Citizens United and ‘Hillary: The Movie’

If you’re feeling, like so many of us, that our life and times are too harmonious, smart, and principled, you might welcome something completely jumbled, uninformed, and hypocritical.  If so, here’s just the thing: an article by E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post.

The subject of Dionne’s piece is a case — Citizens United v. FEC — scheduled for oral argument today in the Supreme Court.  Like so many when reporting this story, Dionne employs the journalistic equivalent of the magician’s trick of misdirection when telling his tale.

Thus does he direct the reader’s attention not to the specifics of the case itself — which is whether the execrable campaign finance laws (read: McCain-Feingold) can constitutionally suppress free speech, and political speech at that — but to the imaginary threat that, if decided wrongly, the case “could surrender control of our democracy to corporate interests.”

What, you might wonder, could cause such fear and trembling?  A plot by corporate giants to make every man, woman, and child read The Wealth of Nations?

Well, not if it’s the Citizens United case.  Because that case isn’t about a corporate giant, but rather a small nonprofit activist organization, and its “crime” was the production and would-be distribution of a political film, called “Hillary: The Movie.” 

Now you might not like this film (if you’re a fan of Hillary you definitely wouldn’t like it), but nothing could be clearer than that this is political speech, the kind that, outside the confines of the election laws, has always occupied the highest reaches of constitutional protection under the First Amendment.

Dionne’s misdirection technique also turns a blind eye to another interesting fact: The campaign finance laws that prevent the airing of issue ads x number of days before federal elections don’t apply to newspapers, but only to the broadcast media, cable and satellite included.

Call it cynical, but some might wonder if this fact helps explain the embrace of McCain-Feingold by so many newspaper columnists and editorialists, and newspaper publishers, for that matter.

One of the problems attending any attempt to create what our associate, Professor Larry Winer, refers to as a “unitary” First Amendment is that so many people on the front lines of this battle, like reporters, demonstrate little or no interest in defending the First Amendment rights of anyone but themselves.

Thus can one count on one hand the number of mainstream media reports that have been critical of campus speech codes, or any manner of political correctness– or the suppression of political speech, as demonstrated in Citizens United.

It’s not a pretty picture.