When debate over the GOP tax reform plan was heating up in the Senate, the New York Times editorial board took its opposition to the tax bill to Twitter. But rather than just simply tweeting an op-ed or their reasons for opposing the bill, they took things a step further by urging followers to contact swing GOP senators to tell them to oppose the bill.
The Editorial Board is urging @SenBobCorker to vote against the Senate tax bill because it would increase the federal deficit by more than $1.4 trillion. He’s said he would vote against the bill if it added “one penny to the deficit.” Contact him and tell him #thetaxbillhurts pic.twitter.com/JamVGLnvVO NYT Opinion (@nytopinion) November 29, 2017
While it’s not unusual for editorial boards to take stances on policy issues of the day, it is unusual to be tweeting out the contact information of senators and urging followers to contact them over a specific piece of legislation.
Despite the unusual nature of the editorial board’s advocacy, there is nothing wrong with the board members exercising their First Amendment rights to encourage citizens to contact their elected officials about an important issue. It is, in fact, this kind of speech that the First Amendment was designed to protect. Unfortunately, the New York Times editorial board doesn’t believe all corporations have the same rights as the New York Times does.
Publishing just hours after the Citizens United v. FEC ruling in January 2010, the editorial board raised the alarm that democracy as we knew it was over. “With a single, disastrous 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century,” the editorial board opined. “Disingenuously waving the flag of the First Amendment, the court’s conservative majority has paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding.”
Of course, nothing of the sort has come to pass, as corporate spending on politics continues to be a small portion of overall political spending.
Any editorial board can be forgiven for not accurately predicting the future. But the argument that when groups of people come together (which is precisely what a corporation is) they give up their First Amendment rights is not only wrong, it’s dangerous.
Giving the government the power to censor speech because of its political nature or ability to influence electoral politics is a truly terrifying thought. Like the crux of the Citizens United case itself, this would grant the government power to censor movies (which are produced by corporations) that the government deemed to be too political close to an election. The FEC argued that the government could censor books (also mostly published by corporations) under the same logic.
While the New York Times or other media outlets would be quick to point out that the First Amendment specifically mentions freedom of the press, the lines between corporations have always been and continue to be blurred. NBC was owned by General Electric before it was purchased by Comcast; ABC is owned by Disney; and the Washington Post is owned by the richest person in the world, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Additionally, with the rise of the Internet, the definition of the “press” continues to be in flux.
The real question that needs to be addressed is why does the editorial board of the New York Times think it has a First Amendment right to influence policymaking, while other groups of citizens do not?
Eric Peterson (@IllinoisEric89) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a senior policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity.
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