Why I Love Fox News

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First, let
me point out that I don't watch Fox news… or headline news… or CNN…
or MSNBC… or my local affiliates. In fact, I abhor Fox News' worship
of the state just as much as I detest CNN's worship of the state.
The only difference between the two networks is each supports a
different prince and each advocates their man's assumption to the
throne.

Many people
hate Fox News. That's fine with me. As an economist, I understand
the concept of voting with your dollars. If you like a TV show,
watch it. If you don't like the show, then don't watch. It's that
simple. Furthermore, by that logic it is obvious that many people
enjoy Fox News; Fox continues to sell advertising. However, many
people in this country have decided that the "live-and-let-live"
approach is no longer acceptable.

The folks over
at Moveon.org have a petition which asks the FTC to shut down Fox
News because of misleading advertising (fair and balanced). That
is, they don't like the Fox message and are attempting to use the
coercive power of the state to silence that message. Many of you
reading this article today may be echoing that same sentiment. You
may believe that the Fox message is so destructive that it would
be best if the government were to shut down the network. I disagree.
Once you allow the government to decide whose voice may be heard,
liberty becomes nothing more than a charade.

A Little
History

Attacks on
speech by government are nothing new. Most of us are familiar with
Britain's Stamp Tax. Begun in 1699 as a temporary measure, it was
increased in 1712 in response to the popularity of political pamphlets.
After all, the British government couldn't have rabble-rousers pointing
out the shortcomings of the politicians and their policies. It was
that same Stamp Tax which helped push American colonists towards
revolution.

The founders
of the United States were well aware of how government could stifle
political speech. Therefore, those founders added to our Constitution
the First Amendment stating that, "Congress shall make no law…
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." How quickly did American political
hacks forget the reasons behind those words.

  • In 1798,
    a mere nine years after the United States elected George Washington
    as President, Congress passed The Seditions Act of July 14,
    which stated that, "if any person shall 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… [that person] shall be punished by a fine not exceeding
    two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment not exceeding two years."

    Anyone
    familiar with the Seditions Act immediately points out the fact
    that the office of Vice President is missing from the list of
    those who may not be questioned. This is due to the fact
    that Jefferson was the VP and was a staunch anti-federalist,
    all of whom opposed such tyranny.

    The Federalists
    quickly submitted their lists of "political enemies"
    and caused to be arrested twenty five people, most of whom were
    prominent newspaper editors. However, one of the arrestees was
    Matthew Lyon, a sitting Congressman who publicly spoke against
    Adams' push for war.

  • Lincoln,
    in a May 18th, 1864 order to General John Dix, wrote,
    "You will take possession by military force, of the printing
    establishments of the New York World and Journal of
    Commerce… and prohibit any further publication thereof…. You
    are therefore commanded forthwith to arrest and imprison… the
    editors, proprietors and publishers of the aforesaid newspapers
    (DiLorenzo, Thomas J. 2002. The
    Real Lincoln
    ).
  • The Seditions
    Act of 1918 states that, "whoever, when the United States
    is at war, shall willfully utter, print, write or publish any
    disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form
    of government of the United States or the Constitution of the
    United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States,
    or the flag of the United States… shall be punished by a fine
    of not more than $10,000 or the imprisonment for not more than
    twenty years, or both."

    Hundreds
    of people were arrested for speaking out against the war. Notably,
    many were arrested due to the fact that this act made illegal
    speaking out against the draft.

  • Until 1987
    we lived under the Fairness Doctrine. Broadcasters operate
    at the pleasure of the FCC which has dictated that, as broadcast
    waves are a scarce good, broadcasters must give equal time to
    both sides of controversial arguments (read: political speech)
    or relinquish their license (the idea that broadcast waves are
    more scarce than paper and ink was thoroughly trounced by Coase).
    Even though this law was abolished by the FCC in 1987, it continues
    to be cited today. During the last presidential election, an owner
    of a broadcast company decided to show an unflattering John Kerry
    documentary. Kerry responded by stating the broadcaster must give
    him equal time to respond (the legal question, to my knowledge,
    remains unanswered as the broadcaster succumbed to pressure from
    advertisers).
  • Similar
    attacks often rise in congress against "conservative radio"
    stating that laws must be passed to give the left equal time in
    America's heartland.

Today

The single
most egregious law meant to stifle free speech which has been passed
in my lifetime is, of course, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform
Act which limited how much money may be contributed to a political
candidate. The Supreme Court upheld the law; however in his dissent
(which is well worth reading in its entirety), Justice Antonin
Scalia wrote
:

This is a
sad day for the freedom of speech. Who could have imagined that
the same Court which, within the past four years, has sternly
disapproved of restrictions upon such inconsequential forms of
expression as virtual child pornography…, tobacco advertising…,
dissemination of illegally intercepted communications…, and sexually
explicit cable programming…, would smile with favor upon a law
that cuts to the heart of what the First Amendment is meant to
protect: the right to criticize the government. For that is what
the most offensive provisions of this legislation are all about.
We are governed by Congress, and this legislation prohibits the
criticism of Members of Congress by those entities most capable
of giving such criticism loud voice: national political parties
and corporations, both of the commercial and the not-for-profit
sort. It forbids pre-election criticism of incumbents by corporations,
even not-for-profit corporations, by use of their general funds;
and forbids national-party use of “soft” money to fund “issue
ads” that incumbents find so offensive.

Originally,
the McCain-Feingold-Anti-Free-Speech-Act exempted political communication
on the internet. However, in the fall of 2004, that exemption was
overturned by District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly who wrote, that
the “commission’s exclusion of Internet communications from the
coordinated communications regulation severely undermines” the law’s
purpose. Therefore, according to the Federal Elections Commission,
coordination on the internet must be regulated.

Here's the
fun part… an
interview with the FEC's Bradley Smith
, neatly summarized in
the following statement
from Wikipedia
, notes that the Act may "consider political
statements as being the equivalent of campaign donations. Because
access to internet statements are weakly controlled, the campaign
value of statements is not known in advance and a high ultimate
value may trigger large fines for violations."

Let's follow
the logic… in order to present a level playing field (sic) in political
campaigns, the Act limits the amount of money which any one person
may donate to a candidate. However, the Act considers political
statements to be the equivalent of campaign donations and must
be controlled.

Allow me to
present some math which even I can understand:

If political
statement = campaign contribution

Then,
campaign contribution must equal political statement

Ta-dahhh!

Campaign contributions
are, in fact, political speech, are explicitly protected
by the United States Constitution and may not be abridged
by law (notwithstanding the opinions of messieurs McCain and Feingold).

A Short
Conclusion

We must never
allow the government to dictate to us what we can say and to whom
we can speak. Free Speech is that barrier which helps to keep tyranny
at bay. If we stand silent as the government shuts down Fox News,
or CNN or Rush Limbaugh, or the Weekly World Workers News,
what will we say when they come for LewRockwell.com?

March
28, 2007

Rob
Blackstock [send him mail]
teaches economics at Louisiana Tech University and is the Senior
Economist for American Economic Services.

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