Editorial: Voters don’t need protection from free speech

Democrats never let the inconvenient facts get in the way of their blindly held firm belief that money is the root of all evil and the ultimate bane of democracy.

You know, beliefs like the one that the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission — that found a federal law prohibiting people from spending their own money to make their political opinions and desires known could not pass constitutional muster — was wrong, wrong, wrong.

The 5-4 Citizens United ruling overturned a portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law under which the FEC barred the airing of a movie produced by Citizens United that was critical of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary.

Democrats have been fighting against the ruling ever since, claiming it lets the rich and powerful and deep-pocketed corporations buy elections. They’ve even floated the idea of amending that portion of the Bill of Rights prohibiting Congress from abridging freedom of speech.

Of course, Nevada’s Democratic delegation to Congress has been in the thick of it. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen have signed on as sponsors of the proposed amendment, which would allow Congress and the states to “distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.”

Cortez Masto proclaimed, “A constitutional amendment putting the democratic process back in the hands of voters will help ensure that our government represents the will of Americans, not just the wealthy few.”

Rosen chimed in, “Our elections should be decided by the voters — but because of Citizens United, billionaires and corporate interests can spend as much money as they want to elect politicians to do their bidding.”

Pay no attention to the fact President Donald Trump was outspent two-to-one by the aforementioned Hillary Clinton.

Over on the House side Nevada Democratic Reps. Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford have co-sponsored the 600-page H.R. 1, dubiously dubbed “For the People Act,” which, along with other things, would require increased disclosure of donors and online advertisers.

All in the name of muting the power of money’s influence over elections.

Pay no attention to the facts just presented by the outcome of the Democratic presidential nominating process.

According to news accounts, former New York mayor and billionaire Mike Bloomberg recently dropped out of that competition after spending somewhere between $500 million and $700 million of his estimated $60 billion net worth. That netted him a grand total of 61 delegates out of the nearly 4,000 delegates awarded thus far.

Then there is the case of Tom Steyer, who is said to be worth a paltry $1.6 billion but spent more than $250 million of his own money on his failing presidential campaign through the end of January. He netted no delegates whatsoever.

Both of the these candidates were allowed the freedom of speech to disseminate their messages and arguments loudly and frequently. But as Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion in Citizens United, “The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”

The poor pliable voters don’t need to be protected from political speech. They can think for themselves — as the facts have again borne out.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Branco cartoon

Newspaper column: No primaries would be better than blanket primaries

An initiative petition filed two weeks ago would, if successful, make political parties in Nevada largely irrelevant.

The proposal filed by Reno Republican state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer seeks to change the June primary elections to a blanket system in which all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, would be voted on by all registered voters no matter their party affiliation or no party affiliation. The top two vote getters would advance to the General Election in November, no matter their party affiliations, if any.

A bill that would have done the same thing failed to get a vote in the 2017 legislative session.

This proposed change applies to statewide constitutional offices and other partisan races, such as the state Assembly and Senate and local political offices, as well as U.S. House and Senate elections. The presidential nomination process would still be determined by party caucuses.

Currently the state conducts primaries for the two major parties — Republican and Democrat — in which only registered voters who are members of those parties my participate. The winner in each party advances to the November ballot. Up until 2015 if one party did not post a candidate in a given race, the top two vote getters of the other party would advance to November. The Legislature changed the law so that only the winner of the party primary advanced. This resulted in some races being uncontested, though third party candidates such as the Independent American Party and the Libertarian Party of Nevada could and did file for the General Election.

In fact, in one Assembly race in 2016 a Libertarian candidate garnered nearly 40 percent of the vote in the General Election.

The blanket system — sometimes pejoratively called the “jungle primary” system — apparently would require all candidates to be on the primary ballot, leaving voters only two choices in November.

Kieckhefer told the online Nevada Independent news outlet, “I’ve always had a fundamental problem with the idea we have taxpayer-funded elections, but citizens are required to join a private organization to participate. That always tasted wrong to me.”

According to data posted by the Secretary of State’s office 29 percent of Nevada’s active registered voters are either nonpartisan or registered as members of a minor party. Democrats account for 38 percent and Republicans 33 percent.

Frankly, we agree with the state senator about the unfairness of the state funding only the primaries of the two major parties. The whole concept of partisan party politics is to facilitate persons of like-minded political persuasions to organize and select candidates that promise to advance a given philosophy of governance.

We’ve never been in favor of forcing all taxpayers, including nonpartisans and members of other parties, to pay for the primaries the state conducts for just two parties. Let them pay for their primaries or caucuses or smoke-filled backrooms.

