is just a word we use for things we do together.Where's PB

    1. Nuh uh! Government is the word we use for things we do together! Corporations are the evil! I mean, you have people voluntarily pooling their resources to provide goods, service, and jobs to voluntary customers and employees! That's terrible! It's voluntary! That's slavery! Only when people are compelled by government force can we be free!


    2. Peanut convention. He was busy all day picking them out of a chunky loaf.

    3. I like that. I'm taking it.

    4. Corporations are just a word we use for things we choose to do together.

      Government is the word for the things we are forced to do together.

      1. Yup. Which is why government is the preferable way to get things done. It's not fair when people choose not to participate in things that benefit us all. Otherwise they reap the rewards without paying their fair share. They didn't build that. Take that to its logical conclusion, and everything should be done by government. It's the only way to be fair.

  7. But thanks to his lousy grasp of the facts, he only managed to hurt himself.

    Ah, if only that were true, or even often true. Or even reasonably occasionally true.

    But, here, as is the case the majority of the time, it would be wise not to underestimate the high collateral damage toll of stupid - particularly of highly enriched progressive stupid.

    1. Are Times columnists the nuclear scientists of stupid, then? Which would make Times the Iran or the North Korea of stupid?

  8. Liberals, especially progressives, are obsessed with corporate personhood and incensed to the very bone that corporations can be considered people under law. It's like the religious right and abortion. There's no debating them; it's cut and dried that corporations aren't people, and you are insane if you insist otherwise.

    And that makes any debate on this issue a case of logic versus brick wall. Why bother?

    1. I find lots of people on the religious right who will debate abortion. In fact, they often marital pretty compelling scientific evidence regarding fetal development and the various qualities fetus's show as they develop.

      It is the pro choice side that can't be reasoned with. It is not life and there is no telling them otherwise. Worse, when they do bother to argue the issue rather than just beg the question entirely, they never off any scientific arguments. It is always some bullshit philosophical argument about "person-hood' or other such vague terms. I have yet to meet a single pro choice person who can make any kind of compelling science based argument about why life begins and birth and not sometime before if not at conception.

      1. I haven't looked in the abortion threads for a while because of that exact viewpoint from many of the prochoice commenters, usually combined with a smug sense of "being on the side of science".

      2. Isn't the NAP ultimately just "some bullshit philosophical argument"? We all have an ultimate tautology at our core.

    2. It's a position of convenience. Now that they have the power, they want to order corporations to do exactly what they think they should do, and god forbid any corporation have objections to that.

      If the scales were reversed, they would be shouting for corporations to exhiit a "social conscience", which is exactly what they were doing 10-15 years ago during the Bush era.

      Way back in the dark ages of 1999, I recall all sorts of liberals yammering on about the "corporate social conscience" movement, and demanding the corporations stand up for good causes like breast cancer and the environment at WTO protests in Seattle.

      Few years later they were all watching Chomsky videos and complaining about how corporations were amoral machines focused only on profits.

      Now, suddenly, because one or two corporations express moral beliefs they disagree with, suddenly, businesses are REQUIRED to be amoral beasts. In fact, if you open even a private business like a pizza joint, you immediately lose your right to control any of the businesses policies. The government gets to set all your policies because businesses only exist by the grace of "the people", whose will you dare defy at your peril.

      1. Few years later they were all watching Chomsky videos and complaining about how corporations were amoral machines focused only on profits.

        Yup, I see leftists arguing all the time that corporations will do anything to make a bigger profit and yet arguing that corporations would buy stuff just to turn it into toxic waste with which to pollute or that, absent laws requiring them to do business with certain people, would refuse their dollars.

    3. The Liberal Intellectual Radical Progressives are obsessed with who and what is a "real" person, with real rights and all that. And if you think their denial of personhood is limited to corporations and the unborn you haven't been playing close enough attention. These are the euthanasia fans, the eugenics believers. These are the witty twits with the "Friends don't let friends vote Republican" bumper stickers. Nobody who is too different from their wonderful selves is REALLY a person, with rights they are obliged to respect. The only reason that aren't obviously and blatantly xenophobic is that they don't actually believed that anyone's culture is really different from their own philistine mind-set. It isn't that they wouldn't be outraged by Islam's treatment of women if they believed it, it's that they at some level think that it is propaganda of some sort. They don't think it's REAL. They don't in a very real sense, think that any of the world outside of their little LIRP enclaves is real.

      And if that scares you, then you are beginning to grasp the situation.

      1. You remind me of that video of the soviet defector talking about "demoralizing" meaning influencing peoples ability to think and make moral judgments. He said these people are useful to foment the revolution but won't understand they are the victims of their own philosophy unitl the moment when the boot is on their neck, and then it's too late.

