An End to Free Speech
June 29, 2000
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In a full-throated editorial titled "An End to Secret Campaign Funds," the Times today urges what in fact amounts to an end to the free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. "The Senate needs to act quickly, since every day of delay guarantees that more truckloads of secret money will be harvested by the slush fund organizations," the editorial says. The Times describes the bill as "requiring disclosure of secret slush funds."
And what is one of the groups behind one of these nefarious "secret slush funds" that the Times wants so badly to regulate? It is -- get ready -- the Sierra Club.
Now, Smartertimes is fully willing to acknowledge that ads from the Sierra Club could have a corrosive effect on the outcome of an election, but we're willing to take the risk of letting such ads run unrestricted on the theory that more speech is better. The funding for the ads shouldn't have to be reported to the federal government on cumbersome disclosure forms, as the Times wants. This is America. If the Sierra Club wants to buy ads before an election or if the polluting corporations want to buy ads or if the Times itself wants to publish editorials, there's no reason the Times should deride it as a "secret slush fund" or the government should seek to restrict it or regulate it. It's free speech in a democracy. Imposing stricter regulations on political speech in the months before an election, as the bill backed by the Times does, would dynamite a huge loophole through the very First Amendment that also guarantees freedom of the press to The Times and other newspapers.
More Missile Defense: An article in the international section today reports that "A group of more than 40 American scholars on China and former diplomats is urging President Clinton to delay a decision on whether to build a national missile defense."
A group letter like this is the sort of publicity stunt that often doesn't tell you very much about the merits of a particular issue; it would probably be easy enough to gather 40 "scholars and former diplomats" to sign a letter urging the president to decide immediately, without a delay.
The Times tells us that the signatures were gathered by a group called the Council for a Livable World, "a private group in Washington that lobbies for nuclear disarmament." The Times doesn't tell us, but the group's web site does, that the Council for a Livable World also lobbies for "deep cuts" in American military spending, against NATO enlargement, and for more use of the United Nations in international conflict resolution. In other words, policies that would have the effect of decreasing American influence throughout the world -- and decreasing with it the chances for the spread of freedom and democracy.
The same story in the Times claims flatly that a proposed missile defense system "would violate the Antiballistic Missile Treaty signed with the Soviet Union in 1972." But the chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Jesse Helms, and some legal experts say that that treaty is no longer valid because it was signed with the Soviet Union, which no longer exists. You can't violate a treaty that is signed with a power that no longer exists, the theory goes. The Times story doesn't even take this objection into account.
Iranian 'Moderate': A story about Iran that appears in the international section today refers to "President Muhammad Khatami, a moderate cleric who has promoted the rule of law and freedom of expression." Only by the warped standards of Iran, or of the New York Times, could Khatami be considered a moderate. He denies Israel's right to exist. When students marched in the streets of Tehran a year ago protesting for freedom, he backed the brutal crackdown on them. Better the story would call him "more moderate" or "a so-called moderate" or report that he has promoted the rule of law and freedom of expression so long as they don't threaten his own regime or take place among Israeli Jews.
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