Peter Balega: Intimidation, suppression are not answers to free speech
In 1919, political speech acquired its modern status as exalted expression in the case of Schenck v. United States. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. brought forth a "clear and present danger" test to protect political speech that ultimately cul...
In 1919, political speech acquired its modern status as exalted expression in the case of Schenck v. United States. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. brought forth a "clear and present danger" test to protect political speech that ultimately culminated in 1969's "incitement" standard as articulated by the Warren Court in Brandenburg v. Ohio.
These cases and their progeny sprung from the attempts of federal and state governments to prosecute and thereby stop the public from speaking out on the political issues of the day. Admittedly the comments were sometimes harsh and irresponsible. However, Justice Holmes and his compatriot, Justice Louis Brandeis continued to articulate the concept of a marketplace of ideas.
In yet another eloquent dissent to which Justice Brandeis joined, Justice Holmes laid the cornerstone for the 20th century interpretation of the First Amendment when he said "... the ultimate good desired is better reached by a free trade in ideas -- that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market ... That, at any rate, is the theory of our Constitution." But in the 21st century, our state's marketplace might be shutting down.
The Progress for America Voter Fund recently started running its "Midwest Heroes" issue-oriented ads, concerning the war in Iraq, in Minnesota. These spots feature veterans and family members, some from right here in Minnesota, speaking in support of the U.S. effort while also expressing their dismay at some of the media coverage. These voiced opinions are shared by a great many Americans; perhaps over half the country, perhaps fewer, but a great many nonetheless.
The chilling response to these opinions came from DFL leadership and one major market television station. State DFL leaders "demanded" that Minnesota TV stations stop running the 60 second spot. DFL Party Chairman Brian Melendez called these families' beliefs and sentiments a "lie" among other things. Meanwhile, Twin Cities ABC affiliate KSTP got its feelings hurt due to one of the ad's points that the media is slanted in its coverage of Iraq; they then proceeded to prove that point by refusing to air those comments.
Reasonable minds may disagree on the intelligence and analysis used in the run up to the war, and its prosecution remains an open question for debate. However the answer is not to be found with a muzzle.
If one disagrees with an opinion, the preferable approach is through an illumination of facts. However, calling press conferences and calling names might also lead one to believe that the spot actually hit very close to the truth.
This attitude of intimidation and suppression is especially disconcerting, coming as it does from the leadership of a party that espouses open and honest debate. Then again, perhaps the debate is welcome only if you promise in advance to agree.
Further, in a heavily regulated business, there surely was no legal mandate that KSTP must have aired the message of these families. Nevertheless there was an ideal that came into play. And in a business that is also heavily steeped in ethical history, they fell sadly short.
The line between political and commercial speech now often blurs into obscurity. Advertising puff talk and political spin may seem to be one and the same. But at those times do you want Brian Melendez or Rob Hubbard deciding what you should see and what you are allowed to hear? It is disturbing that such would be argued with a straight face.
And that other high pitched spin in the distance -- it's Justices Holmes and Brandeis in their graves.