Is Palin This Clueless About First Amendment Rights?

Is Palin This Clueless About First Amendment Rights?


I’m sorry folks, but the following argument is RIDICULOUS and I can’t believe it’s coming out of the mouth of somebody so close to the presidency…much less the Governor of one of our states.

I mean…WTF?

Palin told WMAL-AM that her criticism of Obama’s associations, like those with 1960s radical Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, should not be considered negative attacks. Rather, for reporters or columnists to suggest that it is going negative may constitute an attack that threatens a candidate’s free speech rights under the Constitution, Palin said.

“If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations,” Palin told host Chris Plante, “then I don’t know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media.”


Does she not get that the 1st Amendment isn’t designed to keep people from getting verbally attacked? In fact, it’s designed to do just the opposite, except that all speech is obviously subject to slander, libel and incitement laws. In other words you can’t print or say false things about somebody or attempt to incite violence or mayhem through your speech. But apart from that, it’s all free.

And the additional idea that she would attempt to convince base Republicans that criticism of her attacks is somehow infringing upon her 1st Amendment rights? That’s is absolutely shameful.

I hope this woman disappears back to Alaska and is completely forgotten. She is such a joke.

  • m

    Knowing that she thinks freedom of speech means freedom from criticism *about her speech* explains a thing or two about the McCain-Palin stance toward the press+being accessible to the media this election, doesn’t it?

    All this time, the goshdarn media were stomping on her 1st Amendment right to freedom from criticism–well it’s no wonder she didn’t want to give them the time of day! (Except for Fox of course, where she’s on her bazillionth interview I believe.)

  • Rich Horton

    Justin, I think amongst her standard flubbing and fumbling there may be an actual point not unworthy of discussion.

    For example, what kinds of rights do we afford a press that is demonstrably not a “free press”? A general complaint this election cycle ahs been that every issue brought up by Obama has been deemed “legitimate” while many issue brought up by Republicans have been deemed “attacks” and thus unworthy of discussion…by a press corps that is viewed by a healthy majority of Americans as friendly to Obama and unfriendly to McCain. Now, you might think such a complaint is BS, but even a hypothetical case isn’t unworthy of discussion. Particularly since there have been examples in history of other free presses which were co-opted by political forces well before the actual threat of force was directed towards them.

    An “in the tank” media is powerful enough to keep a candidates views from being widely diseminated…therefore if media begin to act as propaganda arms of political campaigns, I’m sorry, but there are civil liberties implications of that.

    Its funny, but the last five decades worth of civil right lawmaking is predicated upon upon the very ideas you are rejecting outright.

  • Mike

    Rich – You twisted the point to go on your own rant, which I suspect you did on purpose to confuse the issue.

    The free press are owned by corporations. They are entitled to print news as they see fit. That included loving Obama and attacking McCain (and vice versa on many, many conservative news outlets). Private entities are allowed to do that. If you don’t like it you are free to open your website to report the news as you see fit.

    The Vice President is the government. The government is not allowed to infringe on the newspapers, yours, mine or anyone else’s rights to report. Big difference.

    I suspect you already knew this though. If not, I suggest you take a Con Law 101 class somewhere.

  • Trescml

    I don’t think that Palin’s 1st amendment rights have been curtailed in any way, shape or form. All the press has reported that Obama has known the people in question and has reported that Palin has concerns about Obama knowing these people. I can’t see how anyone could legitimately not see this as negative attacks (what did you think Gov. Palin, that it was a positive issue based comment??!!?). I think the problem for McCain/Palin is that in general people who support Obama don’t feel it is a problem. McCain/Palin can’t find anything that says that Obama doesn’t like American, or is weak on defense, or doesn’t support Israel, so they have to go to people who he has some association with to try an scare people. It is like saying Superman is scary because he seems to hang around Lex Luthor all the time.

    This complaint to the press also shows that Palin really, really needs to get a true understanding of the Constitution. Her quote is full of holes that it is amazing that she could actually be VP of this country.

  • Alan Stewart Carl

    Rich, but what is the remedy? To regulate the press?

    To begin with, elected officials enjoy almost no rights in regard to libel and slander and they certainly have never had any protections from the biases of the press. The first amendment in no way demands the accuracy of speech or the fairness of speech. And the freedoms of the press are not conditional on objectivity and balance. I’m sure you agree ridding ourselves of the fairness doctrine was an important step towards exanding liberty.

