By Chris Daly
Here’s a story that nicely illustrates the limits of the First Amendment. Many people wrongly think that the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech (and of “the press”) in all settings, all the time. Not so.
The First Amendment is written so that it prevents the government from censoring speech before it can reach its intended audience. The First Amendment says nothing about private parties, like Fox or News Corp. Private parties are free to censor their employees, and they are not shy about doing so.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that News Corp. would choose to censor Alec Baldwin. He has no recourse against News Corp. under the First Amendment, because there was no government action involved. His best revenge is to shout about it to every other news outlet he can find.
So, a hat tip to the NYTimes‘ Brian Stelter for giving this story some attention.
(At the same time, the whole episode implicitly makes the case for having diversity in the news media, so that even Rupert Murdoch cannot control absolutely everything.)
By Chris Daly
Today’s Times includes a “sidebar” piece (column?) by legal correspondent Adam Liptak. I found it frustrating for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it is a bit of a mystery why it is running now (except for the thin reed of the anniversary of the Citizens United ruling from the Supreme Court). There is no discernible “news peg.” But that’s not really important.
What is more frustrating is that the piece provides so few links to the scholarly literature on this vast subject. That’s where the Times could have really used the Web to help its readers go deeper. I am going to try to find some of this material and post those links here.
Meanwhile, let me throw out a thought: At the time the Founders enshrined the idea of “freedom of the press” in the Bill of Rights, the press of the day was small, local, independent, and opinionated. The typical form of ownership was a “sole proprietorship” — that is, the printer who ran the press owned the business entirely himself. But even then, many “job printers” handled printing chores for all manner of customers, including customers whom they disagreed with. So, in that scenario, who enjoyed press freedom? The owner of the business that facilitated the mass communication? The author of the words? Both?
Keep in mind, the main goal of the founders was to prevent “prior restraint” — the use of government power to prevent certain facts or ideas from ever getting published in the first place. That seems like as worthy a goal as ever. Therefore, the rights of all individual human beings who want to communicate with other individual human beings should be protected from government interference. That, it seems to me, ought to be the operating principle here.