After getting off to a good start with my blog, I've been a big slacker as of late.
I'm watching Iron Chef right now and there's a monumental battle going on where the challenger refused to use any assistants so now it's challenger v. Iron Chef French, man to man. Very exciting. Today's ingredient: peach.
I've developed a very unhealthy obesession with the Food Network and home decorating shows. Maybe it's a part of getting in touch with my girliness, maybe it's some freaky internal clock business; I'm not sure. Either way, I need to hit the sack so I'll be able to wake up early enough to hit Hobby Lobby and buy fabric for new curtains before I do laundry with a homemade lavender detergent, repot my herbs, and finish the day off with spinach-portabella lasagna set off by a delicious, floral Australian Shiraz. Marta Stewart beware.
Tonight I have to brag about how I am lucky to have the most amazing fellow for my Public Administration Management class. His name is Kenneth Ashworth and he’s the former Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner. Perhaps I'm a little partial because I love old (yes, his career began under Eisenhower) Texas democratic politicos. They tell the best stories and have the best damn gossip you've ever heard. Then there’s the fact that he revealed to our class his main stress-relieving activity is playing the clarinet…
Nevertheless, I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoy every class I have with him because he has such great insight and never hesitates to give us his honest opinion. I'll take this opportunity to plug his book - Caught Between the Dog and the Fireplug - which is written for future public servants but is so entertaining (and, well, filled with good Texas political gossip) that I think anyone would enjoy it. You can read the first chapter online through Barnes & Noble:
Tonight in his class we discussed America's other favorite pastime: bureaucrat-bashing. There’s a good deal of talk about government corruption that gets used as an impetus to bash public servants when, in reality, the overwhelming majority of corruption occurs under political appointees. Must public servants go to work and do their jobs like anyone else but the bad press ruins their professional respect. What it comes down to is a bad case of PR on behalf of government employees.
On that note, I thought I’d share an interesting semi-related article forwarded to me by my friend Anthony. He’s become increasingly interested in how public relations campaigns influence politics and sent me a number of interesting links as of late. You should check out the prwatch website if you have the time….
Until next time….Sarah
How PR Sold the War in the Persian Gulf
Excerpted from Toxic Sludge Is Good For You, Chapter 10
"If I wanted to lie, or if we wanted to lie, if we wanted to
exaggerate, I wouldn't use my daughter to do so. I could easily buy
other people to do it."
--Saud Nasir al-Sabah, Kuwait's Ambassador to the United States and
The Mother of All Clients
On August 2, 1990, Iraqi troops led by dictator Saddam Hussein invaded
the oil-producing nation of Kuwait. Like Noriega in Panama, Hussein had
been a US ally for nearly a decade. From 1980 to 1988, he had killed
about 150,000 Iranians, in addition to at least 13,000 of his own
citizens. Despite complaints from international human rights group,
however, the Reagan and Bush administrations had treated Hussein as a
valuable ally in the US confrontation with Iran. As late as July 25 - a
week before the invasion of Kuwait - US Ambassador April Glaspie
commiserated with Hussein over a "cheap and unjust" profile by ABC's
Diane Sawyer, and wished for an "appearance in the media, even for five
minutes," by Hussein that "would help explain Iraq to the American
Glaspie's ill-chosen comments may have helped convince the dictator
that Washington would look the other way if he "annexed" a neighboring
kingdom. The invasion of Kuwait, however, crossed a line that the Bush
Administration could not tolerate. This time Hussein's crime was far
more serious than simply gassing to death another brood of Kurdish
refugees. This time, oil was at stake.
Viewed in strictly moral terms, Kuwait hardly looked like the sort of
country that deserved defending, even from a monster like Hussein. The
tiny but super-rich state had been an independent nation for just a
quarter century when in 1986 the ruling al-Sabah family tightened its
dictatorial grip over the "black gold" fiefdom by disbanding the token
National Assembly and firmly establishing all power in the be-jeweled
hands of the ruling Emir. Then, as now, Kuwait's ruling oligarchy
brutally suppressed the country's small democracy movement, intimidated
and censored journalists, and hired desperate foreigners to supply most
of the nation's physical labor under conditions of indentured servitude
and near-slavery. The wealthy young men of Kuwait's ruling class were
known as spoiled party boys in university cities and national capitals
from Cairo to Washington.70
Unlike Grenada and Panama, Iraq had a substantial army that could not
be subdued in a mere weekend of fighting. Unlike the Sandinistas in
Nicaragua, Hussein was too far away from US soil, too rich with oil
money, and too experienced in ruling through propaganda and terror to
be dislodged through the psychological-warfare techniques of
low-intensity conflict. Waging a war to push Iraq's invading army from
Kuwait would cost billions of dollars and require an unprecedented,
massive US military mobilization. The American public was notoriously
reluctant to send its young into foreign battles on behalf of any
cause. Selling war in the Middle East to the American people would not
be easy. Bush would need to convince Americans that former ally Saddam
Hussein now embodied evil, and that the oil fiefdom of Kuwait was a
struggling young democracy. How could the Bush Administration build US
support for "liberating" a country so fundamentally opposed to
democratic values? How could the war appear noble and necessary rather
than a crass grab to save cheap oil?
