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Cass Sunstein: Censor Hannity, right-wing rumors
Posted By Aaron Klein On 11/23/2009 @ 3:23 pm In Front Page | Comments Disabled
TEL AVIV – Websites should be obliged to remove “false rumors” while libel laws should be altered to make it easier to sue for spreading such “rumors,” argued Cass Sunstein, Obama’s regulatory czar.
In his recently released book, “On Rumors,” Sunstein specifically cited as a primary example of “absurd” and “hateful” remarks, reports by “right-wing websites” alleging an association between President Obama and Weatherman terrorist Bill Ayers.
He also singled out radio talker Sean Hannity for “attacking” Obama regarding the president’s “alleged associations.”
Ayers became a name in last year’s presidential campaign when it was disclosed the radical worked closely with Obama for years. Obama also was said to have launched his political career at a 1995 fundraiser in Ayers’ apartment.
As WND reported, Obama and Ayers sat together on the board of a Chicago nonprofit, the Woods Fund. Ayers also was a founder of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, where Obama was appointed as its first chairman in 1995.
Ayers reportedly was involved in hiring Obama for the Challenge – a job the future president later touted as qualifying him to run for public office.
WND columnist Jack Cashill has produced a series of persuasive arguments that it was Ayers who ghostwrote Obama’s award-winning autobiography “Dreams from My Father.”
However, such reports were characterized by Sunstein as “absurd” charges for which corrective measures can be taken.
Sunstein’s book – reviewed by WND – was released in September, after he was already installed as the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
“In the era of the Internet, it has become easy to spread false or misleading rumors about almost anyone,” Sunstein writes.
“Some right-wing websites liked to make absurd and hateful remarks about the alleged relationship between Barack Obama and the former radical Bill Ayers; one of the websites’ goals was undoubtedly to attract more viewers,” he writes.
Sunstein continues: “On the Internet as well as on talk radio, altruistic propagators are easy to find; they play an especially large role in the political domain. When Sean Hannity, the television talk show host, attacked Barack Obama because of his alleged associations, one of his goals might have been to promote values and causes that he cherishes.”
Sunstein presents multiple new measures he argues can be used to stop the spread of “rumors.”
He contends “freedom usually works, but in some contexts, it is an incomplete corrective.”
Sunstein proposes the imposition of a “chilling effect” on “damaging rumors” – or the use of strong “corrective” measures to deter future rumormongers.
For websites, Sunstein suggests a “right to notice and take down” in which “those who run websites would be obliged to take down falsehoods upon notice.”
Sunstein also argues for the “right to demand a retraction after a clear demonstration that a statement is both false and damaging.” But he does not explain which agency would determine whether any statement is false and damaging.
Sunstein further pushes for “deterrence” through making libel lawsuits easier to bring.
Sunstein drafted ‘New Deal Fairness Doctrine’
Sunstein’s proposals outlined in his book “On Rumors” were not the first of his writings to recommend regulating talk radio or the news media.
WND previously reported Sunstein drew up a “First Amendment New Deal” – a new “Fairness Doctrine” that would include the establishment of a panel of “nonpartisan experts” to ensure “diversity of view” on the airwaves.
Sunstein compared the need for the government to regulate broadcasting to the moral obligation of the U.S. to impose new rules that outlawed segregation.
Sunstein’s radical proposal, set forth in his 1993 book “The Partial Constitution,” received no news media attention and scant scrutiny until the WND report.
In the book, Sunstein outwardly favors and promotes the “Fairness Doctrine,” the abolished FCC policy that required holders of broadcast licenses to present controversial issues of public importance in a manner the government deemed “equitable and balanced.”
Sunstein introduces what he terms his “First Amendment New Deal” to regulate broadcasting in the U.S.
His proposal, which focuses largely on television, includes a government requirement that “purely commercial stations provide financial subsidies to public television or to commercial stations that agree to provide less profitable but high-quality programming.”
Sunstein wrote it is “worthwhile to consider more dramatic approaches as well.”
He proposes “compulsory public-affairs programming, right of reply, content review by nonpartisan experts or guidelines to encourage attention to public issues and diversity of view.”
The Obama czar argues his regulation proposals for broadcasting are actually presented within the spirit of the Constitution.
“It seems quite possible that a law that contained regulatory remedies would promote rather than undermine the ‘freedom of speech,’” he writes.
Sunstein compares the need for the government to regulate broadcasting to the moral obligation of the government stepping in to end segregation.
Writes Sunstein: “The idea that government should be neutral among all forms of speech seems right in the abstract, but as frequently applied it is no more plausible than the idea that it should be neutral between the associational interests of blacks and those of whites under conditions of segregation.”
Sunstein contends the landmark case that brought about the Fairness Doctrine, Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. Federal Communications Commission, “stresses not the autonomy of broadcasters (made possible only by current ownership rights), but instead the need to promote democratic self-government by ensuring that people are presented with a broad range of views about public issues.”
He continues: “In a market system, this goal may be compromised. It is hardly clear that ‘the freedom of speech’ is promoted by a regime in which people are permitted to speak only if other people are willing to pay enough to allow them to be heard.”
In his book, Sunstein slams the U.S. courts’ unwillingness to “require something like a Fairness Doctrine” to be a result of “the judiciary’s lack of democratic pedigree, lack of fact-finding powers and limited remedial authority.”
He clarifies he is not arguing the government should be free to regulate broadcasting however it chooses.
“Regulation designed to eliminate a particular viewpoint would of course be out of bounds. All viewpoint discrimination would be banned,” Sunstein writes.
But, he says, “at the very least, regulative ‘fairness doctrines’ would raise no real doubts” constitutionally.
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