What if Media Spending Were Treated Like Campaign Spending?

 

Michael Kinsley, by no means a conservative, has written one of the best arguments I’ve ever seen for a position that is normally supported only by conservatives. This is that campaign contributions are a key part of free speech and that therefore the government should impose few regulations on such contributions.

Kinsley asks what would happen if Republicans proposed a bill to limit the spending of media companies. How would liberals react? The fact that they would strongly oppose such a bill, and the arguments that they would make, helps to reveal their hypocrisy when they make the opposite arguments when it comes to campaign-finance regulation.

[A group of Republicans have proposed] H.R. 2532, the so-called “Freedom From the Press Act,” which would place strict limits on how much a corporation or individual could spend putting out a newspaper or any other medium in which political opinions are expressed. “For too long,” said a news release issued with the text of the bill, “wealthy media companies have been able to dominate the political debate, drowning the voices of ordinary citizens who may not agree with these companies’ elitist views on subjects such as campaign contributions by wealthy corporations. Some of these ordinary citizens are veterans, who have fought for freedom in Afghanistan or Iraq, only to come home and find that their own voices are drowned out by the blowhards on ‘Morning Joe’ or the mandarins at the New York Times. Media corporations dominate the political debate, not just because of money but because they control the established channels of communication. This bill will be one step toward a level playing field.”

There is, in fact, no such bill as the Freedom From the Press Act, limiting anyone’s right to publish a newspaper or broadcast a talk show. But if there were, is it possible that the media might find this bill just a tad unconstitutional? Might they not invoke every cliche of First Amendment jurisprudence, such as “the solution to speech is more speech” (i.e., if you disagree with me, write your own op-ed piece but don’t try to stop mine) or all that stuff about disagreeing with what you say but defending to the death your right to say it? And wouldn’t they be right?

How can anyone say — as people do say, as if this settles the issue — that “Money isn’t speech” and then, in the same breath, ask for money to spread the word about the danger to democracy posed by the Koch brothers, who are pouring millions of dollars into political campaigns supporting their conservative-libertarian point of view? Money spent trying to spread a political message is speech, whether you like the message or not. More money is louder speech, that more people can hear.

 

There are 22 comments.

  1. Inactive

    It seems that Chuck Schumer is attempting to forward a version of the “Free Flow of Information Act” that does the opposite of this imaginary proposal. Rather than limit the speech and speech protections of Big Media, Schumer seems to be attempting to define what constitutes a journalist and thus who should “deserve” the benefits of shield laws. I wonder what the various pamphleteers of the Founding Era — say Brutus — would have to say about this. If someone can explain to me how a blog is different than a self published pamphlet, I’m all ears. We live in times when our government is willing to benefit rent seekers at the expense of rights.

    • #1
    • April 5, 2014 at 11:56 am
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  2. Inactive

    I confess to going back and forth on this issue. My first impulse is to recoil in horror at the idea of rationing any kind of speech. But the counter-argument is slowly starting to sway me.

    The argument won’t often be repeated publicly by any politician or media pundit, because it starts from a premise that the audience won’t like, and will feel insulted by. That is, the whole argument starts with the premise that the American voting public responds to the volume of what’s thrown at them, rather than the quality of it. 

    It doesn’t matter if a politician utters a complete non sequitur; all it takes is for a sufficient number of other voices to repeat the non sequitur. If one guy says it 10 times, that doesn’t count. What works is when multiple people say it. Perfect example = “war on women.”

    Because then, the vast majority of voters (who don’t take the time to sort it out themselves) observe the fact [that others believe it] to be evidence of truth. Since they aren’t equipped or educated to evaluate the quality of testimony, they render their verdict based on the quantity rather than the quality of it.

    Which means that quantity sways elections, not quality.

    Since money buys more volume, it cancels out the civic virtue of an “informed public.” The public isn’t better informed, they’re only influenced more frequently.

    • #2
    • April 5, 2014 at 12:11 pm
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  3. Inactive

    Is there any practical way to hurt the Big Lefty Media companies through grass-roots action, aside from boycotts ?

