New and unlovely creatures continue to emerge from the Pandora's Box of “campaign finance reform,” so avidly touted by such luminaries as Arizona Sen. John McCain as the true path to political righteousness.
The latest is a plan by the National Rifle Association to have itself adjudicated through by the courts as a media outlet — and thus exempt from a provision in the McCain-Feingold law prohibiting it or any other group that accepts either corporate or union donations from airing TV and radio ads that mention federal candidates in the month before a primary election and in the two months before the general one. The NRA is also looking into the acquisition of a broadcast outlet to go with its several magazines.
Announcing the plan to The Associated Press, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre posed two rhetorical questions.
‘‘Why should they have an exclusive right to relay information to the public, and why should not NRA be considered as legitimate a news source as they are?” he enquired, referring to the news media that are exempt from the restrictions of McCain-Feingold.
The speciousness of the latter question is at once apparent: NRA is not as legitimate a news source as, say, Fox News, the Los Angeles Times or the East Valley Tribune because news gathering and dissemination are not its raison d’étre: gun-rights advocacy is. The NRA's publications do not offer a balanced view of the controversy surrounding those rights, and they make scant attempt to cover any issues unrelated to their preservation.
But in the former, LaPierre has a perfectly valid point — one made much more so by news organizations' own frequent failure to live up to their ideals. Why indeed should the media have “an exclusive right to relay information to the public” in the weeks before federal elections? On what basis is mentioning federal candidates in that time frame by groups such as NRA proscribed?
Certainly not that of the First Amendment, which states unequivocally that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.”
Moreover, it is an unhappy fact that the mainstream media are hardly so even-handed in their reportage as to merit such an exemption, particularly in the case of gun-rights advocates.
The NRA can hardly be blamed for seeking a way around so unreasonable a set of rules as is set out in McCain-Feingold — but if it succeeds in its quest, a stampede of applications for exemption may be expected from every other advocacy group so restricted. Eventually defining and even licensing media outlets might fall under the purview of government, which would truly be a malign outcome. The right outcome, of course, would be a Supreme Court ruling throwing this pernicious provision onto the judicial dunghill as unconstitutional.
Speed the day!