A blanket primary system makes it more difficult for the average voter to weigh the various candidates based on past allegiances and opens the opportunity for Fifth Column candidates to claim to be what they are not. Faux Democrats or faux Republicans could flood the ballot and split the vote for a party’s real favorite. It also lessens the visibility and potential for third party candidates who likely would be eliminated in the primary.

There is currently talk of South Carolina Republicans being encouraged to vote for socialist Bernie Sanders in that state’s primary to keep the Democratic presidential contest in turmoil. This is reminiscent of Rush Limbaugh’s self-styled “Operation Chaos” in 2008 in which he encouraged Republicans to vote for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama to weaken Obama’s chances in November.

Politics is messy. Blanket state-run primaries create a different mess. One problem is called splintering, in which one party has perhaps only two candidates in the primary and another has a dozen office seekers, increasing the likelihood of one party winning both General Election slots.

Adding to the potential tumult, in 2019 lawmakers approved a law allowing people to register to vote on the day of an election.

For this proposal to advance backers must gather nearly 100,000 valid signatures by November with about 25,000 coming in each congressional district. If successful, the initiative would be presented to the 2021 Legislature, which would have 40 days to approve it. If not, it would appear on the 2022 ballot.

No primary would be better than a blanket primary. Let the parties choose their candidates as they see fit and at their own expense. That is freedom of association, and gives voters clearer choices.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Stick a sock in it!

Thank goodness we don’t live in a democracy.

A recent survey by the Campaign for Free Speech found that fully 51 percent of voting-aged Americans agree that the First Amendment goes too far in allowing hate speech and should be updated to reflect the current culture of supercilious sensitivity. Only 42 percent disagreed and only 24 percent strongly disagreed. Sadly, of those aged 18-34 fully 59 percent agreed.

Adding insult to injury, 57 percent agreed that the government should be able to take action against newspapers and TV stations that publish content that is biased, inflammatory, or false. Only 35 percent disagreed. Again, 63 percent of those aged 18-34 agreed.

And a vast majority don’t really understand what the First Amendment really means for free speech. That’s because 79 percent agreed with this statement: “The First Amendment allows anyone to say their opinion no matter what, and they are protected by law from any consequences of saying those thoughts or opinions.” No, government can’t do anything about your free speech, but you can be fired, ostracized, kicked out of clubs, churches and schools. There are consequences.

Further, 48 percent think hate speech should be against the law, compared to only 31 percent who disagree and an amazing 21 percent who don’t know. Of those who agree hate speech should be illegal, 54 percent think the punishment should include possible jail time.

Unfortunately, responses were not broken down by political party.

James Madison on democracies:

A pure Democracy, by which I mean a Society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the Government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of Government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party, or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is, that such Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives, as they have been violent in their deaths.

 

 

 

Editorial: Nevada senators back amendment abridging free speech

Nevada Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto, left, and Jacky Rosen. (R-J file pix)

This past week every Democratic member of the U.S. Senate — including Nevada Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen — signed on as sponsors of a proposed constitutional amendment that would rip the heart from the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution — the part that says, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech …”

The Democracy for All Amendment, as it is wrongly called, would overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. That 5-4 ruling overturned a portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law under which the Federal Election Commission barred the airing of a movie produced by Citizens United that was critical of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary.

The court said the First Amendment was written to protect speech, no matter who the speaker may be, whether an individual or a group, such as a corporation or a union.

The proposed amendment would allow Congress and the states to “distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.”

Sen. Cortez Masto put out a press release saying the amendment is intended to get big money out of politics. “Citizens United opened the floodgates for big money in politics by wrongly allowing corporations and special interests to buy undue influence in American elections,” Nevada’s senior senator wrote. “It’s time the effects of this disastrous ruling were reversed. A constitutional amendment putting the democratic process back in the hands of voters will help ensure that our government represents the will of Americans, not just the wealthy few.”

Sen. Rosen has long been a proponent of overturning Citizens United. During her campaign against Sen. Dean Heller, she declared, “Washington hasn’t been listening to the needs of Nevadans because billionaires and special interests are drowning out the voices of real people in our communities. If we’re going to make real progress on issues like climate change, gun violence and health care, then we need to bring some transparency and accountability to our broken campaign finance system. Unlike Senator Heller, I will stand up for Nevadans by speaking out for real reform and a reversal of this catastrophic Supreme Court decision.”

Ironically, the amendment concludes by stating, “Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.’’

Who do they think owns the “press” in the United States? Billionaires and corporations, such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, and casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who owns the largest newspaper in Nevada. A handful of giant corporations own the vast majority of news media outlets in this country. In order to get around this amendment, all a billionaire or corporation has to do is buy a “press.”

