Eugene Volokh looks at the multitude of legal issues triggered by prosecutors and sheriffs forming the “Barack Obama Truth Squad” in Missouri.
What was really striking about that local Missouri television report on the “Barack Obama Truth Squad” was the cheerful nonchalance with which the reporters relayed the details, as if law enforcement officials had just formed a new program to tell kids not to do drugs or to look both ways while crossing the street, something utterly uncontroversial and innocuous. When a prosecutor starts talking about “we don’t want people to get distracted, so we’re here to respond to any character attacks, to set the record straight”, the words “First Amendment” should be coming out of the mouth of the reporter conducting the interview at some point, perhaps along with “What the hell are you thinking?”
Think about it, the local television station summarized the story on their web site, “The Barack Obama campaign is asking Missouri law enforcement to target anyone who lies or runs a misleading TV ad during the presidential campaign,” and it seems no one at the station blinked; there was nothing in the report that indicated that this might be controversial.
I hate to be glum heading into October, but to a certain extent, an electorate gets the leaders it deserves. If the journalism institutions in a given area nod and smile as they’re given information like this — if it never crosses their mind to object — then the Fourth Estate, for all extents and purposes, ceases to exist. When Ben Franklin responded to the query about the government that would manage the young nation, “A Republic, if you can keep it,” moments like this make you wonder if we’re in the process of losing it.
[A question about the “innocous” explanation that Obama’s campaign just wants prominent local officials to push back against false rumors: Why does Obama’s ‘Truth Squad’ need certain members to carry firearms? I could understand high-profile public prosecutors doing spin, but why does the Truth Squad need sheriffs?]