Free Speech Versus Facts

Respectfully submitted by Lawrence Rafferty (rafflaw)-Guest Blogger

I am sure you have all seen the comments and political advertisements and articles calling President Obama a Communist, a Socialist, a Kenyan citizen and various attempts to claim that he is a secret Muslim. I had thought I had seen them all when I came across the latest affront to reality.  A Gannet newspaper in Louisiana has agreed to run an “interesting” advertisement from an organization calling itself the SOAR Project.  SOAR stands for Save Our American Republic.

In my humble opinion, this advertisement goes far beyond any level of reasonableness when it leads with the question, “Will Obama and the Democrats Shoot Catholics and Christians “? 

The Gannet Advertiser has approved the advertisement that tries to claim that Obama will shoot Catholics just like the Mexican Government killed a Catholic priest in 1927!  I am all for almost unlimited free speech and that includes garbage like this ad, but I am curious if the Gannet Advertiser would approve an advertisement that makes the ridiculous claim that Mitt Romney will hang all African Americans if elected, as suggested by one of the commenters on the Think Progress site?

“The ad shows a photograph of a Catholic priest who was shot and killed in Mexico in the 1920s, and suggests that President Obama and Democrats would do the same evil deed. It was posted by a user on Reddit this morning.  The ad copy is no better:

AMERICA is under siege by the same evil (obama and democrats) as history shows over and over…We must learn from it or we are doomed to repeat it. We must be triumphant over terror.”

As with most newspapers, The Daily Advertiser says it does screen advertisements to ensure that blatantly false, overly offensive or otherwise inappropriate content is kept out of the paper. But the paper’s president and publisher Karen J. Lincoln told ThinkProgress that the newspaper stood by its decision to run the ad. “We look at all of the ads, and the decision is made by each market,” she said. “This ad did meet our standards. The decision to run it was approved.” Lincoln also says that another ad from the same organization will run in tomorrow’s paper.” Think Progress

While this SOAR organization has the right to spew as much hate and lies as it wants, the amazing part is that the Daily Advertiser claimed that this garbage actually meets their “standards”!  If this advertisement meets the paper’s standards, then the door should be wide open for any lie and disparaging advertisement to be run by that very same newspaper. If this ad meets the standards, is there any advertisement that won’t be accepted by the Daily Advertiser?

I searched the website for this newspaper and I found nothing that discusses just what are its standards for advertisements.  The Advertiser    Maybe you will have better luck than me in finding out just what standards The Advertiser uses to review proposed advertisements.  Can you think of any advertisement that would not be accepted under these allegedly loose standards?

Can or should anything be done to prevent this kind of hate filled lies to be published by any newspaper?  Does this kind of brutally false claim amount to actual malice and therefore allow Obama to sue the paper and/or the organization paying for the advertisement for defamation?   Let’s hear your thoughts and ideas!

Additional Sources: Miami Herald Publishing Co. V. TornilloNew York Times v. Sullivan


45 thoughts on “Free Speech Versus Facts”

  1. Reblogged this on SUSAN'S SPACE and commented:
    I have come to loathe people who say they have ‘a first amendment right’ to say anything. That 1st amendment is quickly becoming a catchall phrase for saying anything ‘one likes’, in America.

  2. Jill, sadly my experience with lawyers has been, with the exception of one, and that was in 1975, they leave their values and ethics at the school door when they arrive at law school. A line from Law and Order was perfect. Referring to a lawyer who murderered (or bilked forget which or if was both)The DA asked “where do lawyers learn their ethics?” “In law school.” was the reply of the ADA.

  3. @Roger: And if government does have the right and responsibility to protect the eyes of minors from seeing titties on primetime, why would it not have the right to regulate news programming on cable, just like it has had the right to regulate the content of news programming on the airwaves?

    Minors are legally considered impaired in their ability to consider the consequences of their actions, and impaired in their ability to tell right from wrong and truth from fiction. That is justification for controlling what they see.

    Adults are legally obligated to consider the consequences of their actions. They are not children that require protection from falsehood, and as adults if they are harmed by a falsehood they may have a recourse in court, but even then not necessarily: In many instances, adults are considered responsible for assuming the risks and they own the negative consequences.

    That is why it does not have the right; adults are not children, and should not be considered like children in the eyes of the law.