"If and when a shooting war starts, reporters will begin to wonder why
American soldiers are dying for oil-rich sheiks," warned Hal Steward, a
retired army PR official. "The US military had better get cracking to
come up with a public relations plan that will supply the answers the
public can accept."71
Steward needn't have worried. A PR plan was already in place, paid for
almost entirely by the "oil-rich sheiks" themselves.
Packaging the Emir
US Congressman Jimmy Hayes of Louisiana - a conservative Democrat who
supported the Gulf War - later estimated that the government of Kuwait
funded as many as 20 PR, law and lobby firms in its campaign to
mobilize US opinion and force against Hussein.72 Participating firms
included the Rendon Group, which received a retainer of $100,000 per
month for media work, and Neill & Co., which received $50,000 per month
for lobbying Congress. Sam Zakhem, a former US ambassador to the
oil-rich gulf state of Bahrain, funneled $7.7 million in advertising
and lobbying dollars through two front groups, the "Coalition for
Americans at Risk" and the "Freedom Task Force." The Coalition, which
began in the 1980s as a front for the contras in Nicaragua, prepared
and placed TV and newspaper ads, and kept a stable of fifty speakers
available for pro-war rallies and publicity events.73
Hill & Knowlton, then the world's largest PR firm, served as mastermind
for the Kuwaiti campaign. Its activities alone would have constituted
the largest foreign-funded campaign ever aimed at manipulating American
public opinion. By law, the Foreign Agents Registration Act should have
exposed this propaganda campaign to the American people, but the
Justice Department chose not to enforce it. Nine days after Saddam's
army marched into Kuwait, the Emir's government agreed to fund a
contract under which Hill & Knowlton would represent "Citizens for a
Free Kuwait," a classic PR front group designed to hide the real role
of the Kuwaiti government and its collusion with the Bush
administration. Over the next six months, the Kuwaiti government
channeled $11.9 million dollars to Citizens for a Free Kuwait, whose
only other funding totalled $17,861 from 78 individuals. Virtually all
of CFK's budget - $10.8 million - went to Hill & Knowlton in the form
The man running Hill & Knowlton's Washington office was Craig Fuller,
one of Bush's closest friends and inside political advisors. The news
media never bothered to examine Fuller's role until after the war had
ended, but if America's editors had read the PR trade press, they might
have noticed this announcement, published in O'Dwyer's PR Services
before the fighting began: "Craig L. Fuller, chief of staff to Bush
when he was vice-president, has been on the Kuwaiti account at Hill &
Knowlton since the first day. He and [Bob] Dilenschneider at one point
made a trip to Saudi Arabia, observing the production of some 20
videotapes, among other chores. The Wirthlin Group, research arm of
H&K, was the pollster for the Reagan Administration. . . . Wirthlin has
reported receiving $1.1 million in fees for research assignments for
the Kuwaitis. Robert K. Gray, Chairman of H&K/USA based in Washington,
DC had leading roles in both Reagan campaigns. He has been involved in
foreign nation accounts for many years. . . . Lauri J. Fitz-Pegado,
account supervisor on the Kuwait account, is a former Foreign Service
Officer at the US Information Agency who joined Gray when he set up his
firm in 1982."75
In addition to Republican notables like Gray and Fuller, Hill &
Knowlton maintained a well-connected stable of in-house Democrats who
helped develop the bipartisan support needed to support the war. Lauri
Fitz-Pegado, who headed the Kuwait campaign, had previously worked with
super-lobbyist Ron Brown representing Haiti's Duvalier dictatorship.
Hill & Knowlton senior vice-president Thomas Ross had been Pentagon
spokesman during the Carter Administration. To manage the news media,
H&K relied on vice-chairman Frank Mankiewicz, whose background included
service as press secretary and advisor to Robert F. Kennedy and George
McGovern, followed by a stint as president of National Public Radio.