    I understand the frustration with certain elements of the MSM who have been soft on Obama since the primaries, but it’s not an issue of free speech. It is perhaps an issue of too little speech (too many concentrated resources in the media) but the remedy for that is more speech, which plenty of conservatives already exercise to great effect within the MSM itself and from popular perches on talk radio and the Internet.

    Palin seems to think she has the right to be free from bias. She doesn’t.

  • rob

    Rich, not sure what you are talking about.

    It seems to me that the media is more in the tank for McCain than for Obama. False equivalences, covering the horse race instead of the issues. They let him go negative for a long time, before they mentioned it. And even when they did they said that wasn’t the real McCain.

    They be getting over it, but the media was McCain’s base.

  • Justin Gardner

    Okay Rich, I’ll take up that subject. Although it would be nice for you to admit that she is absolutely, 100% wrong here, regardless of whatever philosophical discussion you want to switch this to.

    But concerning how much the media is in the tank for Obama…let’s go down the list of the subjects the media has covered about Obama, shall we?

    1) Reverend Wright.

    2) Bill Ayers.

    3) Michelle Obama whitey tape.

    4) Is Obama a muslim?

    5) Is Obama an American citizen?

    6) Is he a socialist?

    7) Ties to Rashid Khalidi

    8) Ties to ACORN.

    9) Campaign donations coming from made up people.

    10) Flip flopping on campaign finance reform.

    11) Flip flopping on Telcom immunity.

    12) 2001 “spread the wealth” radio program.

    13) Joe the Plumber’s “spread the wealth” comments.

    14) Is Obama just a celebrity?

    15) Joe Biden’s comments about Obama being tested

    Would you like me to go on?

    Listen, just because the media initially covers a McCain attack and then doesn’t continue to push it to your satisfaction does not mean the media is in the tank for Obama.

    And let’s face it…since McCain’s campaign is based on the idea that Obama is not ready to lead, and he has been (up until recently) running 100% attack ads against him, the media coverage of McCain’s campaign is not going to tend towards the positive because it isn’t positive.


    Because it’s not the media’s job to push McCain’s attacks. It’s the media’s jobs to verify his attacks, and in case after case after case they have proven to either be outright falsehoods or half truths.

    And you know what Rich…I think the right wing knows this and they’re now trying to purposefully characterize the media as some type of propaganda arm to try and delegitimize this election. It is a lame, weak, pathetic attack and it shows just how bankrupt the party is right now. I implore you, don’t get caught up in this nonsense because you’ll end up looking like a hack. Break away from this before they pull you down.

    Also, let’s not forget, it’s the McCain camp who cut off access to McCain and Palin in the waning months of this campaign. It was the McCain camp who wouldn’t let Palin go on the Sunday newsers or hold her own press conferences.

    And, by the way, doesn’t Palin have a degree in journalism? She should know very well what the First Amendment allows and doesn’t allow.

    Moving on…

  • DougL

    Aside from the exceptions of libel, slander and incitement, freedom of speech means that you can say pretty much whatever you want. However, it does not protect you from the consequences of other people expressing their freedom of speech in response (subject to the same restrictions against libel, slander and incitement).

    Palin (and a lot of other people) don’t get the second part.

  • blackoutyears

    Lots of holes here. To which among the media is she referring? I read the paper of a conservative Midwestern city every day and there’s little to no characterization of the McCain/Palin ads and speeches as attacks. If we’re to complain about anything it’s the rise of punditry and its replacement of (relatively) straight news coverage. I think it’s fair to point out that the Right pioneered this in recent decades. Start by demonizing MSM sources as liberally biased, create your own outlets, start spitting your ideological talking points, and watch it metastasize. The problem now isn’t the liberal media, it’s the biased media. And Justin is right on the money. Every story on his list has been reported. Perhaps not to Palin’s liking, but it’s been reported.

