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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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July 1998


Campaign Reform: GOP's Always Evil
Reporters Ignore Principled Case Against Restrictions on Political Speech

Last month, when Republicans in the House moved to thwart efforts to have the government restrict political activities, some reporters didnít even try to hide their disgust. "News" stories looked and sounded a lot like editorials, with the worst of motivations attributed to the GOP and the best attributed to Democrats.

New York Times reporter Alison Mitchell, on June 19, opined that campaign overhaul proposals have "unexpectedly refused to die this year despite the concerted efforts of Republican leaders in both houses to block any changes that would erode their party's fund-raising advantage." Her story, which included only one brief quote from House GOP Whip Tom DeLay, had quotes from House Democrats Martin Frost and Rosa DeLauro and multiple quotes from Minority Whip David Bonior, who said the GOP was trying "to keep the spigots of special interest money flowing."

Associated Press (AP) writer Donald Rothberg, in a June 29 story, claimed that, in addition to public indifference, "Money proved too powerful for the forces that tried to curb its influence in politics." Rothbergís story did include a quote from Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, who said, "I donít believe money is as evil as people claim," and that contribution limits help millionaire candidates. But there were far more quotes from such proponents of statist reform as Senator John McCain, President Clinton, and former Vice President Walter Mondale. Rothberg also mourned the death of the tobacco bill. "That, too, was the victim of money," he wrote.

The assumptions were the same at CBS. On the June 18 Evening News, Ed Bradley told viewers that "political money still talks louder than words about reform." Reporting from a GOP fundraising event, correspondent Bob Schieffer added that "the politicians claim they need the money to get elected, and when they can talk people into giving as much as this crowd gave, why would they want to change the rules to stop them?"

Perhaps thatís one motivation, but readers and viewers were not told there are other reasons that some oppose big-government campaign proposals. Some, for instance, are horrified at the prospect of government regulating the political spending of independent organizations. "Once bureaucrats are allowed to decide which speech is designed to influence an electoral outcome and which is merely for educational purposes," wrote Michael W. Lynch in the August/September Reason, "it wonít take long to slop to the bottom of the slope, where only those efforts supporting the favored ideas of the day are deemed educational." He noted that such reforms in Wisconsin led a state election board to fine Americans for Limited Terms and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, but not the Sierra Club.

Every public policy, whether liberal or conservative, has some proponents motivated by principle and others by selfishness. Liberal policies, such as promoting government regulation of political speech, are consistently reported as principled and unselfish. Conservative policies, such as opposing government regulation of political speech, are consistently reported as unprincipled and selfish.

ó Rich Noyes


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