Should Anonymous Free Speech Apply to….THEM??
I have not often written about other blogs, and I don’t think I’ve ever written about a conservative blog or blogger, but I’m about to.
There was an article in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner about the aptly named blog Conservatives4Palin. Let me be on the record when I say that I generally disagree with everything I find on Conservatives4Palin, including the name. Frankly, if it were me, I’d lose the “4”. It reminds me of Toys R Us, which bugs me too. I think if you’re going to spell something, spell it. But I digress.
So, my disagreement with the message being duly noted, in this particular instance, I back Conservatives4Palin 100%. Wait before you throw stuff at me.
Rep. Jay Ramras (R), has become the target of criticism by Conservatives4Palin for his attendance record this session. Ramras has been criticizing Governor Palin for being absent during these last days of the legislative session. Who hasn’t? And Jay Ramras doesn’t like being criticized. Who does?
But all that aside, the article brings up a couple interesting arguments leveled against Conservatives4Palin. The first is that the people that run the blog are not from Alaska. Heck, a couple of them aren’t even from the United States! Thus, the reasoning goes, they couldn’t possibly have anything to say that has any real merit. At least that’s the implication from Palin spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton.
Based on the content, Stapleton surmised the site bloggers are from the Lower 48. She acknowledged the banners linking to SarahPAC are a concern.
And the final sentence in the article reminds us:
The Web site’s bloggers include two living in England and a former Alaskan living in North Carolina, she said. None of the writers live in Alaska.
There are plenty of people who would argue that the focus of the governor herself is on those who live “Outside” as the article puts it. At the very least, this is a politician who has been, and still is very much on the national stage. Should we tell bloggers in the rest of the world that only Palin supporters in Alaska have legitimate opinion, or the right to blog about the governor? I have said before that this is one of the key advantages to anonymous blogs. The reader is forced to deal with issues, not with personalities. I, and you, should be able to decide what we think of the governor being out of town during the final days of the session, whether the person we’re responding to lives in Spenard, or Sussex.
Now, I fully agree that it’s more of a challenge for “Outsiders” to understand some of the quirks and absurdities of Alaskan politics. (Democrats wanting to drill ANWR? Republicans wearing “Where’s Sarah?” buttons?) Even those of us who live here find it challenging sometimes. And you wouldn’t be able to get an organic feel for the pulse of the local community. But if a blogger at Conservatives4Palin says something stupid and uninformed, we have the ability to call them out on it, and they have the option to correct it. If they do, we give them credit. If they don’t, they are discredited, and we don’t read anymore. Free market blogosphere.
Mansour said the blog isn’t funded by any organization, and is solely the effort of the bloggers, who paid $10 for a blogger ID and another $10 to register that.
Ramras isn’t convinced.
“I would encourage whoever is behind Conservatives for Palin to step out of the shadows,” he said.
Speech from “the shadows” is protected by the first amendment, whether you like the speech or not, and whether you like the first amendment or not. Anonymous political speech in particular is essential in the public debate. It is not always easy to express a dissenting opinion, and our right to anonymous free speech protects us “from the tyranny of the majority.” This means we are allowed to be controversial, rude, incorrect, brilliantly insightful, idiotic, or any combination of these things. The first amendment is, and must be, blind.
Anonymous communications have an important place in our political and social discourse. The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the right to anonymous free speech is protected by the First Amendment. A much-cited 1995 Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission reads:
Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical, minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.
Those who have chosen a life of public service are to be commended. They have stomachs of iron, and thick hides. They understand that they must step out into the ring, make themselves vulnerable and prepare to be assaulted for their beliefs and their behaviors. It’s all part of the package. But private citizens have many vaild reasons to speak from the shadows.
Back in 1798, the government under the Adams administration decided it would be a good idea to make it a crime to publish “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against the government, or government officials. It was called the “Sedition Act” and history has not been kind to it, nor to Adams for signing it into law.
The Sedition Act was set to expire in 1801, coinciding with the end of the Adams administration. While this prevented its constitutionality from being directly decided by the Supreme Court, subsequent mentions of the Sedition Act in Supreme Court opinions have assumed that it would be ruled unconstitutional if ever tested in court. For example, in the seminal free speech case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the Court declared, “Although the Sedition Act was never tested in this Court, the attack upon its validity has carried the day in the court of history.” 376 U.S. 254, 276 (1964).
No matter how much we disagree with political speech, even if it is “false, scandalous or malicious writing,” if we value our constitution, and our own freedom of speech, we must embrace the entire concept of free speech, not just the speech we like.
The Conservatives4Palin blogger interviewed for the News Miner article chose to identify herself on the blog. But there are other bloggers on the site who have not, nor should they, in my humble opinion. There are many reasons to speak “from the shadows”. Sometimes people out in the sunshine don’t speak at all, and any loss of discourse is a loss to all of us. Free speech is a right extended to everyone, not simply those who have nothing to lose.
So, to all the anonymous bloggers out there on the left, the right, and in the middle, I salute you and I will speak up to defend your right to speak as you choose, and say what you choose. (group hug)
OK, now I’m back to my corner.
UPDATE: [Just a quick note - Please keep comments on topic and respectful. C4P has written a supportive response, and linked here, so we may have guests come to call. I trust that we'll all stay civil on both sides, and use this as an opportunity, hopefully, to acknowledge that we have a place of common ground. If the ACLU can do it, so can all of us! Thanks!]