    Rich, not to join the pile-on, but you’ll have to do a lot better in explaining how ours is not a free press before your point takes hold. Manipulability is hardly a virtue, and I think it’s a fair charge in many quarters, but it doesn’t equate to a lack of freedom. Lack of judgment perhaps, but then when many of us were screaming our heads off about the pass that the Bush White House was getting from the MSM in the runup to the Iraq invasion were you among our ranks? Regardless of whether or not one agreed with the invasion, the lack of rigor in reporting at that time was far more shocking than anything I’ve seen in the last 21 months.

    If someone should be griping about media coverage this year it’s probably Ron Paul. Talk about a screw job. Someone needs to tell Gov. Palin that it’s unbecoming to whine about lack of fairness in politics. Sheesh. Amateur hour.

    And of course, the top story in the thread when I logged on was the eviction by both candidates of specific news providers. Did Obama kick those three papers off his plane because they were blowing him kisses? Apparently not everyone is in the tank.

    First Amendment. Sweet Jesus is she ignorant.

  • blackoutyears

    Oops. The post on the candidates purging the media ranks was over at the Moderate Voice in case anyone cared wtf I was talking about.

  • Mulvaney

    Of course she has it backwards. Palin can say what she wants, but the First Amendment also protects freedom of the press. But why would anyone suggest that she is waging a negative campaign by talking about socialism and palling around with terrorists?

    She herself uses socialist words to describe the “collective” ownership of Alaska’s resources and how they “share the wealth.” Thus, I am sure she is not being negative.

    She also pals around with secessionist parties and encourages them to keep up the good work. Their founder died in a sale of plastic explosives, so when she talks about pallin’ around, I am sure she does not mean anything by it.

  • jax

    surprise surprise… palin shouldn’t think, she should just recite… thinking and ad lib isn’t her forte

  • ExiledIndependent

    Sarah’s got it wrong. And Justin, the mainstream media has covered the topics you mention in a softball, checkbox sort of fashion that is really deplorable. Just because a media outlet runs a story on Ayers doesn’t mean that they have effectively covered the story. There’s a long list of simple but specific questions related to each of those subjects that the mainstream media has been very careful to not ask, all while paying just enough lip service to impartiality so they can sleep at night. Even here at Donklephant we see how drastically “balance” shifts when the person in charge has a passionate political view. Nothing wrong with that, but this is a microcosmic case study of how the modern media works. Still, the media (and the bloggers!) have the right to do so. And to diminish that right in even the slightest degree is literally unAmerican.

    It will take a free market shift to influence the influencers. Until then, we consumers of information simply have to work harder to get a complete view of an issue.

  • blackout

    Softball. Checkbox. Yeah, because no one here has independently verified that most of the linkages are baseless. It couldn’t be that the MSM did the same research and called b.s. Please, EI, fill us in on the unreported aspects of Justin’s list that we should know.

  • Katie

    Palin is just another fool who believes that the the First Amendment protects her free speech but no one else’s. They are dotted everywhere in your country, in mine and probably every other country with a notion of free speech. They’re the people who fly a confederate flag but get shirty if someone flies a rainbow flag or vice versa.

    The thing about Palin is that she is just another fool who thinks a lot of thing but fails to understand; she fails to understand the constitution, the role of the VP, the role of the press, the basics of international relations, the basics of common decency and respect *wink wink* and that leaking amniotic fluid means that your baby is on the way so you should get your arse to a hospital and not on a plane.

    I honestly don’t know how in her heart of hearts she could possibly think that she should be running for VP, that being said, the most adept liars are usually quite good at lying to and believing themselves.

  • JP

    This is similar to the argument they use when stating that gay marriage violates THEIR (Christian) freedom of religion. Apparently they think their freedoms include the freedom from exposure to any differing viewpoints.

  • Rich Horton

    Mike says:

    Rich – You twisted the point to go on your own rant,

    OK point twisting = bad…I’ll remember that.

    The free press are owned by corporations. They are entitled to print news as they see fit.

    Yep. No “point twisting” there.

    Just how is Palin saying she wants to interfere with anyone or infringe upon anything? She certainly doesn’t propose any such measures.

    Alan asks:

    Rich, but what is the remedy? To regulate the press?

    I dont know. Certainly there could exist a greater toleration for political diversity in the academic circles that produce our journalists these days. Now, I’m not saying Palin is right here, I’m merely saying it isn’t complete nonsense from a theoretical point of view. (This is a very hostile age for anyone willing to take the role of Devil’s Advocate…you didnt have many of those in the days of the Salem witch trials either. Oh well.)