    Because the low-information voters on our side just cannot live without TV.

    How much money does MSNBC lose each year?

    Could Fox News have a Fox Cable News channel and not reduce their profitability?

    • #3
    • April 5, 2014 at 12:48 pm
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  4. Inactive

    KC… You are applying a very good standard for your personal voting decisions. But, in whose perfectly objective hands will you place your trust as they make those decisions for you?

    • #4
    • April 5, 2014 at 12:53 pm
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  5. Inactive

    I’ve always felt the media that controls the established channels of communications should be our keeper of freedom. Other words, give us all the factual news unbiased. And when one of these channels endorses a political candidate, the amount it would cost me to run the same ad should be counted as a campaign donation and this same amount should be donated to the endorsed candidate’s opponent(s) by the media.

    • #5
    • April 5, 2014 at 2:11 pm
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  6. Inactive

    raycon and lindacon:KC… You are applying a very good standard for your personal voting decisions. But, in whose perfectly objective hands will you place your trust as they make those decisions for you?

     Not trying to be dense, but I don’t quite follow what you’re asking. Can you say this, differently?

    • #6
    • April 5, 2014 at 2:36 pm
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  7. Inactive

    KC Mulville:

    raycon and lindacon:KC… You are applying a very good standard for your personal voting decisions. But, in whose perfectly objective hands will you place your trust as they make those decisions for you?

    Not trying to be dense, but I don’t quite follow what you’re asking. Can you say this, differently?

     We are suggesting that the limiting of the quantity of speech is, itself a limiting of it’s quality, UNLESS, the one placing the limitation on quantity is acting in with perfect equanimity. Who ya gonna trust? 

    • #7
    • April 5, 2014 at 2:45 pm
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  8. Inactive

    ishamo1:I’ve always felt the media that controls the established channels of communications should be our keeper of freedom. Other words, give us all the factual news unbiased. And when one of these channels endorses a political candidate, the amount it would cost me to run the same ad should be counted as a campaign donation and this same amount should be donated to the endorsed candidate’s opponent(s) by the media.

     There can never be an unbiased media, since there can never be an unbiased man. We all have a world view, and we can only be objective within that limit. When America had a dominant world view, that of Western Judeo-Christianity, then the media of the time were “relatively” inbiased. Thoise days can never return. Now, the best we can hope for, is an honest disclosure of one’s world view. That, of course, isn’t happening.

    • #8
    • April 5, 2014 at 2:50 pm
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  9. Inactive

    The key isn’t limiting the ability of individuals to exercise speech. The key is to limit the power of government. If government cannot reward rent seekers or grant largesse, then there is no need to even consider limiting speech.

    • #9
    • April 5, 2014 at 4:21 pm
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  10. Inactive

    raycon and lindacon:

    We are suggesting that the limiting of the quantity of speech is, itself a limiting of it’s quality, UNLESS, the one placing the limitation on quantity is acting in with perfect equanimity. Who ya gonna trust?

     Well, first things first. I agree that the remedy to this problem is its own nightmare. But the first question in this debate, it seems to me, is whether money changes speech. It may not change any one exercise of speech, but when we step back and look at the effect of money on the public debate, I’m becoming more and more convinced that it does. 

    If so, how do we change that? I don’t know. But I’m not there yet. I’m still deciding whether there’s a problem to fix in the first place, and I’m only lately coming to believe that there is a problem.

    • #10
    • April 5, 2014 at 7:01 pm
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  11. Inactive

    KC Mulville:

    raycon and lindacon:

    We are suggesting that the limiting of the quantity of speech is, itself a limiting of it’s quality, UNLESS, the one placing the limitation on quantity is acting in with perfect equanimity. Who ya gonna trust?

    Well, first things first. I agree that the remedy to this problem is its own nightmare. But the first question in this debate, it seems to me, is whether money changes speech. It may not change any one exercise of speech, but when we step back and look at the effect of money on the public debate, I’m becoming more and more convinced that it does.If so, how do we change that? I don’t know. But I’m not there yet. I’m still deciding whether there’s a problem to fix in the first place, and I’m only lately coming to believe that there is a problem.

