Television stations around the country are running an ad claiming the Obamacare repeal bill passed in the House will deprive cancer patients and pregnant women of affordable coverage. The ad, paid for by the group Save My Care, is loaded with lies.
The media run ads they agree with and censor ads they don’t like. And they defend their double standard on the pretext that their standard is “the truth.” Don’t fall for that.
Allowing broadcasters to be the truth police, with the sole power to decide what you watch in your living room, puts your freedom is at risk.
That’s why for eighty years, federal law has compelled broadcasters to offer equal access to all federal political candidates during election season. No playing favorites. When it comes to a candidate’s ad, television stations are prohibited from even requesting any edits. In return, broadcasters are shielded from lawsuits for defamation and libel if the ad’s claims turn out to be false. Fair enough.
But the law needs updating to protect third party issue advertisers — not just candidates – and all year long, not just at election time. Allowing broadcasters unlimited censorship over issue ads is dangerous to our democracy. Excluding graphic violence or profanity is one thing, but picking which political messages get aired is too much discretion. The way to counter a false ad is not with media censorship. It’s with an ad telling the truth.
You won’t find much truth in the Save My Care ad. It falsely claims that the House bill “makes coverage completely unaffordable for people with pre-existing conditions.” In fact, the House bill protects people with pre-existing conditions with a $13.8 billion a year fund supplied by taxpayers that will pay the lion’s share of their medical costs. That will keep their coverage affordable — contrary to the ad’s big lie.
Indeed, the House bill is fairer than Obamacare, which foisted the entire cost of their care on people stuck in the individual market, forcing healthy buyers to pay the same premiums as sick people who use ten times as much care.
The antidote for Save My Care’s ad is another ad setting the record straight. That is, if the television stations will air it.
Don’t count on it. When a pro-Trump group wanted to run an ad hailing the president’s achievements in his first 100 days, CNN, CBS, NBC, and ABC refused.
CNN claims it’s because the ad depicts CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, and other media commentators as purveyors of “fake news.” That’s an opinion shared by many conservatives.
Yet CNN insists “the mainstream media is not fake news, and therefore the ad is false.” CNN demanded the phrase “fake news” be edited out.
“Apparently the mainstream media are champions of the First Amendment only when it serves their own political views,” said Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, who consults for his reelection effort.
Silencing dissent isn’t only a television problem. San Francisco officials have banned issue ads from buses and other public facilities if they contain falsehoods or offensive content. But current law doesn’t give city governments the discretion broadcasters have. Washington, D.C.’s transit ad ban is being challenged in federal court, and last August, a federal appeals court struck down Philadelphia’s airport ad ban. The ruling echoed the wisdom of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis ninety years earlier.
Brandeis famously said in a democracy the way to handle “falsehoods and fallacies” is “more speech, not enforced silence.”
Something to keep in mind if you’re at the airport or on a bus and see an ad you don’t like.
If you’re home and that Save My Care ad comes on, pick up the remote and change channels.
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