    Alan again:

    Palin seems to think she has the right to be free from bias. She doesn’t.

    What if it isnt her rights involved? What if we the people are unable to get more than one side of the story?

    Rob says:

    Rich, not sure what you are talking about.

    It seems to me that the media is more in the tank for McCain than for Obama.

    1. I think you must be high to believe that. (I’m having fun.)
    2. It isn’t all that important to the theoretical argument here. The question is, can we imagine a state where the media is so non-independant that our ability to get real information is threatened? Well, I can imagine it. I see it happening today in China. I hear it all the time in the threats to “regulate” the internet. (Often times by media who have seen their monopoly on public discourse eroded.) Try to imagine it the other direction with Democrats as the threatened party…see the theoretical possibilities?

    Justin weighs in:

    Okay Rich, I’ll take up that subject. Although it would be nice for you to admit that she is absolutely, 100% wrong here, regardless of whatever philosophical discussion you want to switch this to.

    Fine. She’s wrong. And I’m also certain she had NOTHING of my philosophical musings in mind when she uttered her statements. (I thought I at least implied as much.)

    Unfortunately, the rest of your post is about the minute details of this campaign and not the broader themes I was addressing.

    But if we are going to go there.

    1. There have been four “investigative reports” done by the WaPo and the NYT on Cindy McCain. How many such reports were done on Michelle Obama? (None.)

    2. There has been nothing like the “McCain had an affair!” “scoop” by the NYT. Nothing even close.

    3. Not a single MSM source attempted to cover the Annenberg Project story, even though it was a multi-million dollar education reform effort headed by Obama rather recently. (Gee, I wonder why?)

    4. A good 50% of the other things you list became stories NOT because the MSM covered them, but DESPITE their initial silence about them. Wright, Rezko, Ayers, Khalid, New Party, Joe the Plumber, ACORN, not to mention the current credit card fraud scandal, were not the results of MSM scrutiny. In fact the MSM has done little but adopt the Obama memoes on these issues as their own editorial line. Name me a McCain negative that DIDN’T originate in the MSM? (Except for maybe the incessant “He’s a cranky old guy!”…although thats been Joe Klein’s mantra for months.)

    Moving on…

  • Alan Stewart Carl

    Now, I’m not saying Palin is right here, I’m merely saying it isn’t complete nonsense from a theoretical point of view.

    That’s my favorite point of view.

    So, playing on that, is there any right for the people to receive the truth from the press? From an original intent standpoint, the press at the time of our founding was almost exclusively partisan, so it’d be hard to argue the first amendment required fair representation in the press. We’d have to say the Constitution has evolved to require a greater level of objectivity. My Con Law education ends at the college level (plus all my self ed since then) so I may be missing some cases, but I can’t think of anything that would deem biased coverage on a large scale as unconstitutional.

    In my thinking, it’s my right to seek the truth and speak the truth but the press has no obligation to give me the truth and the failure to do so doesn’t violate any of my rights.

    The first amendment is a prohibition of not a guarantee for. You reference China, but that government prohibits speech and such acts would obviously be a free speech violation here. But unless we can show a government entity is complicit in forcing the bias onto the media, I can’t find where there’d be a case.

    So, other than speaking out when we see bias, I don’t know how else to combat it.

  • Rich Horton

    “So, playing on that, is there any right for the people to receive the truth from the press?”

    Truth…ah…that I cant do. (I mean I can…but it involves Charles Sanders Peirce’s philosophical categories, his theory of logical abduction, not to mention more Kant than I like to admit to knowing. Besides, how it relates to practical politics is, well, speculative.)

    I can do John Stuart Mill. His ideas of free inquiry and expression in “On Liberty” require some preconditions. For starters, there has to be something like a marketplace of ideas, a place where all ideas can be expressed free from filtering or other types of interference. The danger, particularly in a democratic society, is that the force of common opinion will force out unpopular ideas merely on the basis of their NOT being the common opinion. This is the famed “tyranny of the majority,” which was also a concern of Tocqueville…but for different reasons of course.