      2. The sole reason they don't think corporations should have rights is because they want to deny rights to people they presume are "conservatives".

        1. You still aren't casting a wide enough net. They want to deny right to EVERYONE who might not do as they, The Anointed?, say. They don't believe in rights for anyone who isn't a college educated Liberal Intellectual Radical Progressive, and once they have achieved that degree of utopia they will start hunting for "deviationists" amongst themselves. Right up to the moment that whatever vicious Stalin-like thug they have allowed to seize power has them herded into boxcars or clubbed to death loke baby seals.

          1. According to them, rights are just arbitrary constructs. So as soon as they are no longer useful it's totally okay to toss them out the window. And by "not useful", what they really mean is "getting in our way".

            1. They are, effectively, psychopathic personalities. They don't believe anybody other than their wonderful selves is real. And so, in the name of their dreams, they will abolish all obstacles and restraints to power, and be astonished and indignant when the bigger, meaner psychopaths who end up taking over have them liquidated.

  9. OMG, how terrible, how immoral, how unconscionable, for corporations to pretend to have a conscience!!

    This is an abomination! Corporations are supposed to be soulless amoral beasts that exists solely to make profits on behalf of their shareholders, and follow the dictates of federal regulators!

    If corporations are allowed to have morals, those morals might conflict with something the government orders them to do! They could do things like, for example, object to turning over their metadata en masse to the NSA! They could object to providing all their records on which of their employees are Muslim, or Jewish! They might not want to provide certain services they think are morally wrong!

    Such things CANNOT BE ALLOWED! Our benevolent masters know what sort of policies all corporations should follow, and they should not be allowed to dissent from those policies. Corporations only exist because of the state, so they should do whatever the state tells them to do. They should be like extended branches of government.

    I'm appalled that a single business or corporation might actually have policies that deviate from the dicates of THE PEOPLE! Businesses only exist because we let them. They didn't build the society they profit from, so society should get to control everything they do.

    1. Corporation is just a word for things we decide to do together.

    2. If they want us to accept kkkorporations as not being people, how about a quid pro quo and they agree neither is govt.

    3. I tried to explain to a friend of mine that when corporation behave badly, in most cases the government gives them an incentive to behave badly. This is the exact response I got Hazel.

      1. It's really an abhorrent position.
        If corporations are forbidden from exercising independent conscience, then we are vastly closer to totalitarianism.

        I cannot stress this enough. The moment we concede to the idea that corporations are obliged to remain silent and obey the governments orders in all of their policies is the moment that corporations become branches of the state. And then we are no longer a free society. We are a totalitarian state.

        There are even 'progessives' out there arguing that even mom-and-pop small businesses are obliged to leave their personal conscience at the door when they enter their own business.

        1. "There are even 'progessives' out there arguing that even mom-and-pop small businesses are obliged to leave their personal conscience at the door when they enter their own business."

          I have heard that argument as well. It's frightening that they do know that their most hated historical leaders made the same argument.

          1. * not know

        2. The moment we conceed that any group is allowed to decde whether another group "really" has rights the law is obliged to respect, we are in deep kimchee of an unusully spicy blend.

          The core fallacy of the "corporations are not people" argument is the assumption that the difference between a corporation and a political movement is clear and easy to define. Accept that corporations are not people with the rights of people, and the next thing you know, neither is the Republican Party or the NRA or any other group that opposes The Coming Dawn?

          As I mentioned above, these people don't really believe that PEOPLE who oppose,them have rights. They are barking mad and dangerous.

          1. What they believe, really, is that a very small number of people (the 1%) are using corporations to exercise excessive political influence.

            The problem is they seem to have gone way beyond that into claiming that all corporations, and even businesses of any nature, ought to have not only no free speech rights, but no moral agency of any sort.

            That is, they are no longer JUST saying that that multi-national corporations shouldn't be allowed to buy $200 million of ad time right before an election. They are now saying that that privately-held corporation shouldn't be allowed to decide what is in the employee health plan. That a small sole-proprietorship shouldn't be allowed to decide whether to service gay marriages. That a mom-and-pop pizzeria should check their religion at the door, because the moment you open a business, society gets to control who you associate with.

            They are in effect arguing that all collective moral agency belongs SOLELY to the government. Individuals may exercise individual moral agency, but the instant you form a non-profit "corporation", you are no longer to be permited to advocate or even *exercise* policies that you believe are correct. Instead, because the state granted you a corporate charter, you've supposedly surrendered your right to exercise any sort of agency to the state. This is really a subversively totalitarian way of thinking.