Under his direction, Hill & Knowlton arranged hundreds of meetings,
briefings, calls and mailings directed toward the editors of daily
newspapers and other media outlets.
Jack O'Dwyer had reported on the PR business for more than twenty
years, but he was awed by the rapid and expansive work of H&K on behalf
of Citizens for a Free Kuwait: "Hill & Knowlton . . . has assumed a
role in world affairs unprecedented for a PR firm. H&K has employed a
stunning variety of opinion-forming devices and techniques to help keep
US opinion on the side of the Kuwaitis. . . . The techniques range from
full-scale press conferences showing torture and other abuses by the
Iraqis to the distribution of tens of thousands of 'Free Kuwait'
T-shirts and bumper stickers at college campuses across the US."76
Documents filed with the US Department of Justice showed that 119 H&K
executives in 12 offices across the US were overseeing the Kuwait
account. "The firm's activities, as listed in its report to the Justice
Department, included arranging media interviews for visiting Kuwaitis,
setting up observances such as National Free Kuwait Day, National
Prayer Day (for Kuwait), and National Student Information Day,
organizing public rallies, releasing hostage letters to the media,
distributing news releases and information kits, contacting politicians
at all levels, and producing a nightly radio show in Arabic from Saudi
Arabia," wrote Arthur Rowse in the Progressive after the war. Citizens
for a Free Kuwait also capitalized on the publication of a quickie
154-page book about Iraqi atrocities titled The Rape of Kuwait, copies
of which were stuffed into media kits and then featured on TV talk
shows and the Wall Street Journal. The Kuwaiti embassy also bought
200,000 copies of the book for distribution to American troops.77
Hill & Knowlton produced dozens of video news releases at a cost of
well over half a million dollars, but it was money well spent,
resulting in tens of millions of dollars worth of "free" air time. The
VNRs were shown by eager TV news directors around the world who rarely
(if ever) identified Kuwait's PR firm as the source of the footage and
stories. TV stations and networks simply fed the carefully-crafted
propaganda to unwitting viewers, who assumed they were watching "real"
journalism. After the war Arthur Rowse asked Hill & Knowlton to show
him some of the VNRs, but the PR company refused. Obviously the phony
TV news reports had served their purpose, and it would do H&K no good
to help a reporter reveal the extent of the deception. In Unreliable
Sources, authors Martin Lee and Norman Solomon noted that "when a
research team from the communications department of the University of
Massachusetts surveyed public opinion and correlated it with knowledge
of basic facts about US policy in the region, they drew some sobering
conclusions: The more television people watched, the fewer facts they
knew; and the less people knew in terms of basic facts, the more likely
they were to back the Bush administration."78
Throughout the campaign, the Wirthlin Group conducted daily opinion
polls to help Hill & Knowlton take the emotional pulse of key
constituencies so it could identify the themes and slogans that would
be most effective in promoting support for US military action. After
the war ended, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation produced an Emmy
award-winning TV documentary on the PR campaign titled "To Sell a War."
The show featured an interview with Wirthlin executive Dee Alsop in
which Alsop bragged of his work and demonstrated how audience surveys
were even used to physically adapt the clothing and hairstyle of the
Kuwait ambassador so he would seem more likeable to TV audiences.
Wirthlin's job, Alsop explained, was "to identify the messages that
really resonate emotionally with the American people." The theme that
struck the deepest emotional chord, they discovered, was "the fact that
Saddam Hussein was a madman who had committed atrocities even against
his own people, and had tremendous power to do further damage, and he
needed to be stopped."79
Suffer the Little Children
Every big media event needs what journalists and flacks alike refer to
as "the hook." An ideal hook becomes the central element of a story
that makes it newsworthy, evokes a strong emotional response, and
sticks in the memory. In the case of the Gulf War, the "hook" was
invented by Hill & Knowlton. In style, substance and mode of delivery,
it bore an uncanny resemblance to England's World War I hearings that
accused German soldiers of killing babies.
