In June, the Times was in high dudgeon -- it knows no other degree of dudgeon -- about the Supreme Court's refusal to affirm a far-reaching government power to suppress political speech. The court ruled that a small group of
Wisconsin residents had been improperly refused the right to run an issue advocacy ad urging the state's two senators not to filibuster the president's judicial nominees.
Because one of those senators was seeking reelection, the group's ad was deemed an "electioneering communication" -- one that "refers to" a candidate for federal office. McCain-Feingold bans such communications by corporations, including incorporated nonprofit citizens' groups, in the weeks before an election -- when the Times' editorial page is in full-throated enjoyment of speech rights it would deny to others...
The Times, a media corporation that is a fountain of detailed editorial instructions about how the rest of the world should conduct its business, seems confused about how it conducts its own. The Times now says the appropriate rate for MoveOn.org's full-page ad should have been $142,000, a far cry from $65,000, which is what the group paid. So the discount of $77,000 constitutes a large soft-money contribution to a federally regulated political committee. The Times' horror of such contributions was expressed in its enthusiasm for McCain-Feingold...
Bob Bauer, a Democratic lawyer specializing in laws regulating political speech, notes -- not approvingly -- that the Times supposedly has a policy of rejecting ads involving "personal attack" speech. But the Times accepted MoveOn.org's ad accusing a soldier of betraying his country. According to the Times' public editor, a Times official said the ad was "a comment on a public official's management of his office."
Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., defending the decision to run the ad, said: "If we're going to err, it's better to err on the side of more political dialogue. . . . Perhaps we did err in this case. If we did, we erred with the intent of giving greater voice to people." Bauer notes that Sulzberger might have used words from a Supreme Court decision: "In a debatable case, the tie is resolved in favor of protecting speech." And: "Where the First Amendment is implicated, the tie goes to the speaker, not the censor." So spoke Chief Justice John Roberts in the Wisconsin decision that Sulzberger's paper denounced because it would magnify the voices of, among other things, "wealthy corporations." The Times Co.'s 2006 revenue was $3.3 billion.
And people wonder why the Times circulation is down.