"Deception correlates with anonymity not with spending." Annenberg Policy Center's Department Head, Kathleen Jamieson, Ph.D
Deception. Some might call it lying. Professor Jamieson, a well-respected scholar who has spent years calling for truth in political speech, doesn't toss around the word, "lie." This is the admirable trait of an intellect far more above the fray than a jaded columnist. When the Supreme Court's decision deeming limitless donations to political parties to be a first amendment right came down, Jamieson was more concerned with the inherent dishonesty rather than the tearing down of the regulatory floodgates.
For the most part, the Right rejoiced, and the Left wailed over it, becoming another nail in the 98 percent's ability to have its voice heard. No matter how emotionally-wrought you are over either side of the decision, you might want to consider that your passion is misdirected. No matter how strong your opinion, you might want to consider how the court's finding would be made inconsequential if the
Court would one day find that misleading (lying) political speech is not protected speech.
I'm not saying that talk radio and TV shouldn't be able to mislead (lie) their devotees. They dwell in a world of fictional infotainment that their audiences cheer. I'm not speaking of your right to send untruthful (lying) emails purporting that someone said something that someone never said, or that someone was born someplace he wasn't. Is there any doubt that the founding fathers wanted to make sure that email hoaxes (lies) meant to sway naïve voters should be protected?
It's understandable that if you have a whole heap of anger at a candidate, but can't figure a factual method to tear them down, you really have no choice but to manufacture a fiction (lie). And I'm certainly not saying we should outlaw fibs (lies) altogether. How would any husband survive without his God-given right to assure his wife that, "No way that dress makes you look fat," or a wife's right to tell her husband, "You're not losing your hair. Your head is just getting larger while your hair is staying the same size"?
But when politicians, their parties and outside pacs use a bazillion dollars the courts sees as political speech to perpetrate spin (lies) so dizzying that any trace of truth is left gasping for breath, perhaps it's time to find a way protect the truth (not lying).
Courts have wrestled with the issue.
In Rickert v. Washington, a 2007 decision of the Washington Supreme Court held that Marilou Rickert, a Green Party candidate for the State Senate, could not be fined for falsely claiming in a campaign brochure that her opponent did something she didn't do. The Court's majority said the state law "naively assumes that the government is capable of correctly and consistently negotiating the thin line between fact and opinion in political speech."
The court decided that since we don't have a way to properly judge fact from fiction (lies), politicians are given carte blanche to mangle the truth. Not that it's okay to falsely accuse (lie about) a political challenger, but if there is no legal way to prove it, you are allowed to falsely accuse (lie about) your political challenger.
"If the ruling increases the number and proportion of pseudonymous independent expenditure ads, deception will increase," says Professor Jamieson.
But even if the decision brings more transparency why would a politician disapprove of a political commercial with inaccuracies (lie) if he suffers no consequences? Now I'm not saying politicians would knowingly mislead (lie). Then again, maybe I would say it. In fact, forget the "maybe."
So, it is up to each of us. There is no doubt that over 99 percent of the public toss campaign literature in the recycle bin prior to reading it but until there is Court accepted criteria for accurately determining the validity of political speech, we all need to question before trusting.
Next up, the Court needs to work on political exploitation of anecdotes and lawn signs.
Steve Young is the author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful...Mistakes, Adversity, Failure and Other Steppingstones to Success. (GreatFailure.com)