On October 10, 1990, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus held a
hearing on Capitol Hill which provided the first opportunity for formal
presentations of Iraqi human rights violations. Outwardly, the hearing
resembled an official congressional proceeding, but appearances were
deceiving. In reality, the Human Rights Caucus, chaired by California
Democrat Tom Lantos and Illinois Republican John Porter, was simply an
association of politicians. Lantos and Porter were also co-chairs of
the Congressional Human Rights Foundation, a legally separate entity
that occupied free office space valued at $3,000 a year in Hill &
Knowlton's Washington, DC office. Notwithstanding its congressional
trappings, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus served as another Hill
& Knowlton front group, which - like all front groups - used a
noble-sounding name to disguise its true purpose.80
Only a few astute observers noticed the hypocrisy in Hill & Knowlton's
use of the term "human rights." One of those observers was John
MacArthur, author of The Second Front, which remains the best book
written about the manipulation of the news media during the Gulf War.
In the fall of 1990, MacArthur reported, Hill & Knowlton's Washington
switchboard was simultaneously fielding calls for the Human Rights
Foundation and for "government representatives of Indonesia, another
H&K client. Like H&K client Turkey, Indonesia is a practitioner of
naked aggression, having seized . . . the former Portuguese colony of
East Timor in 1975. Since the annexation of East Timor, the Indonesian
government has killed, by conservative estimate, about 100,000
inhabitants of the region."81
MacArthur also noticed another telling detail about the October 1990
hearings: "The Human Rights Caucus is not a committee of congress, and
therefore it is unencumbered by the legal accouterments that would make
a witness hesitate before he or she lied. ... Lying under oath in front
of a congressional committee is a crime; lying from under the cover of
anonymity to a caucus is merely public relations."82
In fact, the most emotionally moving testimony on October 10 came from
a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl, known only by her first name of Nayirah.
According to the Caucus, Nayirah's full name was being kept
confidential to prevent Iraqi reprisals against her family in occupied
Kuwait. Sobbing, she described what she had seen with her own eyes in a
hospital in Kuwait City. Her written testimony was passed out in a
media kit prepared by Citizens for a Free Kuwait. "I volunteered at the
al-Addan hospital," Nayirah said. "While I was there, I saw the Iraqi
soldiers come into the hospital with guns, and go into the room where .
. . babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the
incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor
Three months passed between Nayirah's testimony and the start of the
war. During those months, the story of babies torn from their
incubators was repeated over and over again. President Bush told the
story. It was recited as fact in Congressional testimony, on TV and
radio talk shows, and at the UN Security Council. "Of all the
accusations made against the dictator," MacArthur observed, "none had
more impact on American public opinion than the one about Iraqi
soldiers removing 312 babies from their incubators and leaving them to
die on the cold hospital floors of Kuwait City."84
At the Human Rights Caucus, however, Hill & Knowlton and Congressman
Lantos had failed to reveal that Nayirah was a member of the Kuwaiti
Royal Family. Her father, in fact, was Saud Nasir al-Sabah, Kuwait's
Ambassador to the US, who sat listening in the hearing room during her
testimony. The Caucus also failed to reveal that H&K vice-president
Lauri Fitz-Pegado had coached Nayirah in what even the Kuwaitis' own
investigators later confirmed was false testimony.
If Nayirah's outrageous lie had been exposed at the time it was told,
it might have at least caused some in Congress and the news media to
soberly reevaluate the extent to which they were being skillfully
manipulated to support military action. Public opinion was deeply
divided on Bush's Gulf policy. As late as December 1990, a New York
Times/CBS News poll indicated that 48 percent of the American people
wanted Bush to wait before taking any action if Iraq failed to withdraw
from Kuwait by Bush's January 15 deadline.85 On January 12, the US
Senate voted by a narrow, five-vote margin to support the Bush
administration in a declaration of war. Given the narrowness of the
vote, the babies-thrown-from-incubators story may have turned the tide
in Bush's favor.
Following the war, human rights investigators attempted to confirm
Nayirah's story and could find no witnesses or other evidence to
support it. Amnesty International, which had fallen for the story, was
forced to issue an embarrassing retraction. Nayirah herself was
unavailable for comment. "This is the first allegation I've had that
she was the ambassador's daughter," said Human Rights Caucus co-chair
John Porter. "Yes, I think people . . . were entitled to know the
source of her testimony." When journalists for the Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation asked Nasir al-Sabah for permission to
question Nayirah about her story, the ambassador angrily refused.86
The military build-up in the Persian Gulf began by flying and shipping
hundreds of thousands of US troops, armaments and supplies to staging
areas in Saudi Arabia, yet another nation with no tolerance for a free
press, democratic rights and most western customs. In a secret strategy
memo, the Pentagon outlined a tightly-woven plan to constrain and
control journalists. A massive babysitting operation would ensure that
no truly independent or uncensored reporting reached back to the US
public. "News media representatives will be escorted at all times," the
memo stated. "Repeat, at all times."87
Deputy Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Pete Williams served as
the Pentagon's top flack for the Gulf War. Using the perennial PR
strategy of "good cop/bad cop," the government of Saudi Arabia played
the "heavy," denying visas and access to the US press, while Williams,
the reporters' friend, appeared to intercede repeatedly on their
behalf. This strategy kept news organizations competing with each other
for favors from Williams, and kept them from questioning the
fundamental fact that journalistic independence was impossible under
military escort and censorship.
