Posts Tagged ‘Free Speech’

SuperPacs and Cynicism and Disgust with the Democratic Process

January 5, 2012 2 comments

I don’t know if the five Supreme Court justices who signed off on the Citizen’s United case have been reading the newspapers and watching cable, but the effect of the ruling has been on full display over the past month and things are not going according to the high court’s rose-colored-glasses view that unlimited political expenditures are harmless expressions of free speech.

The ruling that gave corporations and labor unions the right to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns assumed a number of things.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, for example, denied it would “give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”   And that was because the public would know where the money was coming from and because candidates and so-called “Super Pacs” (PAC= Political Action Committees) would never coordinate.  Please.

The candidacy of Newt Gingrich was destroyed in Iowa with $4 million in withering negative ads from PACS supporting Mitt Romney.  The brief Gingrich resurgence following the death of the Herman Cain campaign was sliced and diced by the assault, cutting the former House Speaker’s poll numbers by half. 

Direct coordination with the Romney campaign would be illegal, of course.  But as the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus points out, there’s darned near a shadow campaign staff operating the Romney PAC called “Restore our Future.” 

The committee is run by Carl Forti, political director of Romney’s 2008 campaign. Its treasurer is Charles Spies, the Romney 2008 general counsel. Its fundraiser, Steve Roche, headed the Romney 2012 finance team until jumping to the super PAC last summer. And to underscore the flimsiness of the PAC’s supposed independence, Romney himself has spoken at “Restore Our Future” events.

Yet up-to-date information about who is bankrolling this effort will not be available until the end of January, by which point four states will have voted and Romney may have the nomination wrapped up.

And it’s not just Republicans.  Former Obama aides run a PAC called Priorities USA which has already been releasing nasty anti-Romney ads.  One can only imagine the slime and dirt that will fill our TV screens and radio dials this fall from all the Super Pacs that are out there .   

In a very insightful article in, Dahlia Lithwick, writes that even some state courts are beginning to question the wisdom of the Citizen’s United ruling.  The Montana Supreme Court, for example, has recently ruled by a vote of 5-2 that corporations are not people and that to assume unlimited political expenditures are benign goes against well over a century and a half of practice in Montana state politics.

Chief Justice Mike McGrath dove deep into that history, ranging back over the “tumultuous years … marked by rough contests for political and economic domination primarily in the mining center of Butte, between mining and industrial enterprises controlled by foreign trusts or corporations.” Noting that, back in the last Gilded Age, Montana’s wealthy “Copper Kings” bought judges and senators, picked the location of the capital, and owned the media, McGrath pointed to Montana’s vast size, sparse population, low-cost elections, and long history of having its resources plundered by foreign corporate interests to emphasize that the state has a compelling interest in maintaining its ban.

The sad fact is that negative campaigning and advertising are hideously effective and only nominally based on any discernible truth.  To not be able to identify who’s putting up the money for these organizations that put out these ads means there is absolutely no accountability for them.  Nor will we be able to tell how the donations by anonymous individuals impact the candidate once they become an office holder and are in a position to make public policy that may benefit those contributors.

At a critical juncture in our history and our economy, when fundamental philosophical views need to be aired, debated and decided- we may, instead, be reacting to and basing our votes on the primal, negative personal attacks of politicians on one another.

That we will be hip-deep in this kind of swill from now until November can only increase the already deep cynicism the public feels about politics and government.  Watching how it’s actually playing out, a great public disservice may have been committed in the name of free speech when the Supreme Court made the Citizen’s United ruling. It is eroding -not helping- the function of a healthy democracy.

The Incredibly Shrinking Dan Snyder

February 5, 2011 4 comments

King George III

Hosni Mubarak will likely be gone long before Daniel Snyder. If there were a version of Liberation Square somewhere near FedEx Field, tens of thousands of Redskins fans would be gathering in an effort to depose our own more innocent local version of the imperious dictator. 

It’s more than a case of an incompetent owner of a football team. This has become a cause- a fight in defense of freedom of speech; a true 1st amendment battle against intimidation and the abuse of our judicial system by a rich, powerful, self-absorbed bully who has resorted to the courts in a transparent effort to stifle dissent and criticism. He would have made King George himself proud.