In fact, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in Citizens United, singled out the media exemption that was written into McCain-Feingold. Kennedy wrote, “The media exemption discloses further difficulties with the law now under consideration. There is no precedent supporting laws that attempt to distinguish between corporations which are deemed to be exempt as media corporations and those which are not. ‘We have consistently rejected the proposition that the institutional press has any constitutional privilege beyond that of other speakers.’ … And the exemption results in a further, separate reason for finding this law invalid: Again by its own terms, the law exempts some corporations but covers others, even though both have the need or the motive to communicate their views.”

Aren’t political parties themselves tantamount to corporations — groups of individuals uniting their voices and money in furtherance of a political agenda. Should political parties be silenced?

As Justice Kennedy concluded, “The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”

Congress should not deem itself the arbiter of who gets to speak and who must be gagged. Cortez Masto and Rosen should reverse course.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Newspaper column: Book offers historic perspective on the press

The premise of conservative commentator Mark Levin’s new book, “Unfreedom of the Press,” is that modern journalism has devolved into an opinionated, group-think pack of politically partisan propagandists who oppose President Trump at every turn and think he is a danger to freedom of the press.

While we don’t think that conclusion is totally valid, the book does offer a worthy historic perspective on the behaviors of the press and our presidents.

Levin notes that for more than a century the American press was unabashedly partisan, often surviving on printing contracts from the party in power when the newspapers were able to put them there. He seems to accept the notion that sometime early in the 19th Century journalists altruistically embraced the concept of objectivity.

Actually the conversion was mostly profit-motivated. It was borne of the penny press.

The newspaper business model changed from being dependent on government printing contracts and political party handouts to one of being supported by advertisers, whose customers paid the same for a pair of shoes no matter which party they embraced. So why alienate half of your potential customers with partisanship? The newspaper that delivered the highest readership fetched the highest advertising dollar.

Levin’s book does point out correctly that Trump’s often repeated and tweeted animus for the press is benign compared to past presidents.

With the ink still damp on the First Amendment President John Adams pushed through the Federal Congress a series of Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. These acts made it a crime to “write, print, utter or publish … any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute …” The penalty was a fine or imprisonment for up to two years.

Under those laws more than 20 Republican newspaper editors were arrested and some were imprisoned. Among those was newspaperman James Callender who called Adams a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” These details are not in the book, by the way.

Levin notes Abraham Lincoln enforced censorship during the Civil War and jailed several reporters, editors and publishers.

Newspaper column: Free speech is not violence

The leftists have yet to learn that the proper response to speech they don’t like is to counter with more speech, reasoned speech. No, their first and constant response is: Shut up!

This is what happened after President Trump criticized a maladroit comment made by Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat and Muslim, in a speech before the Council on American-Islamic Relations. She said, “CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

Trump tweeted a video splicing together Omar’s tone-deaf “some people did something” with footage of the World Trade Towers collapsing. It was captioned, “WE WILL NEVER FORGET.”

A number of Democrats immediately demanded that the video be taken down because it might incite violence against Omar, and Omar herself said she had been subjected to numerous death threats. Never mind that CAIR has been accused of supporting terrorist organizations such as Hamas or that it actually was founded in 1994.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted, “It is wrong for the President, as Commander-in-Chief, to fan the flames to make anyone less safe.”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote on Twitter, “The President is inciting violence against a sitting Congresswoman — and an entire group of Americans based on their religion. It’s disgusting. It’s shameful. And any elected leader who refuses to condemn it shares responsibility for it.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, another Democratic presidential candidate, joined in by tweeting, “Ilhan Omar is a leader with strength and courage. She won’t back down to Trump’s racism and hate, and neither will we. The disgusting and dangerous attacks against her must end.”

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, another Democratic presidential contender, criticized Trump during a speech, saying, “This is an incitement of violence against Congresswoman Omar — against our fellow Americans who happened to be Muslim.”

The always outspoken and equally maladroit New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the video an “outright, dangerous targeting of a member of Congress.”

Fellow Democrat and Muslim Rep. Rashida Tlaib tweeted that Trump took “Ilhan’s words out of context to incite violence toward her …”

Inciting violence?

We don’t seem to recall Sanders being chastised thusly after a supporter of his candidacy shot up a Republican baseball practice, seriously wounding Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Nor do we recall anguish over the many political and media attacks against Trump, despite the number of threats the Secret Service fields.