The overwhelming technological superiority of US forces won a decisive
victory in the brief and brutal war known as Desert Storm. Afterwards,
some in the media quietly admitted that they'd been manipulated to
produce sanitized coverage which almost entirely ignored the war's
human cost - today estimated at over 100,000 civilian deaths. The
American public's single most lasting memory of the war will probably
be the ridiculously successful video stunts supplied by the Pentagon
showing robot "smart bombs" striking only their intended military
targets, without much "collateral" (civilian) damage.
"Although influential media such as the New York Times and Wall Street
Journal kept promoting the illusion of the 'clean war,' a different
picture began to emerge after the US stopped carpet-bombing Iraq," note
Lee and Solomon. "The pattern underscored what Napoleon meant when he
said that it wasn't necessary to completely suppress the news; it was
sufficient to delay the news until it no longer mattered."
Well, I'm about to give up on my Apple loyalty. I still love OS X and about a million other things about Apples but my blog has totally different colors on a Mac than PC and it's driving me insane. Furthermore, I have to use Seth's computer to do my statistics homework since Microsoft doesn't think Mac users need the Data Analysis add-in for Excel. Uf.
In better news, Donna Tartt's newest novel, The Little Friend, is due out November 1st and I, for one, can't wait. If you haven't read her only other book, The Secret History, do yourself a favor and pick it up this weekend. It's so engaging that I can promise you'll finish it in a day or two. There's a good article in Book magazine (which I get because my brother generously bought me a Barnes & Noble bookclub membership for my birthday) about Ms. Tartt and her wacky eccentricities. I like her even better now I know she's a full two inches shorter than yours truly.
I had a woeful day of gut-wrenching fretting about my statistics homework which, incidentally, did turn out to be wrong, but not as badly as I originally suspected. In the greater scheme of things, it turned out to be a pretty good day.
One thing I really like about school is the tendancy for my pre-assigned readings to shed some new light on contemporary issues, often in almost frightening cases of coincidence. With all of the current debate about the media's proper role in disseminating information about the situation in Iraq, I was a little surprised to discover that the Supreme Court already handed down a arguably similar decision on the media's obligations towards maintaining national security - 30 YEARS AGO.
Now, I'm going to be perfectly honest and admit that I have an American Studies degree and had very little knowledge about the Pentagon Papers until today. I feel pretty stupid about it. More importantly, however, this brings up the fact that American public schools provide an inadequate education on recent history. Just check out the Texas Education Agency TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge Skills) - the guidelines for the learning objectives students must satisfy through G.W.'s pet academic tests (TEAMS then TAAS now TAKS). According to the TEA website (http://socialstudies.tea.state.tx.us/teks_and_taas/teks/teksushist.htm), history teachers need to cover events 1877 to present but aren't explicitly required to cover anything post-1957. Surely our society isn't so politically divided by the "culture wars" that we can't better educate our high school students on the political controversies of the 60's forward?
Anyway, here's a nice, brief description of the Pentagon Papers for your reading pleasure:
THE FIRST AMENDMENT AND FREEDOM OF THE PRESS
by James C. Goodale
James C. Goodale served as general counsel to The New York Times when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the Times could continue to publish the then-classified Pentagon Papers. In the following article, Goodale describes several Supreme Court cases in which First Amendment rights have been upheld, allowing the press to pursue its mission, no matter how odious that mission might seem to those in power. Goodale is an attorney with Debevoise & Plimpton, a New York law firm that specializes in First Amendmentand communications law. Craig Bloom, an associate, assisted in the preparation of this article.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom...of the press." Although the First Amendment specifically mentions only the federal Congress, this provision now protects the press from all government, whether local, state or federal.
The founders of the United States enacted the First Amendment to distinguish their new government from that of England, which had long censored the press and prosecuted persons who dared to criticize the British Crown. As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart explained in a 1974 speech, the "primary purpose" of the First Amendment was "to create a fourth institution outside the government as an additional check on the three official branches" (the executive branch, the legislature and the judiciary).
