Monday, November 3, 2014

Campaign Ads are not Free Speech

You don’t have to be a writer to feel political ads are an affront to all that is holy. They should be excommunicated. I’m a firm believer in sanctity of the First Amendment. I mean, hey – it’s number one. The victor. It is obviously bested the others in feats of necessity. But it is not exactly what people think it is and that is never more painfully apparent than on the days leading up to a national election.

The First Amendment to the US Constitution does a lot of things: gives us the right to assemble, petition the government, keeps Congress from favoring one religion over another. The First doesn’t create free speech, it protects it from the clawing hands of our elected officials. “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” See, right there. Freedom of speech exists and Congress is not allowed to mess with it. That’s why the details of this freedom are not spelled out in the Bill of Rights. And why political ads have infected it.

Your are born with the right to speak freely. Running ads is a different right altogether. As a society we’ve decided that truth in advertising is a valuable commodity. Free markets work better with reliable communication. If I say my tonic is going to fill in your bald spots, we the people have created verification methods to ensure we’re not all throwing our money away all the time.

At least with hair tonic. Not, it would seem, with politicians. They are permitted to stretch, bend and falsify all through their ads. It is up to the consumer to weigh value and fact-check. The cost of doing that renders a cost onto the speech. The fact that everyone agrees that political ads are untrustworthy – and therefore worthless – makes them even worse. Now all they do is reinforce preconceived notions. They encourage lies to fester and grow. Not holding political ads to the same standards we do toothpaste, cars and sneakers renders this kind of speech far from free. The price tag is the cost of our democracy.

Just in: Hyndai and Kia are finned $745 million dollars for stretching the truth about gas mileage on some of their cars. This, on the day before midterm elections.

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