            And it comes from people like Elizabeth Warren.

            1. What they believe, really, is that a very small number of people (the 1%) are using corporations to exercise excessive political influence.

              Namely, the Kochs.

              It seems to be the leftist view that if it weren't for Koch dollars, everyone would vote Democratic.

              1. It's long been a leftist view that the only reason the rubes don't vote for socialism is because the evil corporate media has brainwashed them into "voting against their self-interest".

                Because "self-interest" of course always means "take as much money from other people as you can", rather than "make sure you have the opportunity and legal environment in which you can earn money through honest means."

            2. I love what you have written, and if I were a lesser person, I would steal it and claim it for my own. But I was raised better.

  10. Egan no doubt considers himself one of the adults in the room, trying to have an adult conversation. The quality of the pundits and politicians in the country seems to have regressed to the level of junior high. One of the main arguments for someone to be president is "it's a girl's turn",

  11. The NYT is a goddamn shame. They have an inordinate amount of talent available to them. And when they focus on real reporting, they can put together great stories.

    But all of that is drowned out by those at the Times who are determined to become and remain "beltway insiders". For every Risen theres a dozen Judith Millers and Bill Kellers.

    Looking back at how the police/military/surveillance state has exploded over the last 15 years, the NYT was there every step of the way - carrying water, keeping stories under wraps, refusing retractions.

    This is the newspaper journalists are trained to emulate. Things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get any better.

    1. The whole corporate/personhood bullshit started as a way to justify cutting corporate campaign contributions without touching union contributions. Its absolutely nonsensical.

      1. Sez who? Read this.

        Wherein they cite an 1819 court case:

        It is in this case and not Citizens United v. FEC in which the Supreme Court first recognized corporations, as associations of people, may exercise many of the rights of natural persons.

        The case had nothing to do with campaign contributions, and I don't think unions even existed in 1819.

        1. I think he means that the ATTACKS on corporate personhood began as a means of cutting out corporations without touching the unions.

          1. A re-reading makes me think you are right.

            I have maligned jay_dubya; sorry about that!

  12. Some corporations are more equal than others.

  13. I'm presuming a copy or a link to this has been forwarded to Egan in the hopes he has enough intelligence to realize he's slinging bull.

    1. Don't worry, there are many more progressives out there patting him on the back and cheering him on for advocating totalitarianism.

    2. Oh, I wouldn't presume that Egan doesn't know what he wrote is riddle with errors ? he probably knows it's wrong yet wrote it because it fits the narrative and signals his place in the social hierarchy.

      1. No, I don't think he does. Right now the progressive brains are all on the haywire setting, where the neurons are all misfiring and going "bargh! people not agree with me! blagh! does not compute! 10101010101011110011 ! CORPORATIONS BAD!!!!"

        Really his entire piece and all the proggie reaction to it are just one giant piece of brain fart gibberish, that comes from their incoherent rage at the fact that other people don't all agree with their obvious correctness on everything.

  14. Last week several of America's biggest corporations spoke out in favor of gay rights

    Umm, not they didn't.

    They spoke out in favor of gay privileges, in the legal sense of the term "privilege". Being able to force people to do business with you against their will, because you are gay, is a privilege, not a right.

    Reason writers just cannot give up their uncritical acceptance of proggy/lefty assumptions and memes when it comes to the culture wars.

    1. Rights, Privileges, Powers. Yes, it's easy to fall into the trap of obscuring the differences.

  15. Timothy Egan is just upset about Coca-Cola's role in integration.

  16. My classmate's step-aunt makes $61 /hour on the internet . She has been fired from work for nine months but last month her pay check was $12801 just working on the internet for a few hours. try this out.

  17. Assault rifles are used disproportionately to kill police officers and were used at Newtown. There is a rape crisis on American campuses. Corporations are not people.

    Narrative trumps fact, and every narrative they have means people surrendering rights.

    The left really is a gaggle of amoral liars. Truly evil people.

    1. And money. I forgot to include global warming.

    2. I used to beleive they were well-intentioned but misguided.

      But the more time passes and the more I see their intolerance and closed-mindedness toward all disagreement, the more I see their sanctimonious moralizing, their self-rightous hatred toward all who oppose them, and their willingness to use the thuggish boot of the law to stamp out their enemies, the more I realize that wherever they might have started off on the spectrum of good and evil, they have passed into evil territory some time ago.

  18. "But thanks to his lousy grasp of the facts, he only managed to hurt himself."

    When has a lousy grasp of facts ever hurt a good narrative?

    1. I dpubt he hurt himself with the people he cares about impressing.

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