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Contact Lux Libertas
The media’s attacks on the Second Amendment–and on the First.
Dec 31, 2012 – WSJ
America once produced its own bumptious television hosts. Men like Phil Donahue, Wally George, Morton Downey Jr. and Geraldo Rivera did rough and degrading work, but at least they knew the dignity of having a job.
Now, they say, it has become one of those jobs Americans won’t do. American media companies are forced to import workers like Piers Morgan, an Englishman who for just under two years has hosted a prime-time program on CNN. Although the show is little-watched, Morgan made news recently because of his abusive interview tactics.
On his Dec. 18 show, NewsBusters.org notes, Morgan “rudely and disgracefully tore into guest Larry Pratt, the Executive Director of Gun Owners of America, calling him ‘an unbelievably stupid man’ who’s ‘dangerous,’ concluding the interview by saying, ‘You shame your country.’ ”
The following night, Morgan switched to a Donahue-style live-audience format, during which he berated guest John Lott, a scholar who has studied gun-control laws and found that they increase rather than reduce violence. When Lott makes that point on the program, as TheRightScoop.com recounts, Morgan “calls Lott a liar and never gives him the chance to even explain. Lott kept trying to explain, but Piers kept interrupting and finally asked him to show respect as they wanted to move on without giving Lott the chance to explain.”
Americans treasure our Second Amendment rights, so it’s hardly surprising that an attack on them from a foreign national–especially one from the United Kingdom, against whose tyranny the Constitution was initially designed to protect–stirred up some anger. The result, according to the Associated Press: “Tens of thousands of people have signed a petition calling for . . . Morgan to be deported from the U.S.”
In response Morgan tweeted: “Ironic U.S. gun rights campaign to deport me for ‘attacking 2nd Amendment rights’ – is my opinion not protected under 1st Amendment rights?” We tweeted back: “Your opinion is protected, your presence in the U.S. is not.”
We directed Morgan to Kleindienst v. Mandel, a 1972 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the denial of a visa to “a Belgian journalist and Marxian theoretician” who had been invited to an academic conference in America. This led to a bit of confusion, as the Daily Caller published a story titled “Wall Street Journal Columnist Explains on Twitter How to Deport Piers Morgan.”
That overstates our case. Ernest Mandel, the Belgian in the 1972 case, was denied his visa under a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 that applied to advocates of “the economic, international, and governmental doctrines of world communism.” As far as we know, there’s no statutory basis for excluding Morgan. Our point was simply that the First Amendment wouldn’t preclude it. As Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in Mandel: “The Court without exception has sustained Congress’ ‘plenary power to make rules for the admission of aliens and to exclude those who possess those characteristics which Congress has forbidden.’ ”
That power is inherent in national sovereignty, as any well-informed Englishman should know. The BBC reported in 2009 that Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, as intemperate a critic of Islam as Morgan is of the American Constitution, was denied entry to the United Kingdom because its government disapproved of his viewpoint. Wilders had been invited to screen a controversial film–ironically at the House of Lords, the British legislative body roughly analogous to the U.S. Senate. (As London’s Guardian reported, Wilders was admitted and held the screening, more than a year later.)
But to the extent that the U.K. respects free speech (a lesser extent than in the U.S.), Wilders’s opinions are protected. The Lords could have screened his film in 2009 without him, or with his virtual presence via teleconference. Similarly, if the U.S. were to eject Morgan, he would be free to use any means short of physical presence to propagate his views here. He could host his program from another country, and CNN would have a perfect right to air it.
Electronic media make physical exclusion a considerably less effective means of controlling the spread of propaganda than it used to be. As if to make that point, Morgan addresses his American detractors in an op-ed for a British newspaper, the Daily Mail:
I can spare those Americans who want me deported a lot of effort by saying this: If you don’t change your gun laws to at least try to stop this relentless tidal wave of murderous carnage, then you don’t have to worry about deporting me.
Although I love the country as a second home and one that has treated me incredibly well, I would, as a concerned parent first–and latterly, of a one-year-old daughter who may attend an American elementary school like Sandy Hook in three years’ time–seriously consider deporting myself.
Maybe Mitt Romney wasn’t as crazy as Donald Trump thinks. But it turns out that the “jobs Americans won’t do” line is something of a myth. Plenty of American journalists have been attacking the Second Amendment as zealously as Morgan. As we shall see, some of them have also been attacking the First.
