All duded up in her cutesy Supreme Court Justice costume, Sweet Sarah was making her Halloween rounds at the Maryland radio station WMAL. On the air she disclosed a novel theory regarding the First Amendment that grew out of her uneasiness about the news media. Who could blame her? She's found journalists to be just a tad less irritating than a swarm of killer bees, buzzing her with those "Gotcha'" questions about what she can see from her front porch. But, instead of the usual right wing diatribe about the liberal mainstream media, she veered even farther right and took on the foundation principle of the free press, the First Amendment itself. She was out to swat herself some major killer bees.
The scene for her amendment bashing performance was a morning radio show hosted by the Wingnut's Wingnut Chris Plante. Chris and Sarah ranged across the wingnutosphere in the usual fashion, but then came an astounding exchange, based upon the right wing illusion that they do not actually already control much of the media themselves:
"CHRIS PLANTE: Is the news media doing a good job—are you getting a fair shake, are the Republicans getting a fair shake this year?
PALIN: I don't think they're doing their job when they suggest that calling a candidate out on their record, their plans for this country, and their associations is mean-spirited or negative campaigning. If they convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations, then I don't know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media." (Here's the audio) thanks to the blog Tiny Revolution.
So, there you have it, among the items on the McCain/Palin presidential agenda should the average I.Q. of the United States drop by 100 points between now and election day would be amending the First Amendment as follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, except to the extent that in exercising said freedom of the press the press exposes speech uttered or written by cutesy politicians which is patently incorrect, unarguably contrary to fact, or complete and utter hoo hah; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. (amending language highlighted)
Mark Twain put it very well, "There are laws to protect the press's speech, but none that are worth anything to protect the people from the press." And this is Sarah Palin's problem. She's managed through a combination of utter lack of substantive knowledge and only the dimmest mastery of grade school syntax to often tie herself in linguistic and political knots. At those times it's not so much that the press corps creates a negative narrative, or concocts to simply misreport her words, it's simply that they report her actual words, verbatim.
There's no need for journalists to create a story about her "negative campaigning," it's there for all to see and hear, in her own unadulterated speech. So, as Twain wrote, there's not much to protect Sarah from their own vacuity or mean spiritedness. Reporting to the public such speech is the premier freedom of the press embodied in the First Amendment. Without it we would long ago have fallen prey to tyrants, and the Bush administration's assault on the press should stand as a high (or low) water mark of that effort to subvert us through manipulation of the press through propaganda.
If Sarah wants better press, then perhaps she ought to practice better speech. As Michael Godwin (yes, he of Godwin's Law*) wrote, “The First Amendment was designed to protect offensive speech, because nobody ever tries to ban the other kind.” That principle is the sine qua non of the freedom of the press. And that's where Sarah needs intensive remedial training, perhaps even before she returns to Alaska next Wednesday where Troopergate still roils.