Political Speech

Over the past several years, there have been considerable furor, claims, and counter-claims over political statements by prominent candidates that have in fact been proven not to be accurate in the slightest. Those statements are usually justified under the general concept of “freedom of speech.”

As many have said, and I’m among them, you’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts, meaning that you shouldn’t be allowed to present false or untrue facts, at least not publicly. Yet politicians, especially those such as Donald Trump, repeatedly reiterated proven untruths.

Despite assertions that all speech should be free, the Supreme Court and other courts have held that certain forms of speech are not protected by the First Amendment. In general terms, there are nine categories of unprotected speech: obscenity, fighting words, defamation (including libel and slander), child pornography, perjury, blackmail, incitement to imminent lawless action, true threats, and solicitations to commit crimes. So it’s legally clear that not all forms of speech are protected.

So far, at least, under current law and legal precedents, politicians and those running for office cannot be prosecuted for statements that are untrue or misleading.

What I find both interesting and appalling is that while various state and federal laws prohibit false or misleading advertising about products, there’s no restriction on untrue or misleading statements by politicians.

What the Supreme Court either ignored or dismissed in the Citizens United decision is that political speech conveyed by any media, whether print or electronic, is not just speech, but an advertisement for what is actually a commodity – the services which a politician or would-be politician promises to undertake for his or her constituents if elected.

When someone expresses an opinion or even wrong or false facts in conversation, they aren’t selling a product, but when they do it in public arenas and/or through the media in pursuit of a political goal, they’re trying to sell a commodity… and the claims for that commodity should be regulated and legally penalized for blatant falsehoods, just as corporate advertising is, at least theoretically.

2 thoughts on “Political Speech”

  1. RRCRrea says:

    “political speech conveyed by any media, whether print or electronic, is not just speech, but an advertisement for what is actually a commodity – the services which a politician or would-be politician promises to undertake for his or her constituents if elected” is a legal argument. The Commerce Clause of the Constitution seems like a good place to ground that argument.

  2. Hanneke says:

    This would be a really good solution to all the blatant lies being promoted by politicians!
    But I think they would just use the kinds of weasel words that newspapers do in such cases, like “I heard …” “it’s said …”, or even just a question mark.

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