Old and busted New York Times: Corporations using their influence in politics via Citizens United represents the end of democracy! New hotness: Feel the power of our fully operational corporate power! The Paper of Record’s editorial board decided to take over its opinion page Twitter account this morning to engage in some corporate political activism against the Republican tax-reform bill in the Senate.
This morning, the Times editorial board is tweeting here to urge the Senate to reject a tax bill that hurts the middle class & the nation's fiscal health. #thetaxbillhurts
— New York Times Opinion (@nytopinion) November 29, 2017
It didn’t just tweet out the board’s opinion. The NYT sent out a number of tweets with phone numbers for the offices of Republican senators, hoping to flood their offices with phone calls to dissuade them from supporting the bill:
Contact @SenJohnMcCain and @JeffFlake, particularly if you live in Arizona, and tell them to oppose the tax bill: It would add more than $1.4 trillion to the deficit over 10 years without helping the middle class. #thetaxbillhurts
Flake: (202) 224-4521
McCain: (202) 224-2235 pic.twitter.com/PvXI1b3Xd4
— New York Times Opinion (@nytopinion) November 29, 2017
For those who wonder, the New York Times is owned by the New York Times Company, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange. It is every bit a for-profit corporate entity as those which the paper insists will undermine democracy if allowed to exercise First Amendment free speech rights. Five years ago, the same editorial board lambasted Justice Samuel Alito for defending Citizens United, noting that media corporations fill a different role which justified a carve-out in campaign finance regulations. Media corporations exist to inform people, not to pursue their own interests in information dissemination, they claimed then:
“The question is whether speech that goes to the very heart of government should be limited to certain preferred corporations; namely, media corporations,” he said in a speech to the Federalist Society, a conservative group. “Surely the idea that the First Amendment protects only certain privileged voices should be disturbing to anybody who believes in free speech.”
But Justice Alito’s argument wrongly confuses the matter. It is not the corporate structure of media companies that makes them deserving of constitutional protection. It is their function — the vital role that the press plays in American democracy — that sets them apart. In Citizens United, by a 5-to-4 vote, the court ruled that the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, in limiting the amount that organizations could spend, severely restricted First Amendment rights. The law’s purpose and effect, according to the court, was to keep unions and most corporations from conveying facts and opinions to the public, though it exempted media corporations.
And yet here we are today, with the editors blithely campaigning with their corporate resources. That’s actually fair play; if anything, it underscores the wisdom of Citizens United and the rejection of the BCRA’s speech restrictions. If Comcast can campaign about net neutrality, for instance, then the NYT can campaign on its hobby-horse agenda items, too. This action goes well beyond “informing the public” and into political activism, but then again, both are equally covered by the First Amendment, too.
However, as a self-styled privileged entity as part of the media, this is rank hypocrisy, as David Harsanyi argued today — and worse:
Perhaps I’m forgetting instances of similar politicking, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a major newspaper engage in the kind of partisan activism The New York Times is involved in right now—not even on an editorial page. The Times’ editorial board isn’t saying, “Boy, that Republican bill is going to kill children,” it’s imploring people on social media — most of whom don’t even subscribe to their paper or live in Maine — to inundate a senator with calls to sink a tax reform they dislike. (It worth pointing out that its hyperbolic contentions regarding the bill are generally untrue or misleading, but that’s another story.)
The average news consumer doesn’t care about the infrastructure of a news organization. When they see a media giant engaged in naked partisan campaigning, it confirms all their well-worn suspicions. You can grouse all day long about readers’ inability to comprehend the internal divide, but how could a Republican trust The New York Times’ coverage of a tax bill after watching the same paper not merely editorialize against it, but run an ad that could have come from any of the proxies of the Democratic Party? …
What makes this kind of activism (which is likely to be ineffective, anyway) particularly hypocritical and distasteful, though, is that the Times has long argued in favor of empowering the government to shut down corporations — just like them — that engage in campaigning by overturning the First Amendment via Citizens United. This is worth remembering as the board turns into the equivalent of a super PAC.
The opinion pages exist for the Times’ editors and their columnists to make arguments on policy, culture, and politics. This campaign not only tips over into the activism they would deny others, it makes the paper’s political bent crystal clear and reduces their credibility of their claim to media-outlet privilege. As Guy Benson put it on Twitter this morning, this is the kind of “direct political activism” that makes it seem like the editors rented out the newspaper to the Democratic Party.
This, of course, would not be news to conservatives.
For now, we can simply store this away for future use. Their campaign will likely have as much impact on voters outside the urban-enclave bubble as most Democratic politicians do, which is to say not much. The next time they decide to scold the Supreme Court over Citizens United and the danger it represents to democracy, though, we’ll be sure to bring this back out into the sunlight.