Justice Stewart cited several landmark cases in which the Supreme Court -- the final arbiter of the meaning of the First Amendment -- has upheld the right of the press to perform its function as a check on official power. One of these cases -- the 1971 Pentagon Papers case -- lies especially close to my heart.
Back then I was general counsel to The New York Times, which had obtained a leaked copy of the classified Pentagon Papers, a top-secret history of the United States government's decision-making process regarding the war in Vietnam. After a careful review of the documents, we began to publish a series of articles about this often unflattering history, which suggested that the government had misled the American people about the war.
The day after our series began, we received a telegram from the U.S. attorney general warning us that our publication of the information violated the Espionage Law. The attorney general also claimed that further publication would cause "irreparable injury to the defense interests of the United States."
The government then took us to court, and convinced a judge to issue a temporary restraining order which prohibited the Times from continuing to publish the series. Following a whirlwind series of further hearings and appeals, we ended up before the Supreme Court two weeks later. The court ruled that our publication of the Pentagon Papers could continue. The court held that any prior restraint on publication "bear[s] a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity," and held that the government had failed to meet its heavy burden of showing a justification for the restraint in New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971). We immediately resumed our publication of the series, and we eventually won a Pulitzer Prize, the profession's highest honor, for the public service we performed by publishing our reports.
Click here for a list of Supreme Court opinions for these and other cases on freedom of the press, or go to the Bibliography.
Seven years before the Pentagon Papers case, the Supreme Court handed The New York Times another landmark First Amendment victory, this time in the seminal libel case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964). This action was brought by an elected official who supervised the Montgomery, Alabama police force during the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The official claimed that he was defamed by a full-page advertisement, published in the Times, that accused the police of mistreating non-violent protestors and harassing one of the leading figures in the civil rights movement, the Rev. Martin Luther King.
The Supreme Court found that even though some of the statements in the advertisement were false, the First Amendment nevertheless protected the Times from the official's suit. The court considered the case "against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust and wide-open, and that it may wellinclude vehement, caustic and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials." In light of this commitment, the court adopted the rule that a public official may not recover damages for a defamatory falsehood related to his official conduct "unless he proves that the statement was made with 'actual malice' -- that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not." The court later extended this rule beyond "public officials" to cover libel suits brought by all "public figures." Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts and Associated Press v. Walker, 388 U.S. 130 (1967).
Although the Sullivan case is best known for the "actual malice" rule, the Supreme Court's decision included a second holding of great importance to the press. Noting that the challenged advertisement attacked the police generally, but not the official specifically, the court held that an otherwise impersonal attack on governmental operations could not be considered a libel of the official who was responsible for the operations.
The First Amendment also protects the right to parody public figures, even when such parodies are "outrageous," and even when they cause their targets severe emotional distress. In Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46 (1988), the court considered an action for "intentional infliction of emotional distress" brought by Jerry Falwell -- a well-known conservative minister who was an active commentator on political issues -- against Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler, a sexually explicit magazine. (This case figures prominently in the critically-acclaimed film "The People vs. Larry Flynt," which opened in the United States in late 1996.)
The Hustler case arose from a parody of a series of Campari liqueur advertisements in which celebrities spoke about their "first times" drinking the liqueur. The Hustler magazine parody, titled "Jerry Falwell talks about his first time," contained an alleged "interview" in which Falwell stated that his "first time" was during a drunken, incestuous encounter with his mother in an outhouse. The parody also suggested that Falwell preached only when he was drunk.
The Supreme Court held that the First Amendment barred Falwell's contention that a publisher should be held liable for an "outrageous" satire about a public figure. The court noted that throughout American history, "graphic depictions and satirical cartoons have played a prominent role in public and political debate."
Although the Supreme Court opined that the Hustler parody at issue bore little relation to traditional political cartoons, it nonetheless found that Falwell's proposed "outrageousness" test offered no principled standard to distinguish between them as a matter of law. The court emphasized the need to provide the press with sufficient "breathing space" to exercise its First Amendment freedom. The court added that "if it is the speaker's opinion that gives offense, that consequence is a reason for according it constitutional protection. For it is a central tenet of the First Amendment that the government must remain neutral in the marketplace of ideas."
The protection of the First Amendment extends beyond press reports concerning major government policies and well-known public figures. The Supreme Court has held that if the press "lawfully obtains truthful information about a matter of public significance then [the government] may not constitutionally punish publication of the information, absent a need to further a state interest of the highest order," Smith v. Daily Mail Publishing Co., 443 U.S. 97 (1979).
