Feb 26, 2012 8:10 AM GMT
Used in recent years as the keystone by the extremists for the argument that the government has been overtaken by unidentified "corporations", not surprisingly many of the criticisms are disingenuous if not outright false.
Like Fox News, The New York Times has a First Amendment right to spread misinformation about important public issues, and it is exercising that right in its campaign against the Citizens United ruling. In news stories, as well as columns, it has repeatedly mischaracterized Citizens United, explicitly or implicitly blaming it for allowing unlimited "super PAC" contributions from mega-rich individuals. In fact, Citizens United enabled corporations and unions to use general treasury funds for independent political expenditures; it did not expand or address the longstanding, individual rights of the rich to support independent groups. And, as recent reports have made clear, individual donors, not corporations, are the primary funders of super PACs.
When I first focused on the inaccurate reference to Citizens United in a front-page story about Sheldon Adelson, I assumed it was a more or less honest if negligent mistake. (And I still don't blame columnists for misconceptions about a complicated case that are gleaned from news stories and apparently shared by their editors.) But mistakes about Citizens United are beginning to look more like propaganda, because even after being alerted to its misstatements, the Times has continued to repeat them. First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams wrote to the editors pointing out mischaracterizations of Citizens United in two news stories, but instead of publishing corrections, the Times published Abrams' letter on the editorial page, effectively framing a factual error as a difference of opinion. Since then the error has reappeared: A February 21 post by Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal attributes Sheldon Adelson's ability to influence the election to Citizens United. "Thanks to Citizens United, unlimited contributions to third-party groups are legal," Rosenthal asserts.
It's only fair to note that the Times has recently made small, slippery concessions to the truth: References to Citizen's United now are more likely to be misleading or, at best, greatly oversimplified, rather than indisputably, explicitly wrong. A January 23 report on a $5 million contribution by Miriam Adelson to the Gingrich PAC stated, for example, that Citizen's United "paved the way for Super PACs," implying that it legalized Adelson's individual contribution. It did not.