    Oh yes, there is a problem. The politicians currently in office make the laws, and they limit the use of money bvy those who oppose them, whild they have access to limitless influence, purchased not by money, but by the power the voters have vested them with.

    The solution? Limit no one. No person, no company, no union (who, of course, are not limited now).

    Limit money and you only limit the speech of those who, otherwise, have no power.

     

    • #11
    • April 5, 2014 at 8:42 pm
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  12. Member

    Tim – great post! There are lots of statutory double standards within campaign finance – the exemption for media, for example – that make the whole regime highly suspect.

    K C raises the question of whether the government should be able to regulate speech to promote the goal of having an informed electorate. In other words, where the First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech,” can Congress cap the amount of money people can spend on advertisments – television, radio, web, paper, outdoor, phone – selling the idea that there is a war on women?

    My view is that government regulation of speech should always be highly suspect. Once we recognize that it costs money to communicate, efforts to regulate money spent on communicating because of what is being said or what topic is being discussed deserve special attention under our Constitution. In other words, Congress does not have the power to stop politicians and their supporters from promulgating talking points you disagree with. Otherwise, they can shut up people they don’t like. Hence, the only justification Congress can use to regulate campaign contributions is to prevent buying votes or the appearance of buying votes.

    Remember, more people in this country have the right to free speech than have the right to vote by design.

    • #12
    • April 5, 2014 at 8:59 pm
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  13. Inactive

    Since we have seen this consideration posted at Ricochet before, what if hiring in the news room and editorial offices resembled the population of the country. What if NewCorp (which does not seem to be a problem but is merely a placeholder for this argument) was required to hire conservatives, libertarians, liberals, socialists et al based on their proportionality in the US? Now what if colleges and universities were required to hire professors based on those same requirements? It would certainly be a more interesting and presumably equitable public sphere of interest being proclaimed by the oracles of information. That would be a law I could get behind.

    • #13
    • April 6, 2014 at 5:06 am
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  14. Inactive

    KC Mulville:I confess to going back and forth on this issue. My first impulse is to recoil in horror at the idea of rationing any kind of speech. But the counter-argument is slowly starting to sway me.The argument won’t often be repeated publicly by any politician or media pundit, because it starts from a premise that the audience won’t like, and will feel insulted by. That is, the whole argument starts with the premise that the American voting public responds to the volume of what’s thrown at them, rather than the quality of it.It doesn’t matter if a politician utters a complete non sequitur; all it takes is for a sufficient number of other voices to repeat the non sequitur. If one guy says it 10 times, that doesn’t count. What works is when multiple people say it. Perfect example = “war on women.”Because then, the vast majority of voters (who don’t take the time to sort it out themselves) observe the fact [that others believe it] to be evidence of truth. Since they aren’t equipped or educated to evaluate the quality of testimony, they render their verdict based on the quantity rather than the quality of it.Which means that quantity sways elections, not quality.Since money buys more volume, it cancels out the civic virtue of an “informed public.” The public isn’t better informed, they’re only influenced more frequently.

     If one grants your premise, then the solution is for the OTHER side to get money to shout out THEIR message as often and as loudly – to the great unwashed. In effect, this is what has happened with the advent of FNN. So any restriction on money is contrary to any sense of freedom of speech.

    • #14
    • April 6, 2014 at 8:33 am
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  15. Inactive

    Nathaniel Wright:The key isn’t limiting the ability of individuals to exercise speech. The key is to limit the power of government. If government cannot reward rent seekers or grant largesse, then there is no need to even consider limiting speech.

     THIS. Take away the power and purse, and the rent seekers disappear.

    • #15
    • April 6, 2014 at 8:34 am
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  16. Inactive

    Devereaux:

    If one grants your premise, then the solution is for the OTHER side to get money to shout out THEIR message as often and as loudly – to the great unwashed. In effect, this is what has happened with the advent of FNN. So any restriction on money is contrary to any sense of freedom of speech.

