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CNN political analyst Jeff Greenfield’s analysis of New Hampshire primary votes for Bill Bradley acknowledges that Bradley’s attacks on Gore finally prompted the press to write stories about the vice president “… playing fast and loose on everything from abortion to campaign finance to his past achievements.”
Greenfield failed to mention that for three years the media’s silence regarding Vice President Al Gore’s unlawful activities has been deafening. While the difference between Gore and Bradley on issues is in shades of black only discernible by Warren Beatty, the Bradley assault finally produced articles and news shows that reminded voters of Gore’s record on illegal fund raising and his flip-flops on major issues.
Bradley even questioned the official explanation of Gore’s 1996 fund-raising appearance at a Buddhist temple near Los Angeles saying, “Quite frankly, I think more explanation is needed about his participation, and I believe that unless that explanation is forthcoming, then the public will reject a candidacy next fall that fails to come to terms with this circumstance.” Yet, the hypocrisy of Bradley, Gore and McCain in promoting campaign finance reform should make the American people even more distrustful of their reformist rhetoric.
A New Jersey group, Hands Across New Jersey, purchased television ads in New Hampshire to attack Bradley on his hypocritical stand on campaign finance reform. The group, which both supports campaign finance reform and has a history of opposing Bill Bradley, used the ads to accuse Bradley of helping contributors to his U.S. Senate campaigns by contacting agencies of the federal government on their behalf. These ads, which never advocate voting against Bradley or for any other candidate, are protected by the First Amendment and do not come under the prohibitions of current campaign finance laws.
Such ads are precisely the type of speech that Bradley, Gore, McCain, HANJ, and, oh yes, the media want to curtail by passing the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill. (According to the Associated Press) HANJ’s spokesman, John Sheridan, admitted their attacks on Bradley are hypocritical, but went on to state, “Let us be the example of why these laws should be changed. If they don’t change (the law), they will be the victims of these sorts of ads in the future, and they will feel as helpless as the public does in trying to bring about change.”
The change that Hands Across New Jersey and the other proponents of campaign finance reform are seeking is modification of the First Amendment. The First Amendment secures the right of anyone in America — private citizen, corporate entity or association — to have an opinion and (notwithstanding libel laws or crying “fire” in a crowded
place) make it public. Campaign finance laws curtail everyone’s First Amendment rights, because without the ability to promote opinions by purchasing advertising or using other methods of distribution, opinions are silenced.
To get around campaign finance limitations after the losses of the 1994 election, the unions and most other anti-Republican groups developed the “issue advocacy” strategy being used by HANJ — running ads attacking members of Congress on policy positions.
These groups, which had limits on campaign spending, began running ads financed with non-political dollars, non-political union contributions, and contributions from associations and corporations. They ran ads in congressional districts against incumbent Republicans. Former Congresswoman Andrea Seastrand from California endured more than a year’s worth of negative issue advertising. Unfortunately the ads had the desired result; she lost her re-election bid.
In a speech before the American Political Association in 1997, I said “the line between political advertising and issue advocacy is a line in the sand on a very windy day.” My point, however, was diametrically opposite to the point Hands Across New Jersey is attempting to make. HANJ wants all political speech to be regulated by the Federal Election Commission, while I advocated the broadest interpretation of the First Amendment.
Unfortunately most people, including news reporters, are willing to give away part of the First Amendment. The media appear to forget that the role of journalists is to present the facts without bias or interpretation, and certainly without interference, so the public can make an informed decision.
The case of the Salon magazine journalist Dan Savage shows the extent to which the media has decided to be without ethics or morals. Savage, an avowed homosexual on assignment for the Internet magazine Salon in Iowa, decided to “terrorize” the Bauer for President campaign. According to Savage, “I decided that if it’s terrorism Bauer wants, then it’s terrorism Bauer is going get.” According to his own account he went on a rampage, trying to infect everyone in the Bauer campaign with the flu by licking doorknobs, coughing on everything he could handle, and giving the
candidate and volunteers alike flu-infected pens.” He even illegally voted in the Republican caucus. Joel Miller’s WND article “Attack of the Slobber Slinger” covers the incident in detail.
Yet, the only media representatives to give this outrage any publicity have been WND, Salon itself (which has run several pages of reader comments), and the New York Post’s Rod Dreher. Dreher’s follow-up article in the Post about the Bauer campaign’s contemplation of legal redress for Savage’s attack ends with the following: “Why has the mainstream media ignored this story, with its profound implications for media ethics, gay politics and the integrity of the democratic process?
“Are hate crimes not hate crimes when committed against Christian conservatives?
“The media’s silence says it all.”
It takes a political primary to illuminate the hypocrisy surrounding the First Amendment, the media and politicians. Salon publishes a story about its reporter committing illegal and immoral acts, while refusing to acknowledge any culpability. The vice president of the United States participates in illegal fund raising, then screams foul when his primary opponent brings up the issue, all the while promoting even more restrictive laws on campaign financing. A political group uses tactics to punish a candidate, while promoting a policy that would curtail the First Amendment and make such tactics illegal.
The First Amendment was never envisioned as a “loophole” for the media to break laws and physically hurt others. Dan Savage should be held accountable for his actions and prosecuted for breaking Iowa laws. Unlike Al Gore, Savage did take full responsibility for his actions; let’s hope he only infected the Bauer campaign with the flu.