I don’t know if the creator of The West Wing has ever actually watched, you know, television, but ads in which politicians play fast and loose with facts and context have been appearing there for a long time — for nearly as long as television has existed, actually. I don’t know how high Sorkin’s opinion of the American people is, but if he thinks that they are not smart enough to evaluate campaign advertisements on their own, I hope he has some alternative political arrangement in mind, because democracy is a hell of a lot harder than that. Why should people capable of being duped by a 30-second commercial be allowed to decide whether we should cut taxes or build new airports or go to war? When Sorkin writes that he wants “speech protections to make sure no one gets imprisoned or killed for saying or writing something unpopular, not to ensure that lies have unfettered access to the American electorate,” he might as well be quoting one of the reactionary 19th-century popes. Not bad!
Sorkin’s argument is of a piece with what liberals have been saying since at least November 2016 about the internet, which is suddenly the scariest thing in the world. (Amazing, isn’t it, how things change when it’s not just the scrappy, innovative youngsters creating a massive database of people’s personal information in order to game an election.) Their argument, as rehearsed ad infinitum by everyone from Hillary Clinton on down, is that a few bots on Twitter or whatever were the sole reason Trump won the election. Unfortunately for them, there is no evidence that this actually happened — the only group among whom Trump improved upon Mitt Romney’s share of the vote in 2012 was people who do not regularly use the internet (hint: old retired Democrats in places like Macomb County, Michigan).