Through the McCain-Feingold Looking Glass

by DAVID PRICE

Republican operatives are suggesting that advertisements for Michael Moore’s blockbuster film "Fahrenheit 9/11" must be subjected to the McCain-Feingold Bill’s political advertising restrictions. Because sections of McCain-Feingold limit certain forms of explicit political advertising these conservatives argue that "Fahrenheit 9/11" or its promotional advertisements should be treated as political ads and thus become subjected to federal limitation and regulation.

This is an interesting argument, and if these Bush supporters were to prevail in the courts the fallout of such a decision could have significant impact on media representations of political issues in America.

I have some simple advice for Michael Moore on how he might defend himself against these charges: He should hire either the most incompetent or rightwing-politically-biased legal representation available to defend him against these charges. (Perhaps Moore could coax some high profile legal talent like Marcia Clark or Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to either accidentally or intentionally bungle his case for him–I’d personally suggest Scalia because he would not have recuse himself should an appeal of these issues later come before his court.)

If Moore launched a thoroughly incompetent legal defense to these charges and lost he could take a significant step towards establishing more balanced news coverage on the American airwaves. If Moore’s work can be seen as an explicit piece of campaign propaganda supporting a Kerry (or Nader for that matter) presidential bid, it is no stretch of logic or imagination to argue that most cable network news programming holds an equivalent position supporting Bush’s policies. The precedent established by losing such a case could be used to muzzle the propagandistic ads for virtually every program on the Fox "news" network, the 700 Club, Rush Limbaugh, and about six-sevenths of the programs airing on CNN.

Michael Moore would well serve his country if he would lie down and take a hit for equal time by using the worst available legal council to establish an absurd legal precedent that could then be weaponized against America’s right-wing media domination.

DAVID PRICE teaches anthropology at St. Martin’s College in Olympia, Washington. His latest book, Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI’s Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists has just been published by Duke University Press. He can be reached at: dprice@stmartin.edu


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