Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling giving corporations the right to advertise on political issues and candidates has liberals’ heads exploding.
It’s a tough issue. Justice Anthony Kennedy called this a free speech issue, and he’s right. And when there are challenges to free speech, as the axiom goes, the answer is never less free speech but more. Those who object to the decision — Keith Olbermann of MSNBC called it the worst decision since Dred Scott — are also right that it gives corporations too much power.
It’s amusing that Olbermann is going apoplectic tonight, but has to break for — wait for it, wait for it — advertisements from corporations that keep his program on the air.
There are other remedies to corporations having so much power. One is to drag it out in the light of day and let people see how it works. I’ve for years advocated that every media story about legislation should routinely report to the public what interested parties have given to each legislator. “Senator Leghorn, who leads the opposition to the bill outlawing electric dog food, has taken $2 million in the last five years from the electric dog food industry, which has also spent $7 million advertising on his behalf, and only $300,000 from organizations trying to outlaw electric dog food.” Show the public exactly where each legislators’ funding and advertising comes from. Let people know who’s bought and paid for by whom. Right now, all that funding stuff comes out quarterly at best and is buried in wonkish stories that nobody outside political boiler rooms understands.
Another remedy — take back the airwaves. Under Ronald Reagan we lost the Fairness Doctrine and the Equal Time Rule at the FCC. We could bring that back with a vengeance. The concept was that, because the airwaves radio and TV broadcast on were public, the public, through the government, could regulate what traveled on those airwaves. Let’s use the same rationale — which was creative, at best — to regulate cable and satellite TV, not just traditional broadcast. The internet is public, so we can if we want regulate that. We could require TV and internet broadcasts (and narrowcasts) to give free “air time” or cable time or satellite time or screen time to all bona fide candidates (5% of vote at last election, a certain number of signatures, whatever). So the advantage of rich companies and candidates buying advertising time could be blunted.
The republic might be able to survive giving more advertising power to corporations if we in turn give more power to opposing forces through even more freedom of speech.
That said, I think corporations already have way too much power and influence in our society. The court decision from the 19th century that gave corporations the rights of people was ludicrous and started us down the path where we are not a democracy or a republic but a corporate subsidiary. Corporations are not people and should not have the rights of people.
But Olbermann is saying tonight that within 10 years all politicians will be bought and sold openly. Mark Twain talked about purchasing congressman in the 19th century — this is nothing new. Today we don’t have legislators bought by their contributors? Come on.
This is a big deal, and probably a bad decision. Corporations don’t need more power. But we have power too, and we can survive this if we exercise that power. Reporters and bloggers and watchdogs will have to do a better job of informing the public who’s buying their legislators and their opinions, and opponents of corporations’ points of view will have to be more creative in getting the public’s attention.
It was amusing to see the authors of Game Change, the book about the 2008 campaign, talking about how little John Edwards read, how little attention he paid to legislation, on Chris Matthews’ show tonight. Where were these reports when Edwards was running? Mark Halperin, one of the authors, said most senators considered Edwards a fraud when he ran for president because he knew so little about issues and legislation. Halperin was shocked at how little Edwards knew about one of his own legislative proposals. But did these guys write this at the time? No!
Journalism needs to start covering not just he-said-she-said pissing matches in Congress, and not just parroting candidates’ message points, but actually reporting what these people are like, what they know, and who’s paying for them. Now, more than ever.
— Bruce Benidt
(AP photo of liberal spokeshumans denouncing today’s decision on steps of Supreme Court)brand marketing nice