The Spectacle Blog

Hating free speech is a McCain family tradition

By on 10.5.11 | 10:28AM

Meghan McCain, daughter of Sen. John McCain, actually hired a lawyer to send a "cease and desist letter" to a blogger who had written (fairly obvious) parodies of her. And lo, this is the response she elicited from Christopher Scott Badeaux, an attorney representing the satirist (click through and read every word. It is the letter every wannabe attorney dreams of writing):

Of course, you also have no recourse against my client individually, as his actions were clearly a parody of your client, a well-known public political figure. This activity is protected by the First Amendment from state law suits, including false light invasion of privacy. See generally, Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46 (1988), which is of course directly on point here. ...

My client will not be bullied out of exercising his First Amendment right to make clear his belief that your client is a spoiled, brainless twit who is cheapening the political discourse in this country.

What Badeaux may not realize is that this casual disregard for free speech is a McCain family tradition (as evidenced by being unaware of the ruling in Hustler v. Falwell). Sen. John McCain's campaign finance reform law also limited speech for groups of citizens, as a way to preserve democracy. Or at least to insulate himself against criticism when he's running for reelection. But when the New York Times wrote about his cozy relationships with campaign contributors and lobbyists, he was annoyed that anyone would impugn his integrity/honor/whatever the heck term of art McCain uses to justify his overblown stature. As I wrote at the time*:

...McCain's philosophy would still require punishment for groups of citizens wishing to exercise their first amendment rights prior to an election. In other words, citizens are expected to take McCain at his word when he won't do the same for them....

The NRA and the ACLU both can't buy ad time in the days before an election because doing so, by virtue of the ethical senator's own philosophy, is manipulating the people and hurting democracy. But when McCain hops a flight with a campaign contributor, it ought to be obvious that he's maintaining his integrity. Why is it that associations comprised of every day citizens are suspect, but a powerful politician is not?

Even more important, perhaps, is Kennedy's ruling in Citizens United, the decision that overturned her dad's censorship law which almost directly addresses young Meghan's complaint:

Modern day movies, television comedies, or skits onYoutube.com might portray public officials or public policies in unflattering ways. Yet if a covered transmission during the blackout period creates the background for candidate endorsement or opposition, a felony occurs solely because a corporation, other than an exempt media corporation, has made the "purchase, payment, distribution, loan, advance, deposit, or gift of money or anything of value" in order to engage in political speech. Speech would be suppressed in the realm where its necessity is most evident: in the public dialogue preceding a real election. Governments are often hostile to speech, but under our law and our tradition it seems stranger than fiction for our Government to make this political speech a crime. Yet this is the statute's purpose and design.

There was a time when I suspected that everything the younger McCain did was simply to get attention, that she just egged on her critics to gain notoriety. But now the scales have fallen from my eyes. She believes she alone has the right to mouth off all she likes, a right she refuses to share with her critics. Just like her dad.

*Self-quote also made possible by the First Amendment.

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