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Grant Bosse

Grant Bosse: Two flawed attacks on free speech

A pair of Democratic senators have launched dueling broadsides in the left’s ongoing assault on the First Amendment. One is a blatant attempt to use the power of government to coerce silence from the opposition, while the other is a mistaken attempt to protect the press from such coercion.

Dick Durbin is the senior senator for Illinois. He is the assistant majority leader for the Senate Democrats, which means he’s often tapped to recite that day’s talking points on the Senate floor. He has the cartoonish bluster of Foghorn Leghorn, minus the Southern accent. And he wants the federal government to get his political opponents to shut up.

Durbin has fired off letters to think-tanks around the country demanding to know what ties they have with the American Legislative Exchange Council, and their stance on Stand Your Ground Laws. We needn’t revisit the left-wing paranoia surrounding ALEC or the blatant misrepresentation of Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law. Durbin certainly doesn’t care. He gets to capitalize on two myths that excite his base, and intimidate his fiercest critics.

Durbin chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. In that official capacity, he has sent letters to 300 companies and think tanks that he suspects of supporting ALEC, asking them for their stance on Stand Your Ground. He said their responses would be included in the record of the Senate subcommittee hearing he was planning to convene.

The Goldwater Institute rightly invoked attorney Joseph Welch’s response to Joe McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency?” The Illinois Policy Institute responded “Request Denied,” in Russian. The Cato Institute called the letter part of the current administration’s trend “to menace those who do not share your political beliefs.”

Durbin’s ham-fisted tactics are so egregious that

they should draw bipartisan condemnation. But such disdain for the First Amendment has become a plank of the Democratic Party. New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen repeatedly pushed the IRS to investigate politically vocal nonprofits, with more than 90 percent of those investigations falling on conservative groups. Then-state Sen. Maggie Hassan led a similar witch hunt against anonymous political speech in Concord three years ago, citing the same ALEC-fueled fever dreams. She hoped to force disclosure of donors to nonprofits and have non-profits register with the state if they were going to engage in political activity.

These anti-American sentiments stem from the assumption that politicians deserve protection from their critics, and a chance to silence them. They should disgust any self-described liberal, in either the classic or current usage.

Durbin has joined California Democrat Dianne Feinstein’s push for a Journalist Shield law. I admire Feinstein’s passion and intellect as much as I abhor Durbin’s thuggery. Many smart people want to define the protections of a free press, and who qualifies for them. The need seems pressing as the Obama Administration names reporters as unindicted co-conspirators for printing leaked intelligence.

But Feinstein’s effort is misguided. Journalism is an activity, not a club. There is no license to practice journalism, and anyone who proposes such barriers has a fatally flawed view of our Constitution.

The internet has shattered conventional definitions of the press. Concord Sen. Sylvia Larsen tripped over the new paradigm in 2009 when she kicked me off the Senate floor for bringing in a flip cam. My press pass was eventually restored once I agreed to sit with the print reporters and not tape anyone.

House Speaker Bill O’Brien drew deserved abuse last year for blocking the Monitor from his press briefings. That was short-sighted, but not a First Amendment violation. Politicians are under no obligation to speak to any media outlet, but neither should they offer special legal status for a select class of favored reporters.

The powerful and the popular will always be heard, even without constitutional guarantees. Many of our fights over free speech have protected the least worthy among us, pornographers, neo-Nazis, and the Westboro Baptist Church. But in an age when we can self-publish 140 characters at a time, the theoretical line between free speech and free press is a distinction without a difference.

We should work to ensure that the rights to hold and share beliefs belong to everyone, and not just those our elected leaders decide to protect. And we should together shout down politicians who use the tax code, a Senate gavel, or the threat of reprisal to silence dissent. The only remedy for bad speech is more speech. Let’s make sure Dick Durbin hears it.

(Grant Bosse is editor of New Hampshire Watchdog, an independent news site dedicated to New Hampshire public policy, and a senior fellow at the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.)

Legacy Comments34

Clinton showed her hand at the Benghazi hearings. Those of us who actually watched her saw who she is. She used lame excuses, outraged she was asked questions, and pretty much pulled the "I did not see the memo" lame excuse. When Dems spent their time praising her, she was all smiles, and knew they would never ask her any questions. It was like they all got the same tape and memorized it, so they just praised her. it was obvious the Dems did not care what happened. She will never consent to any interview that will ask serious questions. She is use to covering up, she has done it for her husband many times.

I'll keep asking this question until someone answers. Why wont the democrats agree to a primary debate on FOX??

Here's a suggestion: Instead of threatening to hold your breath until you turn blue, how about you write a real ink on paper letter to this address: Democratic National Committee, 430 South Capitol St. SE, Washington, DC 20003. I'm sure they will be happy to provide the answer you seem to so desperately need.

Removed why?

Because they are Chicken. Actual tough questions are asked of them. They don't get fluff questions. They don't have an unfair advantage.

Can you imagine Bill OReilly asking Clinton a question? Or Rush? Or Mark Levin?? Whatever your political stripe, that would be great tv.