    Yeah, that’s what I go back and forth about.

    You see, correct as your statement may be, the fact is that the liberal media control the public expression of speech. By saying that wewe can’t have any restrictions, that empowers the liberal media to embed their biases into every expression of popular culture, as well as openly promote liberal speech, and hinder (and even attack) conservative speech. 

    In isolation, I’d agree that the proper response to speech is more speech. But I’m worried that by standing up for that principle, we’re unintentionally pulling the rug out from under our own feet. 

    John Podhoretz has an interesting article today. Conservative media, he says, have prepared the way for the muting of the conservative message. He may have a point.

    • #16
    • April 6, 2014 at 9:59 am
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  17. Member

    KC Mulville:

    John Podhoretz has an interesting article today. Conservative media, he says, have prepared the way for the muting of the conservative message. He may have a point.

     Eh, is he trying to say that if there was no conservative media the mainstream press would do more to cover Obama’s scandals? I doubt it.

    • #17
    • April 6, 2014 at 12:42 pm
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  18. Inactive

    Knotwise the Poet:

    KC Mulville:

    John Podhoretz has an interesting article today. Conservative media, he says, have prepared the way for the muting of the conservative message. He may have a point.

    Eh, is he trying to say that if there was no conservative media the mainstream press would do more to cover Obama’s scandals? I doubt it.

     As I read John’s article, I took him to mean that liberal media outlets now have even less motive to report conservative objections, figuring that the right-wing media will take care of that for them. And if a New York Times reader sees a story now, it’s less likely that the Times will actually alert the reader that there are other interpretations out there.

    • #18
    • April 6, 2014 at 1:50 pm
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  19. Inactive

    KC: Isn’t the more fundamental point not whether or not money influences speech–I find it not at all shocking that it does (of course), and that the money=speech equivalency is, at best, a misleading shorthand and half-truth–but rather the character of the mind which is easily influenced by such advertising and how much power that class of mind wields?

    This was the classical criticism of democracy from time immemorial–and it was why our Founders deliberately set about constructing a liberal constitutional republic and not an egalitarian, permissive democracy. It was why Adams stood in court and defended a British soldier against the mob, even while working to throw off the yoke of British rule. “Refine and enlarge the views of the electorate” and so on.

    I don’t think the revelation that money influences speech should give you any deep reason to doubt conservative arguments against campaign finance reform. The alternatives, as others have noted, are worse. A publicly funded campaign process would seem to depend upon a bureaucracy to distribute the funds, and we’re all aware of late of the easy way any bureaucratic entity can become deeply corrupt in its distributions of punishments and favors. And as far as our current campaign finance contribution-limitation system: has there ever been so well designed a way to mask what monied interests are actually behind what endeavors? “Americans for X Policy” funded by a hundred tranches and slouces from other activist organizations with similarly bland names which all help conceal the actual names of the donors from everyone except the most interested amateurs who do the research, and the most dogged reporters who expose it?

    • #19
    • April 6, 2014 at 3:31 pm
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  20. Thatcher

    I don’t want “Unbiased media” Bias is a good thing, it exposes beliefs and allows one to predict how an entity will behave in a given siuation with more accuracy. What I don’t like is hidden or blurred bias masquerading as evenhandedness or neutrality with hidden assumptions, that place the center of the political spectrum somewhat to the left of Mao.

    All sides of an argument should be proud of their bias, and stand up for their positions. A right of free speech can never be defined as speech I an OK with hearing. I am not guaranteed the right to not be offended, or presented with speech that offends me, rather I am guaranteed, that when free speech is working, I will be offended, and perhaps spured to respond with my own free speech defending my point of view, and trying to educate others.

    • #20
    • April 7, 2014 at 3:27 am
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  21. Member

    Restricting money in politics is just as workable as restricting gun ownership. You disadvantage those who abide by the restriction and empower those who ignore it. For example, the 2008 verification-disabled credit card donations; remember those?

    • #21
    • April 7, 2014 at 8:38 am
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