    Personally I think that if something can be shown or said on HBO, the risk of that reaching a minor is identical to the risk of broadcast TV reaching a minor, so if HBO can show it, broadcast TV or standard cable can show it (or say it). That is just my opinion, not the law. The standards should be equal, and I do not believe government should have double standards.

  4. @Roger Lambert: That is not always true. When, for example, two candidates not in office discuss each other, neither is an agent of government.

    Agreed, my definition was hasty. It has to be broader, and still protected.

    Government already does that and has been doing it for years in the name of national security.

    And I think that is wrong, I do not want that.

    But why would the republic fall if we demanded that corporate entities that called themselves Newspapers or News programs be required not to deliberately present falsehoods as truth?

    Yes. Because it is a slippery slope. Next they will define a corporation as a person, a blog or a flyer or poster as a de facto “newspaper” or “news program”, and individuals will be targeted for their political speech.

    I operate on the plausible presumption that many people in power WANT to prevent criticism of their actions, to protect their power and hide their corrupt actions, and if any route to that prevention exists, they will find the way down the slippery slope.

    A free press has rights, but it also has crucially important responsibilities. The Press is different than a person. It has a higher standard to maintain.

    I do not believe it IS different; why should some for-profit organization have any more rights than I do as a citizen? The freedom to print and publish belongs to everybody, I do not believe a blog by a redneck racist is or should be treated as any different than the New York Times in terms of whether or not the publication is “press” or the writer is a ‘reporter’.

    The press is people talking in print.

    Fox News is an extension of government!

    No it isn’t, it is a private concern operating for profit, and it lies to please its consumers, because that is what they want to hear.

    It is wholly controlled by and subservient to the needs of Republican governmental officials.

    No it isn’t, in fact the other way around; Republican government officials routinely defer to Fox News and refuse to contradict it or criticize it, for fear Fox News will turn on them and cost them votes. That, in fact, is what the founders intended with a free press, that it would have de facto power over politicians in order to scare them into serving the people. Fox News does that to Republican politicians with great efficiency; the fact that Fox is catering to the conservative crowd that WANTS to believe the lies about the liberal crowd is immaterial.

    Fox News gets no taxpayer money, it earns money by providing over-the-top bullshit to people that want to hear it. Those people can change the channel anytime they want, they are free. The advertisers are free to pull their ads. If people tuned out, advertisers WOULD pull their ads out of self interest; the ads are no longer effectively selling their product.

    And Fox News would then die. You have this whole thing backward, you are blaming the actors for entertaining the audience, the bartender for alcoholism, the car instead of the driver.

    Are you saying that that a government-controlled propaganda outfit should be allowed to call itself a news program and present deliberate falsehoods? Government has no responsibility to be truthful to the public?

    Not at all, but Fox News is not controlled by elected officials any more than MSNBC or NPR is controlled by elected officials.

    What you are saying is that you WANT Fox News controlled by government, that you WANT MSNBC and NPR controlled by government, that you WANT government to decide what can and cannot be aired.

    What I am saying is, when it comes to political speech, let them lie. The more they lie the more likely they are to be caught lying and the less they are trusted, and the more people will make up their own mind without them.

    What I am saying is that it is a slippery slope to give government any control whatsoever over political speech, because that is gun they will misuse to protect themselves from criticism instead of citizens from propaganda. It would lead to MORE propaganda, not LESS.

    What I am saying is all of us will just have to accept that somewhere around 25% of the country WANTS to hear the blatant political lies of Fox News. They seek out confirmation of their bias, they WANT to know that they are not unique in their bigotry or hatred or brutal selfishness. It makes them feel better, and no matter how much the lies anger us, Fox News is just singin’ the songs their audience loves to hear.

    What I am saying is that free speech is not the problem, the problem is that the audience exists, and in my view the reason the audience exists is not due to propaganda, but to corrupt government. Restricting the ability of people to criticize the corrupt government will make it MORE corrupt.

  5. “The government is not involved in private cable content.”

    It’s not? Doesn’t the FCC regulate cable content? I seem to recall seeing movie ratings, censored out naughty bits, and nudity restrictions on my cable TV.

    And if government does have the right and responsibility to protect the eyes of minors from seeing titties on primetime, why would it not have the right to regulate news programming on cable, just like it has had the right to regulate the content of news programming on the airwaves?

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