Friday, October 31, 2008
On this day:

On Wayne Parker, the First Amendment, and the Fairness Doctrine

In the race for U.S. Representative from Alabama's Fifth District, I'm supporting Republican Wayne Parker over his Democratic opponent, Parker Griffith. That's because Parker's views on the proper role of the federal government are most closely aligned with my own. And it's in spite of the fact that the Parker campaign is running an ad that I believe clearly and intentionally distorts Griffith's recent comments on the threat posed by radical Islam. It's also in spite of this:
[Huntsville Times] The Republican National Congressional Committee sent a letter of complaint to WAAY-TV on Tuesday stating its unhappiness with the local ABC affiliate for not airing an ad it produced in support of District 5 candidate Wayne Parker. ...

Buck said Tuesday that by not airing the commercial, the station was treading on the committee's First Amendment rights.

"Regardless of how WAAY would like to see this campaign turn out, voters of the 5th District deserve a media that gives both sides an equal voice," Buck said.

"WAAY's obscene decision to deny voters the right to hear Parker Griffith's own words doesn't change the fact that Griffith believes America's greatest enemy is America. Voters should have the opportunity to listen and judge for themselves whether they share Parker Griffith's dangerously nave and insulting world view."

You can read the NRCC complaint to WAAY-TV here. It warns that:
Your station must not chill the fundamental First Amendment right of the NRCC to engage in a robust and open discussion of Parker Griffith's record and position on critical issues such as those addressed in the advertisement. Your station's obligation to operate in the public interest is furthered by providing all participants in the political process an opportunity to discuss issues of public importance. If the Griffith campaign wishes to respond to our advertisement, they may purchase time on your station and make their case directly to the voters. Your station, however, must not be used as a vehicle to suppress legitimate political speech, especially when it comes to an advertisement containing accurate statements about a federal candidate, and in this case, made by the federal candidate himself.
That's absolute bull-hockey, and if the folks at the NRCC think otherwise, they should pick up a copy of the U.S. Constitution sometime. The limitations of the First Amendment extend only to the powers of Congress and the federal government. (And if the doctrine of incorporation is correct, also to the powers of state governments via the Fourteenth Amendment.)

The First Amendment explicitly protects the freedom of the press against government encroachment. Is WAAY-TV not a member of the press? If it is, then how is it that its FCC license - granted under a law made by Congress - forbids it from speaking or not speaking as it sees fit?

If anyone is threatening First Amendment freedoms here, it's the NRCC. The letter continues:
Federal law requires your station to operate in the public interest. Your station's decision to air the attached NRCC advertisement serves the public interest. The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech under the First Amendment has its fullest and most urgent application to the discussion of public officials and their public policy positions and actions.
That sort of reasoning turns the First Amendment against itself. Privately-owned press organizations like WAAY-TV have a constitutionally guaranteed right to air or not to air whatever political messages they want. Period. Reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine is part of the Democrats' platform, not ours. Let's keep it that way.