Applying this principle, the Supreme Court has employed the First Amendment to strike down state laws which threatened to punish the press for reporting the following: information regarding confidential judicial misconduct hearings, Landmark Communications, Inc. v. Virginia, 435 U.S. 829 (1978); the names of rape victims, Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn, 420 U.S. 469 (1975); and the names of alleged juvenile offenders, Smith v. Daily Mail Publishing Co., 443 U.S. 97 (1979). The court also struck down a law which made it a crime for a newspaper to carry an election day editorial urging voters to support a proposal on the ballot, Mills v. Alabama, 384 U.S. 214 (1966).
The First Amendment also prevents the government from telling the press what it must report. In Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo, 418 U.S. 241 (1974), the Supreme Court considered whether a state statute could grant a political candidate a right to equal space to reply to a newspaper's criticism and attacks on his record. The court struck down the law, holding that the First Amendment forbids the compelled publication of material that a newspaper does not want to publish. The court held that the statute would burden the press by diverting its resources away from the publication of material it wished to print, and would impermissibly intrude into the functions of editors.
The Supreme Court has not, however, afforded similar protection to the broadcast media. In a pre-Tornillo case, Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, 395 U.S. 367 (1969), the Supreme Court upheld a Federal Communications Commission rule that required broadcasters to provide a right of reply under certain circumstances. The court justified this regulation by citing the scarcity of the broadcast spectrum and the government's role in allocating frequencies.
Today, the scarcity problem is much reduced in light of technological advances in the division of the spectrum, and the rise of new media outlets such as cable television and the Internet. Although many issues regarding the reach of the First Amendment to these new media remain unresolved, First Amendment advocates hope to convince the Supreme Court to provide these media with the highest level of First Amendment protection.
Although the First Amendment generally prevents the government from restraining or punishing the press, the First Amendment usually does not require the government to furnish information to the press. However, the federal government and the state governments have passed freedom of information and open meetings laws which provide the press with a statutory right to obtain certain information and to observe many of the operations of government. In addition, the First Amendment does furnish the press with the right to attend most judicial proceedings.
The First Amendment also provides journalists with a limited privilege not to disclose their sources or information to litigants who seek to use that information in court. In Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665 (1972), the Supreme Court held that reporters did not have a privilege to refuse to answer a grand jury's questions that directly related to criminal conduct that the journalists observed and wrote about.
However, the court's opinion noted that news gathering does have First Amendment protections, and many lower courts have applied a qualified First Amendment privilege to situations in which the need for the journalist's information was less compelling than in Branzburg. These courts require litigants to prove that the material sought is relevant to their claim, necessary to the maintenance of the claim, and unavailable from other sources. In addition, more than half of the states have adopted statutes called "Shield Laws," which provide a similar privilege to journalists.
Although the press normally must obey generally applicable laws, the First Amendment prevents the government from enforcing laws which discriminate against the press. For example, the court has struck down a law which imposed a special tax on large newspapers, Minneapolis Star & Tribune Co. v. Minnesota Commissioner of Revenue,460 U.S. 575 (1983) , and a law which imposed a tax on some magazines but not others based on their subject matter, Arkansas Writers' Project, Inc. v. Ragland, 481 U.S. 221 (1987) .
As the cases discussed above illustrate, over the course of the 20th century the Supreme Court has breathed life into the text of the First Amendment by upholding the right of the press to pursue its mission, no matter how odious that mission might seem to those in power. The courts have imposed some limits on this liberty, and questions remain as to how far this liberty will extend to new media, and to some of the more aggressive efforts employed by journalists to obtain the news. Still, I am confident that the Supreme Court will continue to recognize that, as Justice Stewart wrote in the Pentagon Papers case, "without an informed and free press there cannot be an enlightened people."
Issues of Democracy
USIA Electronic Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1, February 1997
It's 11:35pm and I'm finally done with the statistics homework I've been working on since 11:35am. Well, mostly done at least. Now I'm going to drink a glass of wine, have a cigarette, and head to bed - exactly what I've been wanting to do all day.
Grad school drives me a little crazy because I feel like one of those cartoon characters with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. On the one hand, I really want to do well and, more importantly, come away feeling like I've really learned something. At the same time, it's like my friend Dorie said: if I die tomorrow, I'm not really going to care about how I did on my statistics assignment or my class presentation or the relationship between interest groups and political agendas. Hanging out with people I like, eating good food, traveling, seeing good bands, reading good books - they all outweigh my GPA.
