- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Free speech

St. Louis TV station KMOV reported last week that “Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign is asking Missouri law enforcement to target anyone who lies or runs a misleading television ad during the presidential campaign.”

“Two high-profile officers of the court spoke on camera [for the KMOV report]: Jennifer Joyce, St. Louis Circuit Attorney, and Robert P. McCullouch, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney,” Lee Cary wrote at the American Thinker American Thinker.

Stirring the pot was a conference call with reporters from battleground states, during which Obama national campaign manager David Plouffe said people who spread lies about Mr. Obama have to be “held accountable.”

At the Southern Appeal blog, team member Joel Leggett called it “a truly frightening tactic in Missouri. … If this intimidation tactic didn’t smack of fascism by its very nature, the title of this group, the Barack Obama Truth Squad, should dispel any lingering doubts.”

Liberal bloggers immediately cried foul, claiming that the KMOV report was misleading and that the charges made by conservatives were ridiculous.

“The articles baselessly suggest that this truth squad will use their official positions to legally harass anyone running ads critical of Obama,” wrote the self-described new-media watchdog ConWebBlog.

“By contrast, the Springfield, Mo., News-Leader reported that ‘despite having law enforcement officials on the truth squad, none of them have publicly said they will invoke their official powers to enforce facts about Obama’s record,’” wrote the site’s Terry Krepel.

However, pseudonymous Wisconsin blogger Pheisty said the truth squads are about chill and intimidation, not formal prosecution per se.

“Of course law enforcement officials have publicly stated that they won’t invoke their official powers to enforce ‘facts’ about Obama’s record. Hello? They can’t. … The question here is why the Obama camp chose to be selective in their disclosure of the occupations of certain individuals serving on the volunteer squad. I’m sure there are individuals from all walks of life joining in on this - doctors, business owners, journalists. Why were they not mentioned? Why only law enforcement [people], legislators, and prosecutors?”

Free speech II

One thing fueling conservative suspicion on the Missouri Truth Squad was that at more or less the same time last week, the Obama campaign was threatening stations in Pennsylvania and Ohio that ran an ad from the National Rifle Association that said Mr. Obama would be “the most anti-gun president in American history” and detailed his statements on a number of gun-related issues.

The letter from general counsel Robert F. Bauer warns stations that “for the sake of both FCC licensing requirements and the public interest, your station should refuse to continue to air this advertisement.”

“You have a duty ‘to protect the public from false, misleading or deceptive advertising.’ Licensee Responsibility With Respect to the Broadcast of False, Misleading or Deceptive Advertising, 74 F.C.C.2d 623 (1961). Failure to prevent the airing of ‘false and misleading advertising’ may be ‘probative of an underlying abdication of licensee responsibility’ Cosmopolitan Broad. Corp v. FCC, 581 F.2d 917, 927 (D.C. Cir. 1978),” the letter from Mr. Bauer reads.

In a post denouncing Mr. Bauer as “Fascist Jerk of the Day,” lawyer Jeff Bishop, who blogs as XRLQ at Damnum Absque Injuria notes that the legal decisions are badly miscited.

“The FCC piece in question is not about political advertisements, which enjoy the broadest protection under the First Amendment, but about commercial advertisements, which have only limited protection today - and had none at all in 1961. For a political campaign to argue that any station has a ‘duty’ to ‘protect’ its viewers from advertisements that portray their candidate in a negative light is nothing short of frivolous,” the lawyer wrote.

Also, in an exhaustively detailed post at the Volokh Conspiracy, David Kopel of the Independence Institute said FactCheck.org “flubs” its criticisms of the NRA ad, cited in the Obama letter. Mr. Kopel says FactCheck’s claims are “overstated,” consist mostly of “the mere recitation of vague platitudes by Obama claiming that he supports the Second Amendment,” while that the ad details “various positions which Obama has taken over the years,” almost all of them unrepudiated.

Free speech III

Another thing fueling conservative suspicion on the Missouri Truth Squad was that just a week earlier, the Obama campaign was organizing supporters to intimidate Chicago radio station WGN-AM into canceling the appearance of author David Freddoso on one of its talk shows.

Conservative blogger Dale Price wrote that the Obama campaign “has decided it’s going to shout down anybody who offers a criticism in a public forum.” Mr. Price satirized the campaign with a picture of Romanian coal miners, linking to a 1990 article about President Ion Iliescu getting thousands of miners to attack anti-government demonstrators in Bucharest with clubs and truncheons.

Guy Benson at National Review’s Media Blog cited an Obama campaign e-mail that says “the author of the latest anti-Barack hit book is appearing on WGN Radio in the Chicagoland market tonight, and your help is urgently needed to make sure his baseless lies don’t gain credibility. David Freddoso has made a career off dishonest, extreme hate mongering … And WGN apparently thinks this card-carrying member of the right-wing smear machine needs a bigger platform for his lies and smears about Barack Obama - on the public airwaves.”

Matthew Vadum at the American Spectator noted that Team Obama already had “attempted to mau-mau Freddoso’s fellow National Review writer, Stanley Kurtz,” who was researching the Chicago Annenberg Challenge “because both Obama and his friend [Weathermen terrorist William] Ayers were involved in it.

“The campaign tried to shut down the show. Obama supporters inundated the show with telephone calls and picketed outside the studio. They also called other talk shows and regurgitated the talking points the campaign fed them,” Mr. Vadum wrote.

Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey asked aloud: “Where is the rest of the media on this? It’s the second time in three weeks that the campaign itself has organized a brute squad to intimidate journalists into silence … and the rest of the media seems content to allow it.

• Contact Victor Morton.

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