Ed Fitzpatrick’s Pick-and-Choose Censorship

Most of us on the right have opposed campaign finance reform, as enacted, and it wouldn’t be outlandish to suggest that the issue cost McCain votes and good will for his bid for president. Folks on the left, particularly in the mainstream media, tend to have a sunnier view. Of course, media types tend to like the idea of freedom of speech, so there’s bound to be a conflict somewhere along the way.
A skeptical reader couldn’t help but catch an interesting admission of inner conflict in Ed Fitzpatrick’s most recent column about court proceedings to determine whether the right-wing flick Hillary: The Movie is a campaign ad or a work of free expression:

I’m hoping the high court issues a narrow ruling, but that might prove difficult because the government’s lawyer pushed his arguments pretty far.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked whether it would matter if a 500-page book contained one sentence saying, “Vote for X,” and he asked about “a sign held up in Lafayette Park saying vote for so-and-so.” The lawyer said Congress would have the power to ban the book or the sign before elections if corporate money paid for them. …
Ultimately, I see greater danger in allowing the government to suppress such films, books or signs — no matter how political they are.

Based on his implying that he’d like the movie banned, but without applying a broader, consistent principle, Mr. Fitzpatrick would like to empower the Supreme Court to determine what is and is not political speech, based mainly on content. Too many people see the judiciary as a mechanism for applying rules that nobody would be so gauche as to promote as legislation. (Although, perhaps I write too soon on that last count…)
Stating that he is in no way for government censorship, Ed corrects my impression.

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14 years ago

“Ultimately, I see greater danger in allowing the government to suppress such films, books or signs — no matter how political they are.”
I think this last sentence says where Mr. Fitzpatrick is. He acknowledges his political bias on the specific movie but also acknowledges the bigger issue about allowing government to suppress speech based on its political nature. I cannot fathom how the Supreme Court can justify calling the movie an ad and therefore within its reach to regulate. Would this affect what political pundits/talk show hosts can say? Political punditry and even more specifically divisiveness is entertainment.
Imagine that this was not brought up regarding Michael Moore’s movies. Are we really going to get to the place where our elected officials – members of a political party – are responsible for determining whether Ann Coulter’s or Keith Olbermann’s comments fall under campaign ad or they are free expression.

Justin Katz
14 years ago

But notice why Fitzpatrick comes to that conclusion: because “the government’s lawyer pushed his arguments pretty far,” and a “narrow ruling” would be difficult to issue. Presumably, if a narrow ruling banning this particular film were on the table, Ed would see his way clear to argue the other side.

14 years ago

“Michael Moore’s movies”
If the Supreme Court decides that this movie is political advertising, someone should immediately file the same complaint about “Fahrenheit 911”. There is no question that it was exactly the same kind of political advertising as this movie about Hillary.

14 years ago

I agree with Fitz and Steven – we need to overcome our political biases and err on the side of free speech.
If only the makers of “Hillary – the Movie” could’ve brought the skill, wit and storytelling chops to their work that Moore does to his movies. Say what you want about Big Mike’s politics, but he doesn’t forger to entertain as well as inform.

14 years ago

It’s obvious that Fitzpatrick would like it both ways – to have the particular movie banned because of his partisan bias but I give him credit for even acknowledging the power of the government’s lawyer’s argument and the reality of the “greater danger …”. That’s a concession many Hillary supporters would not make. Or another example is that if ‘Air America’ had dominated talk radio, then Pelosi/Reid would not be for the Fairness Doctrine.
I used to like Moore back in the “Roger & Me” days but think his skill, wit and storytelling chops have fallen since. If only the hosts on “Air America” could’ve brought the skill, wit and storytelling chops that people like Rush & Coulter do … entertainment is also in the eye of the beholder. I personally don’t feel they do much ‘informing” (nor does Moore), but they undoubtedly are skilled in rhetoric and entertaining.

14 years ago

Says it all about Air America that Al Franken and Rachel Maddow became greater successes in different arenas. AA was not particularly well conceived or executed.

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