The White House, Twitter, And The Citizens United Decision

Politico published an interesting story this morning regarding the use of Twitter by White House officials to take their message directly to the public and push back when they believe reporters are not fairly presenting their side of the story.  According to the article:

The White House has started using a new weapon for correcting news reports, pushing back against a negative story, or shaping the press corps narrative of the day: Twitter.

 On Monday, deputy press secretary Bill Burton told his more than four thousand followers — which includes much of the White House press corps — that a Washington Post report that morning was wrong. The Obamas, he noted, went to Chicago for Valentine’s Day in 2009, not this past Sunday, as was reported in the Post’s Style section.

The article touches on an interesting dynamic – White House officials believe they need a mechanism to take their message directly to the public without the filter of reporting by the press. 

The same dynamic is at play in the Citizens United decision.  The Court made clear that the American public – including voters – benefit from more speakers delivering their message directly to the public without filter.  The First Amendment protects the associational and speech rights of individuals and organizations to pool their resources to discuss federal candidates and important issues of the day without fear that the federal government will impose civil or criminal penalties for engaging in political activities.  If the federal government can ban political speech in the form of television or radio advertisements, political speech over the internet may be next.  As the Court stated:

Rapid changes in technology – and the creative dynamic inherent in the concept of free expression – counsel against upholding a law that restricts speech in certain media by certain speakers.  Today, 30-second television ads may be the most effective way to convey a political message.  Soon, however, it may be that Internet sources, such as blogs and social networking sites, will provide citizens with significant information about political candidates and issues.  Yet, [the ban on corporate expenditures] would seem to ban a blog post express advocating the election or defeat of a candidate if that blog were created with corporate funds.  The First Amendment does not permit Congress to make these categorical distinctions based on the corporate identity of the speaker and the content of the political speech.  Slip Opinion at 49 (citations omitted).

The clear import of the Court’s decision is that more speech is better than less speech.  The American people are capable of making their own decisions about the speakers and political speech that will form the basis of their decision-making in the political market place. 

White House officials believe they need to use the internet to deliver their political messages directly to the American people about important issues of the day.  Congress should not enact legislation designed to silence the other side of the debate.

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