Upstream. A Mohawk Valley Blogzine.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

WAMC, Alan Chartock & The First Amendment

Below is the complete text of Alan Chartock’s post on his blog for Monday, March 06, 2006 titled Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet. The only difference is, I have substituted the word radio for internet, listener for reader and made one other change--I changed the reference to Hillary Clinton to George Bush. Now read my post and compare it with Alan’s original post.

Don’t assume from this post that I am a WAMC and Alan Chartock basher, or a George Bush supporter. My main concern about Alan Chartock right now is his post of March 06 which supports quashing the First Amendment rights of internet users. I will be posting more about Chartock, WAMC, and also www.wamc.net, a web site dedicated to opposing Chartock.

Alan Chartock shares his thoughts for today....
Monday, March 06, 2006

Don't believe everything you hear on the Radio

We all love the Age of Radio, right? Not so fast. As much as radio has made life easier in a lot of ways, with it comes increasing political mischief and risk. As politicians and just plain malevolent citizens begin to understand how much potential there exists for dirtying other politicians on radio programs, we are now seeing a rash of absolutely despicable radio programs and talk show programs designed solely to destroy others. Lying by omission, commission and just plain, old-fashioned outright lying is now an everyday occurrence. There are many reasons why stop-at-nothing politicians will utilize these awful techniques, which debase not only their intended targets but all of us as a society. The main one is that it sometimes works. Once the genie is released from the bottle in the form of lie or slander, there is really no good way of getting it back in again.

Of course, this is nothing new. We’ve seen lies and slander from the time of the first American broadsheets and newspapers. Politicians were accused of fathering illegitimate children (sometimes true, often not.) They were accused of specific crimes they did not commit. In some cases, politicians used the power of the press to stifle opposition. The infamous Alien and Sedition Acts were passed during the John Adams administration, and he probably lost his bid for re-election, at least in part, because of them. Americans want their slander and they don’t like it when its dissemination is halted or impeded.

Today, secret groups are concocting the most dastardly lies and half truths and, with the flip of a microphone switch, massive disinformation is disseminated to thousands of people and there is precious little that can be done about it.

There are a number of reasons why we’re helpless in the face of this. The first is that it’s pretty easy to call talk show program anonymously and that anonymity protects the sick cowards, who are all too willing to destroy lives and reputations. The second problem is a landmark Supreme Court case called New York Times V. Sullivan. This case, and others coming after it, held the First Amendment protects the publication of all statements, even false ones, about the conduct of public officials. In other words, people who put themselves into the public eye, like actors and politicians, are fair game. Proving libel is so difficult that it is almost impossible for a vulnerable politician to win against these insidious radio crooks. The reason why we have the ruling is that the court, at the time, believed that to do less would be to rob the American people of the right to a free and unfettered press and to cast a chill on our right to call our politicians into account.

Even though we may recognize the public good that came out of Sullivan, it’s clear that all it takes is a few despicable, worm-eating no-good-niks to turn the court’s very good ruling into a nightmare. A lot of these politicians hardly deserve what they are getting and I know more than a few public persons who rue the day they decided to get into their own unprotected class. I am confident that many people will never enter the political fray because they recognize the danger that could come to themselves and their families.

In other countries like Great Britain, libel is much easier to prove and journalistic predators have been held accountable for their actions. That is how it should be. Look at it this way. In this country, if you are sitting in your living room and a truck comes through the wall and cuts off your legs, you have the right to sue just as everyone else does. If you are a public person who has been libeled, you do not have the same right as everyone else. Oh, you can sue, all right, but you are now in a class of people that will have a much harder, if not impossible, time of proving their case. We now have double classes of citizenship. If you don’t understand what I am saying, just go look at what the scoundrels have been saying about George Bush. Anyone with a fair sense of play will be appalled. Politicians without very thick skins had better fold their tents.

Most people who listen to this purposeful radio libel will hear what they are hearing for what it is rubbish. But some, who just need to fuel their own hateful natures, will repeat the lie, again and again. I have a Congressman friend who has been subjected to this type of political mischief and I feel incredibly sorry for him and his family. While history might suggest otherwise, this stuff is foul play and the antithesis of the sense of fairness and justice we as Americans hold precious. I truly hope that someone, some court, some brilliant soul, can somehow make this right.

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