GOP leader says news media employ First Amendment double standard

Monday, July 24, 2000
Tom DeLay

WASHINGTON — House Majority Whip Tom DeLay has taken aim at the
news media, accusing the nation’s major newspapers of seeking to undermine the
rights of free political speech by endorsing campaign reform while
simultaneously using the First Amendment to justify their own operations and
other forms of free speech.

In a July 20 speech at the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank,
DeLay, R-Texas, said the people who are the most enthusiastic in pushing for
campaign reform are “big government liberals,” journalists and “politicians
trying to make friends with journalists and big-government liberals.”

“Talk about distinctions without differences,” DeLay quipped.

DeLay, who holds the third highest Republican leadership position in
the House, said the media’s “newfound enthusiasm for sharp restrictions on
speech is baffling.”

“It is nothing less than a total reversal, an absolute abandonment of
what had, until very recently, been a core principle,” DeLay said. “And I do
not exaggerate when I suggest that support for speech restrictions among the
media establishment is overwhelming. In fact, by my count, 8 of the 10 largest
daily newspapers in the United States back limits on purely political

Ironically, he said, those same newspapers will often go to the mat to
defend other forms of free speech. He cited an editorial from
The New York Times, calling nude
dancing “an expressive activity that conveys a distinct artistic message
warranting free-speech protection” as an example.

“The New York Times, an unapologetic supporter of speech rationing,
would have us believe that nude dancers are entitled to more First Amendment
speech protection than those who engage in actual speech,” DeLay said. “After
all, this would be the result of adopting the concurrent editorial positions of
the Times on nude dancing and legislation limiting political discussion.

“Pure political speech deserves more zealous constitutional protection
than the expressive art form practiced by strippers,” DeLay said. “That
journalists, of all people, would oppose this idea is simply remarkable.”

DeLay said both liberal activists and the news media have
“self-interest” in mind when they endorse campaign-reform proposals such as the
one sponsored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis. That
proposal seeks to ban “soft money” — the unlimited and unregulated
contributions from corporations, labor unions and individuals to political
parties. The proposal also deals with ads that purportedly deal with issues but
are actually advocating the defeat or election of certain candidates.

“Bigger government is always a good thing for those who make
bureaucracy their business — a group that includes, quite obviously, the
full range of liberal activists,” DeLay said. “Reducing the ability of private
industry to speak out against high taxes, excessive regulations and enormous
spending would make the job of expanding government infinitely easier.

“The media’s calculation is just as basic as the one made by big
government liberals: the fewer competing sources of information, the better,”
he continued. “It’s a simple case of existing businesses pushing out rivals and
imposing new barriers to entry.”

Although publishers and television network officials might dispute
that statement, DeLay said at a minimum, there is the “appearance of
impropriety, what you might call a conflict of interest.” He issued his own
challenge to news organizations advocating campaign-finance reform:

“Let the Fourth Estate, in the name of reform, accept the same
restrictions on political speech they would so happily impose on the rest of
the country. This would include having the government, when necessary,
identify, value and possibly restrict certain editorials as inappropriate
political speech. And the government should and would make such a determination
when — and let me apply the language of the original McCain-Feingold
(bill) — ‘a reasonable person would understand’ those editorials ‘as
advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identifiable candidate’.”

“I would not hold my breath for a response from the media to my
suggestion,” DeLay said.

Rather than attack the First Amendment, DeLay said it should be used
as the ultimate campaign-reform law.

“To preserve the liberty won by our Founders, we must embrace the
First Amendment’s clear and unambiguous protection of political speech,” he
said. “Rediscovering our precious political freedom requires campaign reform
that welcomes the greatest number and diversity of voices; reform that exposes
no citizen who holds unpopular convictions to the threat of retaliation; reform
that relies on unrestrained and vibrant political expression as a potent
defense against tyranny.”

“Senator (Eugene) McCarthy (a Minnesota Democrat) had it exactly right
when he said, ‘The best campaign reform law ever written was the First
Amendment.’ Unfettered political speech, along with the right to bear arms, is
the most certain means we possess of protecting the rest of our freedoms,”
DeLay said.

The Texas lawmaker said he intended to counter any efforts to restrict
political speech through campaign-reform legislation with a proposal of his own
to expand disclosure of the identities of “anyone contributing to a candidate
for federal office, a political action committee or to a political party.”

In addition, he urged tougher enforcement of existing laws barring the
influence of foreign money in campaigns, and he said existing
campaign-contribution limits, which have been in place since 1974, should be
raised — or better, eliminated entirely.

“Take it from me, an eight-term member of Congress, that such limits
only serve to protect incumbents by preventing challengers from raising the
funds they need,” DeLay said.

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