January 18, 2007

About those "Civil Liberties" and the First Amendment

Marc Comtois

OK, I don't get it. Supposedly the Democrats want to safeguard you and me from violations of our civil liberties perpetrated in the name of the "War on Terror". But now it seems they're more than happy to restrict free speech. Earlier this week, it was revealed that they are pondering a return of the misnamed "Fairness Doctrine";

The Fairness Doctrine did not require broadcasters to present issues in a "fair and honest manner"; it required them to turn their stations into ping-ponging punditry if they allowed opinion to appear on the air at all. It created such a complicated formula that most broadcasters simply refused to air any political programming, as it created a liability for station owners for being held hostage to all manner of complaints about lack of balance.

Congress and the Reagan administration repealed the Fairness Doctrine in the mid-1980s, and it allowed a market for political opinion to flourish. It also revitalized the AM band...Radio stations could air local and syndicated talk shows without having to worry about metering time between differing viewpoints, allowing the station owners to reflect the market and their own personal preferences for politcal viewpoints.

Why would [Dennis] Kucinich want to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine and kill off the AM band and talk radio? Because his allies have proven less successful than conservatives at building a market for their broadcasts....Democrats aren't wasting much time in rolling back free speech now that they have the majority. Putting Kucinich in charge of domestic policy reform was no mistake on their part. They want to kill talk radio, and if they manage to hold their majority and win the White House in 2008, they just might do it. [More here].

Now we find out that they are actively trying to push through a law requiring the "registration" of bloggers (via Instapundit).
S.1 has been introduced in the Senate as "lobbying reform" -- which in this case means "First Amendment infringements." An amendment has been attached, which requires registration of bloggers with more than 500 readers, and who comment on policy issues. Violation would be a criminal offense.

I looked it up on the Library of Congress webpage (which is essentially unlinkable) and have attached section 220 in extended remarks, below. As the bill is reported, it appears to cover any "paid" grassroots lobbying, that reaches more than 500 people. But a blogger who receives contributions might be classed as a "paid" grassroots type. It looks like Congress wants to keep an eye on annoying people like Porkbusters. It may be significant that S.1 was introduced by Harry Reid, one of the Kings of Pork.

I wonder if the watchdogs on the Left are going to be up in arms over these "quashing of dissent" actions? Or is it OK so long as the Democrats are doing the quashing? What's next? Applying the "Fairness Doctrine" to bloggers? Maybe, just maybe.

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I can't imagine our friends at ri(destroy the)future.org or dailykos.com will be very happy about this.

Posted by: Greg at January 18, 2007 3:08 PM

"Registration of bloggers with more than 500 people" -- nice arbitrary nonsensical number there, eh? A law that only the Supreme Soviet would love. How on Earth would they know how many "readers" you have anyway?

If they're looking for a way to unite both liberals and conservatives against them, that's certainly one way to accomplish it! Unbelievable (almost)!

Posted by: Will at January 18, 2007 5:04 PM

They don't understand the motivation behind many blogs, do they? Imagine the number of bloggers who'll flatly refuse to register. Talk about a media spectacle.

Posted by: Justin Katz at January 18, 2007 6:48 PM

This one's a non-starter.
The left functions best when it does some old-fashioned hellraising. Putting limitations on political discourse accomplishes the opposite. This is classic "be careful what you wish for" - how do you think the GOP would feel right now if it had successfully banned Senate filibusters two years ago?

Posted by: Rhody at January 18, 2007 7:07 PM

Yeah, the GOP didn't see the day that they would be in the minority again, Rhody.

Both of the proposals in Marc's post are unacceptable. Free speech doesn't mean, make damn sure my viewpoint gets enough airtime.

Side note regarding the 500 threshold: how would they filter out those bloggers who post comments in more than one identity to get a proper count? (Not me, of course. Just something I've heard about on the street.)

Posted by: SusanD at January 18, 2007 8:21 PM


"Yeah, the GOP didn't see the day that they would be in the minority again..."

Which is precisely why they are in the minority. The word is "complacency." Let's also clarify that by instead saying "the leadership of the GOP," because a lot of us grassroots folks saw it coming for a while. Whenever you say something is impossible or cannot or will not ever happen, you're setting yourself up for a big fall.

Posted by: Will at January 19, 2007 12:31 AM

How about a "Fairness Doctrine" applied to academia?

Posted by: WJF at January 19, 2007 7:19 AM

(Gasp.) Academia is totally fair. Shame on you, WJF.

Posted by: SusanD at January 21, 2007 1:25 PM
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