But regardless of how one feels in the specific case of Rush Limbaugh’s remarks about Georgetown University student, Sarah Fluke last week, central to the issue of the efficacy of economic boycotts is the concept of money and the free market.
The Supreme Court has made it pretty clear that money is a vehicle for the expression of protected 1st amendment rights. In the matter of Citizens United, the high court upheld the rights of corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns.
The underlying philosophical foundation would also support the concept of economic boycotts because they too involve the use of money as a means of political expression. Not the spending of it, but the strategic denial of it.
And it is, perhaps, ironic in the case of the Rush controversy, that presuming that many on the political right are extreme free market proponents, the use of the economic leverage of the boycott, really is use of the free market; manipulating it as an expression of free speech.
So whether you’re boycotting Bill Maher’s advertisers for an ill-advised and, some would argue, grotesque tweet about Tim Tebow a couple of months ago, or angry with Rush Limbaugh for his vitriolic rhetorical attack on a young female college student, looks to me like the law is- more than ever- firmly behind you if you decide to stop buying products from companies whose perceived values are incompatible with your own.
To the anti-boycott/free speech advocates- if there really is a marketplace for ideas in this country- a place where people pay through their purchases and their listening or viewing habits, to make it possible for some to shout their views from an electronic pulpit- no one is ever losing their right of expression.
The only thing affected by the power of money- is the size of the pulpit. How people choose to spend their time and money and show their attraction or revulsion to the product, determines whether that pulpit is amplified through a 50,000-watt radio or television tower, or relegated to 45 people reading the daily rants of a lonely website.
Either way, though, it’s still free expression. Nobody said you have the absolute right to get rich off of it.
Lin Wood will be watching very carefully. Every word they say, every charge they make, every news conference they hold. Not to intimidate but to “monitor the accusations…and respond accordingly,” according to the Reuters news service.
As if it were not already a gut-wrenching decision that opens you up to scrutiny, notoriety and the surrender of all personal privacy, if you are one of the women who swear Herman Cain once acted inappropriately and crossed the line in regard to workplace behavior, you can now add the risk of financial ruin by lawsuit to your list of concerns for going public.
Coincidently, the news conference that had been planned by Cain’s accusers is now off.
I don’t doubt that Atlanta attorney Lin Wood feels very strongly about false accusations against anybody. I do too. He’s worked for a number of folks who were absolutely falsely accused, like Richard Jewel, the poor fellow who was connected by many media organizations to the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta in 1996 that he had nothing to do with.
And though he has represented many other clients, the Jewel case is instructive. The guy was no public figure. He was a security guard living a normal, anonymous life. Herman Cain, however, is quite the public figure.
Surely, Mr. Wood is well aware of the incredibly high bar American law has set for successfully pressing a defamation suit against someone who exercises their 1st Amendment rights to write or make a claim about a public figure. There must be “actual malice” to the accusation. It has to be knowingly false and show a reckless disregard for the truth.
Lin Wood knows all this. Perhaps, more importantly, anyone contemplating going public in regard to Mr. Cain, should also know this. If your accusations are true, you are safe. If they’re not and you’re lying to bring someone down, then you deserve whatever you get.
I am not advocating anybody hold a news conference. It’s none of my business. But just as I abhorred the actions of Redskins owner, Daniel Snyder, when he demanded a retraction of a critical article from a small, local newspaper threatening litigation that could bankrupt them, Lin Wood seems to be walking a very fine line between sage counselor and 1st Amendment bully.
The threat of litigation to silence free expression against public figures seems antithetical both to American values and to existing law. Wood says his hiring by Herman Cain is not meant to “scare, intimidate or threaten anyone from making statements.”
But he also says this in regard to making public accusations:
Anyone should think twice before you take that type of action. And I think it’s particularly true when you are making serious accusations against someone running for president of the United States, but I think it’s equally true if you are making those accusations against your next door neighbor.
You be the judge whether his “think twice” statement is meant to scare, intimidate or threaten.
From a purely legal standpoint he has a strong case to make against those who would publicly accuse their “next door neighbor.” He has an exceptionally weak case for taking legal action against those who speak or write about someone, especially someone who is running for president of the United States.
I don’t think this legal action was going to work out well for him. First, free speech rights regarding public figures are pretty sacrosanct in American courts (see Falwell vs Flynt). Plus, DC has a statute that allows for prosecution for law suits aimed to intimidate freedom of speech. The Snyder legal team’s approach to this was not to question the merits of such a case were it to have been enforced, but to claim the DC City Council had no right to pass such a law.
Of all the things Snyder complained about regarding City Paper’s scathing synopsis of all the goofy things the Redskins owner has done through the years- he had pretty much dropped his outrage for all elements of the article except one; the impression the piece gave that Snyder himself, was personally involved in “slamming,” the practice of changing people’s phone services without their knowledge, back when he ran Snyder Communications many, many years ago. An out-of-court settlement was reached at the time in which Snyder admitted no wrongdoing. City Paper conceded they may have left the impression Snyder himself was involved in slamming practices but insisted they did so without malice.
Wisely, a word not ordinarily associated with Dan Snyder, he backed down. The pre-season-opener announcement cleared the decks for a new era of good feelings as he seemed to sense the Redskins may actually be a decent team this season and further distractions on the frivolous law suit-front would be counter-productive.
Bravo, Snyder. This is almost as big a victory for free speech rights as the 28-14 Redskin win over the Giants was a statement about how good and how loved his team could be if he just stops meddling with the front office and causing self-inflicted public relations wounds.