One example is David Gregory, host of NBC’s “Meet the Press.” While interviewing Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, Gregory held up a magazine–the gun kind, not the paper kind–in an effort to make a dramatic anti-Second Amendment point. LaPierre was unruffled by the stunt, but Gregory found himself under some scrutiny, for it turned out that the magazine he possessed is illegal in the District of Columbia, where his studio is located.
Further, as blogger William Jacobson reports, it turns out Gregory’s producers knew it was illegal. Jacobson quotes a Christmas Eve email from the Metropolitan Police Department:
NBC contacted MPD inquiring if they could utilize a high capacity magazine for their segment. NBC was informed that possession of a high capacity magazines is not permissible and their request was denied. This matter is currently being investigated.
Howard Kurtz, the media reporter and columnist, argues that it would be absurd to prosecute Gregory, who “had no intent to commit a crime; he was committing journalism instead.”
We agree it would be absurd, but not because Gregory is a journalist. Journalists are not immune from generally applicable laws, and lots of nonjournalists would like to possess guns for sport or self-protection. That they have “no intent to commit a crime” would not be a defense if they were caught with illegal firearms or accessories. As reader Steve Thompson observes: “Imagine the media explosion if Wayne LaPierre had pulled out an empty magazine on the set of ‘Meet the Press’ to demonstrate that it was just a harmless metal box with a spring.”
Rather, it would be absurd because it’s an absurd law–the point Gregory unwittingly illustrated by so easily acquiring the outlawed product. Do he and Kurtz think that’s any harder to do for someone who does intend to commit a crime?
Journalists like to say that they are called to act in the public interest, but in the gun debate the media are at war with a significant portion of the public–probably a majority, as suggested by a Gallup poll showing that 54% of Americans have a favorable view of the NRA (against 38% unfavorable). The Gannett-owned Journal News, a newspaper in White Plains, N.Y., illustrated that point by publishing an online database of all pistol permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties (northern suburbs of New York City).
That was too much even for many mainstream journalists and media critics. “When we publish private information we should weigh the public’s right to know against the potential harm publishing could cause,” wrote the Poynter Institute’s Al Tompkins. “The News Journal [sic] is taking heat for starting a gunfight just because it could.” The nearby Rockland Times published a signed editorial denouncing the Journal News and, mischievously, included home addresses and phone numbers of the rival paper’s executives and staffers who worked on the story.
Meanwhile, the New York Times has been perseverating with its antigun editorials. That’s not a shock, but the puerile tone is. One editorial was titled “The N.R.A. Crawls From Its Hidey Hole.” Another denounced “the male egos” of firearms enthusiasts. What’s next, “Boys are icky and guns have cooties”?
As this column has noted in the past, the Times is also hostile to the First Amendment, and that has some relevance to the debate over the Second. The Times has repeatedly denounced the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that the government may not censor speech merely because the speaker is a corporate entity.
The paper’s position on that question is a bit awkward, considering that it is a division of the New York Times Co., which is a corporation. As we noted last month, the paper squares that circle by conceiving of freedom of the press as an exception rather than a rule. In this view “media” corporations, but only they, are protected by the First Amendment.
“It is not the corporate structure of media companies that makes them deserving of constitutional protection,” a November Times editorial asserted. “It is their function–the vital role that the press plays in American democracy–that sets them apart.” That function is a combination of information and advocacy. As we’ve seen in the gun debate, it’s sometimes very heavy on advocacy. The Daily Caller notes that journalists took to Twitter to “slam” the NRA during a presidential press conference.
Well, the National Rifle Association also has a corporate structure. Like Citizens United, its divisions that engage in politics are nonprofits under Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. Unlike the New York Times Co., the NRA does not seek to make a profit. But its structure, according to the Times, is irrelevant. What matters is its function.
The NRA’s function (and Citizens United’s) is a combination of information and advocacy–the same as a media corporation’s function. But before Citizens United, the NRA was legally forbidden from engaging in certain types of core political speech. The Times’s view is that itself and a few other government-approved corporations deserve a monopoly on free speech, and that the government deserves a monopoly on the possession of firearms.
Today’s Times features an op-ed piece titled “Let’s Give Up on the Constitution.” That is the view of its author, a constitutional law professor (!) called Louis Seidman. But it’s also a pithy summary of the Times’s position on the Constitution, or at least its first two amendments.
It must be hard living in a country whose very constitution you loathe. Piers Morgan is lucky in that he is a foreign national and has the option to self-deport. Perhaps as a humanitarian gesture Britain’s Parliament could enact a law offering asylum to Americans who attest that they wish to give up on the Constitution. It would also be a way of tweaking the rebellious former colonies, but we doubt anybody would mind.
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