Monday, September 22, 2008

Assaults on Free Speech in This Campaign

In a Chicago Tribune story we are told that the Obama campaign is using a huge computer data-base of supporters and their email addresses to organize efforts to block media messages that they don't want you to hear. This method has been used to try to get television stations to block the above ad. The ad is disturbing, but it consists of factual allegations that are logically relevant (if not extremely so) to the candidate's qualifications. Thus it does not belong in the same category as the fact-free emotional terrorism of Bill Moyers' "Daisy" ad from the bad old days of 1964 (see below) and should be answered. However, at least if Michele Malkin is to be believed (something I admittedly don't always do), the campaign has not alleged any specific inaccuracies in the ad.

The same methods have been used when the Trib-owned Chicago AM radio station WGN booked anti-Obama journalists David Freddoso and Stanley Kurtz. An email from the Obama campain calls Kurtz a " right-wing hatchet man" and describes Kurtz's articles on Obama's alleged relationship with Prof. Ayers (see above ad) as "baseless, fear-mongering terrorist smears." Similarly, in messages inciting the faithful to try to block Freddoso's appearances, they say that he "has made a career off dishonest, extreme hate mongering."

By all other accounts, though, both these men are mainstream journalists. Neither seems to be a defamatory conspiracist muck-shoveler of the Jerome Corsi type.

In the Trib story, Bruce Gronbeck, a U. of Iowa professor who studies political communications, is quoted as contending that these efforts on the part of the Obama organization are legitimate campaign tactics. "The media are players in the process," he said. "If they are a player, the parties are certainly going to try to hold them accountable."

This widely misses the point. The point is not about whether we should feel sorry for the poor radio and TV programmers who got angry phone calls and email messages at a rate of hundreds per hour. They are big boys and girls and can take care of themselves. The point is that the Obama campaign was trying to prevent you and me from hearing someone on the other side making a case for the other side. They were not sending a counter-message, they were trying to block the message-conduit. They were not entering the forum to bravely do battle with the other side, they were trying to shut down the forum.

That a professor of political communications would miss this sort of distinction is distressing. What is more disturbing is that a group of people with no better appreciation no deeper understanding of freedom of speech than Obama and his supporters seem to have may soon have an iron grip on the Presidency and both houses of Congress.

To be fair, the McCain campaign, though different in this respect, is no better. The way Ron Paul and his supporters were treated at the convention in Minneapolis was nastier and bodes at least as ill for this Republic.

The freedom of speech of any one person is a constraint on the behavior of others. Your freedom is the fact that I am not silencing you. If my behavior toward you is not constrained in the appropriate way, then I am not respecting freedom of speech, and any lip service I may pay it is completely meaningless.
For those who are too young to remember it, here is The Daisy Ad:

As I say, though, the Republicans are no better. Though the Demos pioneered this sort of emotional terrorism, the Republicans nowadays do exactly the same thing.

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