As for the legal definition of inciting violence, the Supreme Court nailed that in the 1969 case of Brandenburg v. Ohio when it struck down an Ohio law making it illegal to advocate violence. The court held, “Freedoms of speech and press do not permit a State to forbid advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”

Of course some Democrats are hand wringing over the possibility that some crazy person might be incentivized to act out violently due to Trump’s remarks, which clearly did not advocate violence of any kind.. If the crazy person standard is all it takes to silence criticism, then no speech is safe.

As for condoning violence, it was Rep. Omar who wrote a letter to a judge in 2016 asking for leniency for nine men charged with planning to join ISIS.

“A long-term prison sentence for one who chose violence to combat direct marginalization is a statement that our justice system misunderstands the guilty. A restorative approach to justice assesses the lure of criminality and addresses it,” Omar wrote.

“The desire to commit violence is not inherent to people — it is the consequences of systematic alienation; people seek violent solutions when the process established for enacting change is inaccessible to them.”

The answer to solving social and political issues is open and free discussion resulting in actions to combat wrongs, not violence. Using the specter of violence to gag free speech is fundamentally against everything this country was founded on and stands for.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Nevada press shield law protects bloggers

Unlike too many jobs in this country there is no such thing as a licensed journalist, but a Carson City judge has found such in the penumbra of Nevada’s press shield law.

Normally those in the press don’t seek any privilege not accorded any other citizen, but by the very nature of the job — showing up at fires and car crashes, attending public meetings, poking into nooks and crannies of government and society, asking questions and quoting people — there needed to be a means to keep the press independent and not be dragged into court hearings or depositions every other week.

That’s the purpose behind the state press shield law. It prohibits giving the third-degree to the Fourth Estate. Otherwise, there would be considerable disincentive for people to talk to reporters, because reporters could be forced to testify about them or reveal their identities.

Sam Toll

The law says, “No reporter, former reporter or editorial employee of any newspaper, periodical or press association or employee of any radio or television station may be required to disclose any published or unpublished information obtained or prepared by such person in such person’s professional capacity in gathering, receiving or processing information for communication to the public, or the source of any information procured or obtained by such person, in any legal proceeding …”

The devil apparently is in the details.

Earlier this month District Court Judge James Wilson Jr. ordered Sam Toll, creator of The Storey Teller blog, to disclose his sources for a story about Storey County Commissioner and brothel owner Lance Gilman, who is suing Toll for defamation. Toll reported that sources told him the commissioner does not actually live in his district.

Toll wrote in a recent op-ed for the Las Vegas newspaper, “Gilman, one of the wealthiest men in Northern Nevada, insists he lives in a double-wide trailer behind the swimming pool at the Mustang Ranch brothel rather than the home he owns in Washoe Valley. Evidence and interviews I conducted suggest otherwise. In order to be a Storey County commissioner, you must reside in the district you represent.”

The judge concluded Toll is a reporter, but he failed to “provide facts, legal authority, or argument that the Storey Teller is a periodical …” Hair splitting. The law says periodical, which is a journal appearing periodically.

Instead of a press, a blogger uses a computer. It can be argued that Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanack” was America’s first blog — self-written, self-printed, self-promoted. Print on paper or print in the ether. It is a distinction without a difference.

The First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press was extended to radio and television without hesitation.

The judge further concluded Toll is not a reporter for a newspaper and did not join the Nevada Press Association until August 2017 and thus must reveal sources obtained prior to then.

Toll is not a reporter of or for the Press Association. He is a member. It is not a licensing body.

The state Supreme Court has recognized the shield law’s important function for the citizenry.

Justice Myron Leavitt opined in a case in 2000 in which a plaintiff tried to force a Las Vegas newspaper reporter to reveal his sources: “Nevada’s news shield statute serves an important public interest and provides absolute protection against compelled disclosure to ensure that through the press, the public is able to make informed political, social and economic decisions.”

Clark County judges have twice interpreted the shield law differently. In 2014 two judges ruled that the Mesquite Citizen Journal and its reporter, “although an online only news media source,” were protected by the shield law from being forced to reveal communications and records related to a series of stories about the local water district. In 2016 a judge denied demands to review a film maker’s unpublished notes and video interviews with a witness in a criminal case, ruling the press privilege also extended to the film maker.

Despite those rulings, Judge Wilson granted Gilman’s motion to compel Toll to reveal sources of information prior to August 2017 and gave the parties until April 12 for discovery to be completed.

For his part, Toll has said he is willing to be jailed before he will reveal sources. “Integrity is the most precious currency we have as journalists. Without it, the public would not entrust us with the information we need to help protect society from wrongdoers,” Toll wrote.

Let’s hope this current case is appealed and results in a similar outcome to that of the Mesquite Citizen Journal and the film maker.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.