    Now, older conceptions of the press viewed its job as merely operating as a conduit through which political leaders and other opinion makers transmitted their ideas to the populace. This conception of the press has largely been abandonded in favor of the “interprative model” which views the job of the press as being to tell the populace not what politicians/opinion makers SAY but what they MEAN. This has progressed to the point that what pols actually say has become less and less meaningful. (This is where the contemporary idea of a “meme” enters and plays a central role.) Notice there is no overriding concern that the “interpretation” offered about a particular subject be accurate. In fact, we are quite comfortable in the knowledge that they are not. What I mean by that is we quite happily consume “news” from sources we know are more interested in promoting a particular ideological viewpoint than anything else. We know what organs will favor this partry or that party.

    Of course, this is all OK as long as the marketplace of ideas is working. As long as everyone has free and relatively equal access than Mill’s ideals of liberty can be met. Now, the theoretical question becomes, what do we do if that marketplace is compromised? Assuming that it cannot be compromised is, I believe, foolish and more than a little naive.

    For example: the argument is made that in the press today we have a self perpetuating subculture of liberal minded activists (in the crude political sense of the term.) They are an insulated elite with their own little hoops of “professional” initiation that have had the effect, if not the design, of keeping those with competing ideological visions marginalized. Now, largely because they have admittedly rejected the older conception of the press as a neutral player in favor of the “interprative model” AND they have effectively excluded other perspectives from the prefession (most surveys on the matter posit a 7-1 to 9-1 ratio – yeah…thats just an “accident”), we are developing a situation where one of the major political parties will have a difficult time expressing their ideas and getting them across to people without their being “intepreted” and filtered in a nagative fashion by an unfriendly press.

    At this point throwing up your hands and saying “bias is inevitable” isn’t going to cut it. That would result in saying it is ok to destroy the marketplace of ideas, and thus, by implication, it is ok to discriminate against ideas those in power dislike. (Which I’m hoping most of us do not want.) Neither would schemes such as the “fairness doctrine,” which merely introduces the interested parties as judges in their own cases (never a good idea), help us solve this dilemma.

    What is needed I think, is A) the outright rejection of the interpretive model of the press. I dont see how having a “ethics” that says “you cant be objective, so dont even bother trying” is an improvement over one that says, “objectivity is always the goal, even if it is often elusive…for that reason vigilence is forever couselled.” B) the lessening of importance of schools of journalism as entry points for the profession. The tendency to liberal monoculture in these programs is legendary. Besides, I’d rather have a reporter writing about economics who has an MBA to one with a journalism degree.

    These are modet proposals which I am sure would not guarentee a free and open marketplace of ideas…but they would lessen the impact of the ills that are currently visible.

    Now, let me make it clear, that I do not think the argument I made above is fully fiunctional. Obviously the press is not quite as monolithic as the argument supposes…but it does seem to be trending that way.

  • RPC

    I don’t see how conservatives can continue to complain that they do not get an equal voice in the press when the most watched news network in America is Fox and the most listened to radio program is Rush Limbaugh.

    Palin’s comments are just another example of the longstanding conservative ploy of pinning the “liberal media” label on any news outlet that is not willing to regurgitate their talking points. On the other hand Rush Limbaugh is a true American hero for basically scripting his show according to what the Bush administration and the Republican party asks him to say. Hooey!!

    It is little wonder that Palin was chosen to pander to certain elements of the Republican base. The things that come out of her mouth are nearly identical to the ridiculous right-wing conspiracy-theory nonsense that fills up my E-mail from my conservative friends. There is no question that the Rush Limbaugh crowd loves this woman.

  • David

    So now Palin’s choice as VP is really beginning to be exposed. Her “qualities” are strikingly similar to Bush’s. She’s gullible enough to believe that she is actually qualified, ambitious enough to believe she can pull it off and mentally incapable of standing up to her party’s leaders, leaving herself easily manipulated/molded into believing what she is led to believe.

  • Alan Stewart Carl


    It seems that you would argue that the remedy is in systematical/philisophical changes and not in Constitutional law. Would you agree that even if Palin’s larger point was accurate (the supression of one idea set in favor of another), her invocation of the First Amendment was probably ill-considered because it leaves the impression that there is something unconstitutional about the media’s coverage? As you point out, there are plenty of reasons to worry about the tyranny of the majority in the press, but none of those really fit into Constitutional requirements or prohibitions.