That said, I'm going to sleep. I've got midterms this week so I really hope I don't get hit by an 18-wheeler and regret the insane amount of time I'm going to dedicate to school before Friday. Maybe I should go out every night just in case...
...because trying to figure out how to change the size of my tables is driving me crazy. Maybe a fellow chompyite will send me a tip.
This morning I grumpily awoke at 7am to go to school to coordinate the semi-annual community service day. It was dark, pouring rain, and chilly - I figured I'd be left sitting in the LBJ student lounge with $100 worth of doughnuts and no volunteers. But people surprise you. By 9am we had 50 people on the road to Casa Marianella, the Capital Area Food Bank, Keep Austin Beautiful, the animal shelter, and Project Transitions. By 1pm we'd completed close to 200 hours worth of volunteer service.
Besides having the huge burden of trying to convince 50 grad students to wake up early on a Saturday off my back, I feel pretty good about the work we did too. Giving up a little sleep is just a small inconvenience, especially when the work you're doing is helping people with bigger problems than a stack of homework.
Thanks to Jacob for setting up my blog...I'm still figuring out how to set up my site but thought I'd post my most recent school paper to entertain my audience in the meantime...
State Income Tax Stigma Costing Texas Families
How would you respond to an opportunity to save money on taxes and increase funding for Texas public schools? In today’s economy, such an idea seems nothing short of impossible but a simple solution may allow Texans to do just that.
The Joint Committee on Public School Finance is currently considering a proposal that would institute a voluntary state income tax in Texas. Under this plan, taxpayers would have the option to pay a state income tax and, in exchange, receive a rebate on their estimated state sales taxes. Since state income taxes are also deductible from federal income taxes, Dick Lavine of the Center for Public Policy Priorities projects that the voluntary income tax proposal would decrease overall tax spending for more than 60% of Texas families. Those who did not benefit could simply opt-out.
An alternative to sales taxes would also reduce the tax burden on Texas’ working poor. Since individuals working in low-wage jobs often have little disposable income, a larger percentage of their income goes to pay for day-to-day necessities like clothing, school supplies, and household necessities – items subject to sales taxes. A refund on sales taxes could greatly benefit the Texas families that need it most.
But taxpayers aren’t the only potential beneficiaries. By dedicating the funds from the new tax to education, Texas could end its long dependency on local property taxes to finance education and silence public complaints about the unpopular tax-redistribution provisions currently in place.
The need for increased school funding is clear. During the 2001-2002 school year, Texas ranked an embarrassing 30th in the nation for per pupil expenditures. According to the testimony of David Thompson, a Houston lawyer on the Joint Select Committee on Public School Finance, the state would see a net increase in tax revenue of 21 percent for a taxpayer with an adjusted gross income of $50,000 and four dependents if he or she opted to pay a state income tax.
Yet another advantage: Texas would no longer be forced to shoulder a disproportionate share of the federal tax burden. As one of only seven states that have no income tax, Texas taxpayers are being excluded from the state income tax deduction on federal taxes. It seems unimaginable that a state long-bent on state’s rights would voluntarily pay more federal taxes than forty-three other states in the Union.
Given the win-win nature of the proposed voluntary state income tax, one would expect our state political parties to be tripping over themselves in the rush to take credit for such a simple yet ingenious idea. But they aren’t. In fact, the Texas Republican and Democratic parties’ platforms both specifically state that they oppose instituting any state income tax.
In an era when public relations maneuvers, mud-slinging, and hollow rhetoric dominate the political debate, it’s hardly a surprise that many Texas Legislators would prefer to let a good bill die before they allowed themselves to be stigmatized as pro-tax or pro-big government. What they don’t realize is the opportunity they’re missing out on.
In truth, the minimal political risks associated with this proposal are outweighed by the potential political benefits. For one, the state income tax is voluntary – Texans who opposed the policy could simply opt out. Furthermore, Texas voters themselves would have the opportunity to vote on the proposal once it passed since any state income tax provisions would require an amendment to the Texas Constitution. In the end, legislators would surely benefit from constituents pleased with decreased taxes and improved schools.
It could be argued that there’s no such thing as a good tax, but that doesn’t necessarily mean some taxes aren’t better than others. Texas Legislators must demonstrate the leadership to challenge the state income tax stigma if we wish to insure the long-term viability of Texas public schools. And who knows? Perhaps the resulting tax cut would provide the economic stimulus we need to put the Texas economy back on track as well.