Over the past couple of days, the comment period and the resulting debate about FEC rule-making for blogs and campaign finance reform really has me simmering. As a review, McCain-Feingold for the second* time in modern US history created a dual class of citizenship when it comes to First Amendment speech rights: The "media" (however defined) was given full speech rights without limitations during an election, while all other citizens had their first amendment rights limited.
These past few weeks, we have been debating whether this media exemption from speech restrictions should be extended to bloggers. At first, I was in favor. Then I was torn. Now, I am pissed. The more I think of it, it is insane that we are creating a 2-tiered system of first amendment rights at all, and I really don't care any more who is in which tier. Given the wording of the Constitution, how do I decide who gets speech and who doesn't - it sounds like everyone is supposed to:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
I have come to the conclusion that arguing over who gets the media exemption is like arguing about whether a Native American in 1960's Alabama should use the white or the colored-only bathroom: It is an obscene discussion and is missing the whole point, that the facilities shouldn't be segregated in the first place.
I have read my handy pocket Constitution (courtesy of the Cato Institute) through a number of times, and I have yet to find any mention of special constitutional privileges or rights for employees of major media firms. Unfortunately, we seem to act like its in there somewhere, as I wrote here as well, though in a different context.
* Footnote: This is not the first time we have created two classes of citizen when it comes to speech. Over the last 30-40 years, we have differentiated "political" speech from "commercial" speech. Until McCain-Feingold, political speech was pretty zealously protected by the courts, while we have gotten to the point that the government can pass nearly any law it wants restricting commercial speech. Here is a simplistic example. Unless I am over some spending limit, I can buy an ad in the NY Times and print in 70 point type "Bush Sucks" and no court would bat an eye. If I am a pissed off Ford customer, I can print an ad in the Times saying "Ford Sucks" and probably be fine as well. However, if I am a Honda dealer, and place an ad in the NY Times saying "Ford Sucks", I will likely get fined and slapped with an injunction.
When the Constitution says that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech" it sure seems like there aren't any qualifying words like "political" or "commercial"