So what would you suggest O'Reilly ask her? About the war on Christmas? He is such an intellectual. I remember him from "Inside Edition" in Boston. He was a jerk then too, but now he gets paid more to be a jerk.

Reply to Tillie below..Actually I think Rush would do a better job..after all, he has made a good living off the Clintons. Rush could moderate the whole debate in his Bill Clinton accent, and Hillary could answer in her fake southern accent.

GWTW, maybe you answered your own question about why she won't go on Fox. Running for President is serious business and she doesn't want to questioned by a lot of clowns, none of whom is a serious newsperson.

Reply to Tillie below....Since when do serious candidates use fake southern accents????

I don't know, and neither does anyone else on this board. Those decisions are made in DC, not in Concord, and anyone who says they know an answer is guessing. Right, Van?

Hey GWTW, once is an error, three times means you don't know any better. (Won't in case you still don't know)

So Grant Bossy is "... an independent news site..." Just what definition of independent is this guy using. As for the Josiah Bartlett Center, there "independent" motto should come from the mouth of Lestor Maddox - "Honest businessmen should be protected from the unscrupulous consumer." Lester Maddox That my friend is free enterprise - no profit should be wasted on benefits, there is always someone willing to work for nothing.

Or when the GOP blackmailed PBS not to show the ani-fracking documentary.

???? supporting link??

Obama's own EPA now says there is NO, NONE NADA evidence that fracking is harmful - readers should google it to learn more

You miss the point once again.

Facts and liberals are like Oil and water. They don't go together

There we go again, No, NONE, NADA all the buzz worlds for made up facts. Since the fact of the matter is that the EPA report on the subject is not due out until 2014. Do we google Tele-physic? Initial info contradicts your version of the topic - unless you only google the Industry web sites. Nice try.

The EPA has tested fracking sites and found no corresponding water contamination. In 2011, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson told Congress that fracking was not known to pose a health risk..... so I guess the liberals comments are incorrect

What a bunch of hyprocrites. CNN and NBC are partisan? So what does that make Fox, a big turkey? " Laugh, laugh I thought I'd die." Doesn't matter we will get all the funny outtakes from the GOP primary debates. Jon Steward will have a field day. Funny Bosse doesn't mention Virginia when he mentions "free speech" and tv stations showing partisan documentaries.

Questions for the liberals...Why wont the democrats agree to a primary debate on FOX?? Who is Jon Steward?

GWTW, you always seem to nikpick the little errors and miss the big picture.

John Stewar(t) never ni(t)picks as he it not a "nitwit". Why is FOX a big "turkey" and what does that mean exactly. Please cite how the GOP blocked PBS?

Why wont the democrats agree to a primary debate on FOX?? Or any debate for that matter??? Thats a big picture question for you.

democrats - every day - show how much they HATE the constitution. Real Americans know that Emperor Obama and his ILK have turned The USA into a banana republic.

Good article Grant!! You are absolutely right about: Disdain for the First Amendment has become a plank of the Democratic Party. New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen repeatedly pushed the IRS to investigate politically vocal nonprofits, with more than 90 percent of those investigations falling on The Guardians if Ignorance hate free speech. Take for instance Cartoonist Marland. He has rarely done a cartoon poking fun at Obama or the democrat party and the reason for that is Obama and the democrat party aren't to be poked fun at. Take for instance the Rodeo clown faux outrage. Rodeo clowns have been wearing masks of presidents fro decades with absolutely zero outrage because it is written in the constitution that political free speech is guaranteed. PC is now Partisan Censorship. When you are afraid to be criticized you know you are a weak president and Obama is the worst president ever. I wonder what the NH democrats are going try to do to try to limit free speech criticizing Jeanne Shaheen. Shaheen a rubber stamp for the democrat party has done next to nothing for NH and she is afraid to have an in person town meeting not those phony controlled phone town meetings.

Best comment! You won the internet today Van.

Thank-you Fellow Winner : )

''We should work to ensure that the rights to hold and share beliefs belong to everyone'' Would that include the recent blackmail tactic the GOP used against the news comp. about the H. Clinton show? Seems both sides will keep complaining about the other side, doing exactly what they are doing! SOP.

CNN and NBC are extremely partisan news outlets have no right or privilege of hosting a GOP primary debate the GOP controls that. The GOP voted unanimously not give NBC and CNN the privilege to host a debate if they continue their partisan ways. I guess Republicans asking for a non partisan playing field is now blackmail to democrats. That is laughable.

Oh wise one - which news outlet isn't partisan. I believe that one of the issue to come from the recent GOP meetings was that they wanted friendlier moderators. Le's try something new - the Democrats pick the GOP questioner and vice versa. And maybe reduce some of the whining. It's either a real debate or a beauty pageant, we have had enough of the latter.

Oh wise one, OK what does that make you? Less than wise? Let’s really try something new, let’s not have 100 % of the Moderators be liberals like: Candy Crowley, Jim Lehrer, Bob Schieffer and Martha Raddatz. Let’s have 100% of the Moderators be conservatives. Democrats couldn’t handle what Republicans had to deal with for decades.

@Van: Any organization can invite Republican candidates to a debate. They don't necessarily have to be sponsored by the broadcasters on whose networks they may or may not appear.

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