  • Rich Horton

    Would you agree that even if Palin’s larger point was accurate (the supression of one idea set in favor of another), her invocation of the First Amendment was probably ill-considered because it leaves the impression that there is something unconstitutional about the media’s coverage?

    In the sense that they are individual rights, yes, Palin’s statements are a little silly.

    But then again, thats the way we talk about the first amendment. How many times, for example, is the word “censorship” invoked where there has been no attempt on the part of the state to keep anyone from publishing anything. Obviously, we are not really talking about “censorship” in those cases, but it doesn’t mean there are not real issues about the way, for example, libraries handle contrversial material. So the argument becomes not about the actual “right to publish” but the context within which such rights can be exercised.

    So if we look at this situation in this light (i.e. not Republicans appeal to their individual 1st amendment rights, but an argument about the context – the public space we set aside for political discourse), there can be an argument made that there comes a point where we can make an individuals use of their free speech rights meaningless.

    This is why I brought up the example of civil rights legislation. The courts found, rightly, that it didn’t matter if literacy laws for voting were neutrally written. What mattered was how those laws functioned in the actual context people were living in, where one group of people were A) less well educated as a result of deliberate governmental policy, and B) subject to greater scrutiny than other more favored groups of people.

    In a similar way, there has been much talk over the years about the “unfair playing field” powerful (and wealthy) special interests have when it comes to presenting/promoting their ideas in the public arena. There have, indeed, been attempts to limit their access (McCain/Feingold anyone?), not because any individuals free speech rights had been denied, but because the context, the arena of ideas, had been skewed or toherwise compromised. Now, these sorts of concerns and attempts at remedy have been deemed OK by the Supreme Court (much to the chagrin of Conservatives at the time), but if that is the world we live in, then so be it.

    I guess that is why I responded in the first place. I wondered if Justin’s problem with it was not that he was against these types of concerns as a class…but he was against them this time because it was raised by a Republican.

  • Alan Stewart Carl

    Rich — you’re right that people often mention the First Amendment in a context where the government has not acted. (i.e. people who have their comments removed on a blog often complain their freedom of speech is being violated although that’s not accurate in any legal sense).

    This has been a great conversation. I’m not one to make a big issue out of media bias, but there is certainly more than enough reason to be on the look out for it and we should have ideas as to how to counteract it. I take heart that the media world is diversifying more than it is consolodating thanks the the Internet. Us bloggers may be the pamphleteers of the modern world, but at least we are open about our biases. Sure, it’s a lot messier to have to dig through multiple information sources in search of “the truth,” but it is certainly a system more conducive to liberty than one in which just a few centralized media tell us all they deem worth knowing.

  • Rich Horton

    This has been a great conversation.

    Agreed. Know what would make it better?


  • Alan Stewart Carl

    Beer is the perfect complement to politics. There’s a reason why the Revolution started in a Public House in Willaimsburg.

  • roger

    Most of you have a COMPREHENSION problem. Including the author of this article

    “Does she not get that the 1st Amendment isn’t designed to keep people from getting verbally attacked?”

    Sarah doesn’t say anything about the first amendment protecting her from the MEDIA. She indicated we all have first amendment rights.. including herself and Joe the plumber, but if people constantly get attacked by the liberal and biased media there might at some point be a fear of speaking out.

    If you listen to the interview you can understand she DID NOT imply that the media is violating her first amendment rights. Make sure to read the part about Joe the plumber.

    From the interview..
    “I don’t think that they are doing their job when they suggest that calling a candidate out on their record, their plans for this country and their associations is mean spirited or negative campaigning. If they convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations then I don’t know what the future of our country would be in terms of first amendment rights, and our ability to ask questions with out fear of attacks by the main stream media. Look at Joe the plumber, good ole Joe the plumber in Toledo Ohio. He just asked a simple straight forward question and the media started investigating and attacking him. So.. you know there is some fear there and and in those terms I don’t think they have been doing their job in that kind of context.”

    All of you armchair quarterbacks who think you are smarter or more capable that Sarah Palin wouldn’t last a 20 minutes with her in a face to face debate. You are all seem to be weak sexist men who google for information after the fact. yeah that makes you soooo smart.. good grief..