March 06, 2009

Hillary: The Movie and McCain-Feingold

The McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform laws will be challenged in front of the Supreme Court in relation to a movie by Citizens United, a conservative non-profit advocacy group, entitled Hillary: The Movie.
The case, to be argued March 24, will require the court to confront a new genre with old roots: the slashing political documentary.

“Hillary: The Movie,” released last year in the thick of the Democratic presidential primary season, is a fine example of the genre. There are ripe voice-overs, shadowy re-enactments and spooky mood music. There is, inevitably,Ann Coulter. Asked to say something nice about Mrs. Clinton, Ms. Coulter responds, “Looks good in a pantsuit.”

But the film also contains commentary from journalists more in the establishment like Michael Barone of U.S. News & World Report and Jeff Gerth, formerly of The New York Times.

And it presents some straightforward reporting, including interviews with people from the Clinton era in the White House, like Billy R. Dale, who was fired as director of the White House travel office; Gary Aldrich, who wrote a book about his experiences as an F.B.I.agent assigned to the White House; and Kathleen Willey, a former White House volunteer who accused Mr. Clinton of making an unwanted sexual advance.

The issue will be whether the McCain-Feingold ban against "electioneering communications" paid for by corporations within 30 days of a presidential primary or within 60 days of a general election can be squared with First Amendment freedom of speech.

The law exempts nightly newscasts and newspapers as well as newer technologies like YouTube, which lends credence to Citizens United president David Bossie's argument that it is really about censorship.  Greg P. Leslie, a lawyer with the Committee for Freedom of the Press added in regard to this exception, “Who is the F.E.C. to decide what is news and what kind of format news is properly presented in?”

The provision has been recently interpreted by the Court and it doesn't seem to favor the free speech challenge in this case.

The law, as narrowed by a 2007 Supreme Court decision, applies to communications “susceptible to no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.” It also requires spoken and written disclaimers in the film and advertisements for it, along with the disclosure of contributors’ names.

The left is usually abhorrent to restrictions on free speech.  I mean after all dissent is the sincerest form of patriotism,  but it is hard to imagine that they will be able to divorce the attack on a Democratic party icon from the free speech issue involved.  Maybe they can just pretend the movie is about Bush.  Surely in that case free speech would reign supreme.

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