Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Ron Paul isn’t being Censored

Tibor R. Machan

Some of the folks who are eager supporters of Representative Ron Paul as
the Republican presidential nominee are sadly misspeaking themselves these
days. On the Free Market News Network web site the question of whether
Paul is being censored by mainstream media has been posed, as one of the
site’s polls, and the overwhelming majority has answered “Yes”. But this
is very confused.

All that the mainstream media can do to Paul is to ignore him, maybe to
distort his views or perhaps fail to report on the level of his support
among American voters. But only the government can censor someone! Only
the government has the power to legally silence Ron Paul or anyone else.
Big media may have clout but it has no legalized use of weapons with which
to silence someone.

In the past this mistake has been made by many, both Left and Right. I
recall a while back when Harvard’s celebrity law professor Alan M.
Dershowitz was hired by the producers of the movie The Pope Must Die to
sue NBC, ABC, and CBS for these networks' refusals to run advertisements
for the movie that the networks supposedly considered inappropriate for television
broadcast. Prof. Derschewitz made some rather provocative claims in connection
with this suit in a television broadcast and at a news conference and, judging by these
claims, the title of an earlier book of his, Chutzpah, seems to be entirely justified.

In that case, Mr. Derschewitz construed the refusal of the three networks
to run the television ad for the movie The Pope Must Die as censorship.
And he got on television to say so. He claimed that censorship, “whether
public or private, endangers the marketplace of ideas.”

Now neither Dershowitz nor Paul has been censored, actually, because
neither has been forced by the government to desist from voicing an
opinion or stating some fact. Being rejected for coverage by the major
networks does not constitute censorship any more than does being ignored
by the major media.

Perhaps, however, there is value in such language for polemical purposes,
even if it is not strictly speaking accurate. Maybe both Derschewitz and
the supporters of Ron Paul are merely trying to stress the infelicity, the
unprofessional conduct of those they accuse of engaging in censorship.
Perhaps that is all that’s going on here.

In the case of Ron Paul, however, one must be very careful not to
undermine his credibility. Consistency and integrity are his central
widely recognizable virtues in the contest for nomination, something his
rivals all lack. On other matters he is unfortunately quite unpopular.
So, he should insist on these virtues even when they take away some of the
bite of his complaint against the mainstream media. If he lets go of them,
he will join the rest of the politicians who are willing to prevaricate in
order to gain favor with—or sympathy from—the public.

In brief, then, only governments censor, never private sector agents, no
matter how wrong they act otherwise. Refusing to report on Representative
Paul’s views and support is, indeed, journalistic malpractice. But it
isn’t censorship. For libertarians, who want no government interference in
peaceful conduct even when it is wrongheaded, this distinction must remain
vital even as they do battle with various forces in the culture who want
to silence them. They have to find some other means by which to indict
such forces not by falsely charging them with attempting to censor their
preferred candidate for U. S. president.

Now Ron Paul himself may never have indicted mainstream media for allegedly
censoring him—it is only his supporters who have made that charge. Then
they should realize that they are not being very helpful. And perhaps
Representative Paul could point this out to them and reign in their
misguided zeal. No one is responsible for the actions of those who support
him but one could do worse than help such folks get it right about just
what the mainstream media is doing wrong. It is not censoring Ron Paul but
failing to do its job right.

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