Bob Franken

The Inconvenient First Amendment

January 16, 2008
The Inconvenient First Amendment (Bob Franken)
@ 9:40 am

This is going to have more disclaimers than a pharmaceutical ad.

* I have known Dennis Kucinich and been on friendly terms with him since he was a city councilman in Cleveland.

* I have appeared occasionally on MSNBC.

* For a very long time I have been part of the MSM.

* I don’t know why, but the term “MSM” sounds kind of kinky to me.

You can decide whether any of the above affect my point of view here. They probably do.

Now to that point of view. Finally.

The Nevada judge who ruled that NBC must include Dennis Kucinich in the Tuesday night debate not only needs to go back to law school, he needs a refresher course in high school civics.

Happily, the state Supreme Court stepped in and overturned him. But it shouldn’t have been necessary.

Whether you like the media or not, particularly the aforementioned MSM, one of our fundamental principles is that government does not dictate how it covers the news.

That judge would have ultimately relied on the power of government to shut down the debate, had he prevailed, and in the process would have demolished one of the foundations of our constitutional democracy: the freedom of the press.

As to the merits of this case: While it is certainly arguable that NBC’s invitation-disinvitation of Kucinich will not win any award for gracefulness, the network, in my opinion, lurched to the correct decision.

Dennis Kucinich has had his chance. He has appeared on umpteen nationally televised debates. But in the various elections that have now been held, he has barely risen in the standings above the asterisk level.

NBC finally concluded that the time had come for an uncluttered competition between the three who have any chance whatsoever of getting the Democratic nomination.

What we got as a result was a really good, solid debate. No bells and whistles, no demagoguery, just a display of the candidates’ grasp of various issues and aptitude for political maneuvering. Still, that’s not the point here.

It’s healthy to debate whether the mainstream media are functioning as protectors of the corporations who own them, or that they, in their zeal for profits, are not covering the news as well as they should. That’s not the point here either.

The point is that Dennis Kucinich, in addition to pulling off a pretty good publicity stunt, was seeking government control of the press. He should damn well know better.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the mass media were available on an equal basis to anyone and everyone who had a point of view? Obviously they cannot be. Now we have an Internet for that.

Meanwhile, those who are turned off by MSM can agitate for improvement. But that definitely does not include government control.

They have no qualms whatsoever about looking the other way as the CIA incinerates the videos showing U.S. interrogators torturing their prisoners. Those administration attorneys who cautioned it might not be a good idea were only too happy to pull a Pontius Pilate and wash their hands of the whole matter.

What sets me off on this today is the disclosure that the White House may have simply “lost” forever 473 days’ worth of e-mail in a blatant violation of the law requiring its preservation.

Worse, officials in the administration tried to conceal the erasure from the public, even after they briefed members of Congress on a study that identified the missing communications.

Only after a Bush press spokesman brazenly insisted there was “no evidence” that the 473-day gap existed did Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the Bush gang’s worst nightmare, release the study.

What’s remarkable about all this? Sad to say, not a damned thing. Same doo-doo, different day-day.

This administration, time and again, has tried to hide its misdeeds. The motto seems to be not that the public has a right to know how its government operates, but that it’s none of the public’s damn business.

Any disclosures about their excesses in the war on terror damage national security. Efforts to reveal their shady deals with lobbyists and other fatcats are just the work of people who don’t believe in capitalism.

In that environment, destroying evidence is perfectly OK. Anyone who challenges their version of the “dog ate my homework” defense is obviously anti-dog.

Well, I love my dog. And I’d also love to have the kind of open government that is supposed to set us apart as a nation of laws.

It’s obvious that our country is in a heap of trouble. We need to know what mistakes were made so we can correct them.

The first correction is to never again elect people who believe they can get away with corruption and incompetence by simply hiding it.

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