Snyder has now given more than a half-dozen media interviews since invading Dallas, Texas this week in his royal arrival for Super Bowl festivities. With each defense of his defamation law suit against the Washington City Paper, he reveals himself as a self-pitying, intolerant man with a well-developed sense of victimization.

He continues the canard, repeating from his law suit, that the small, local newspaper somehow demeaned Snyder’s wife and her fight for breast cancer awareness. The publication did nothing of the sort. It is well-documented here.  He maintains that he’s a changed man, that he himself has had cancer. Among other things, he said this to Mike Francesca on WFAN Radio Friday:

But I’ve matured. I’m patient now. I’ve had cancer. My wife is battling breast cancer. So I’m a survivor, my wife is now a survivor, and things have changed. I’m 46 years old. I’ve matured.

Well, I too, am a cancer survivor. Eleven years ago I underwent surgery and months of radiation therapy. But I don’t trot it out every time I feel the need to elicit pity and sympathy.

I am not Jewish. But there are some who are, who have taken grave offense to his characterization of City Paper’s photographic depiction of Snyder with horn and mustache scribbles as some act of anti-Semitism. Here’s Brett Haber, the Sports Director of WUSA-TV from a commentary he aired Thursday night on the station’s 11pm newscast:

But most offensive of all is Snyder’s reckless claim of anti-Semitism, saying that the newspaper’s cover-art, showing Snyder with horns and a mustache, invokes longstanding anti-Jewish imagery. Well, speaking as a Jew, that’s baloney. Moreover, it’s an opportunistic and self-serving accusation that minimizes the real pain suffered by legitimately aggrieved Jews throughout the world. As the City Paper correctly points out, the cover suggests a child’s scribblings across a photo of Snyder. It doesn’t portray him ant-Semitically; it portrays him as a figurative devil, and that’s legitimate. And oh, by the way, the cover artist and the editor who approved it are both Jewish.

In his media interviews Friday, Snyder repeatedly said that City Paper “crossed the line.” I would argue it is Daniel Snyder who has crossed the line. And in so doing, he has unleashed a firestorm of indignation that has resulted in a veritable celebration of 1st amendment exercises of free speech against his attempts to stifle criticism.

In these interviews, Snyder says all he sought was an apology and a retraction. So this $2 million dollar law suit is a matter of pride then. The threats from Redskin’s COO and General Counsel, David Donovan, to City Paper’s ownership group last November, that litigating a law suit could bankrupt City Paper, were just a matter of principle.

Well, if we’re going to talk about principle, City Paper insists it has nothing to apologize for and nothing to retract. And here is the most important point of all. This lawsuit is not just an attempt to silence the criticism of one publication. It is a tactic of intimidation designed to suppress criticism by all who would now live in fear that the words they type or publish will somehow land them in a court of law facing the prospect of bankruptcy and destitution.

No, this is much, much bigger than a petulant owner of a local sports team. This goes to the core of why the 1st Amendment exists in the first place; to protect the rights of free expression against the whims and conceits of the powerful.

A Very Special Evening Honoring Courage

March 5, 2010 4 comments

The Radio Television Digital News Foundation held it’s 20th anniversary dinner last night at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington.   It honored individuals in broadcasting who fight the good fight to make the 1st Amendment to the Constitution more than just words.

The highlight for me came when CBS News Radio Vice President and dear friend, Harvey Nagler, received his award for his 40 years of service toward that end and graciously put the spotlight, not on himself, but on his brave and couragious correspondent, and also my dear friend, Cami McCormick.   Cami attended the dinner, one of her first public appearances since she narrowly escaped death and survived an IED attack in Afghanistan last August.

Cami has never asked for the spotlight and I hope she won’t be upset that I am writing about last night’s event.  As Harvey recounted the scary and awful events of last summer, he paused in his speech, and as his voice cracked with understandable emotion, said he was going to do something he never thought would have been possible.  He asked Cami to stand and be recognized.   As a literal, bright spotlight shone on her, Cami confidently defied the odds one more time and mustered the strength to get up from her wheelchair and stand before the whole world on her injured legs.

It was a moment I will never forget.  A moment of victory for Cami, for free speech, for the courage it takes to risk life and limb to report the truth.   To literally stand for the 1st Amendment.

Cami has a “bumper sticker” on her Facebook wall that reads: “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” 

Your strength continues to be an inspiration to us all, Cami.   We all love you so much.