Politics I’m Posting This One
posted by October 19 at 8:50 AMon
Traipsing around the Internet, I often end up at the on-line version of a quarterly magazine called City Journal.
City Journal focuses on municipal planning and city issues and bills itself as a high-brow journal that’s all about “restoring the quality of life to America’s cities.”
I thought I’d found a crew of urban agenda compatriots, but it turns out it’s a hotly partisan free market, Libertarian magazine. It’s a publication of the Manhattan Institute, the conservative think tank that powered Rudy Giuliani in the 1990s.
Politics aside, if you ask me, it’s not a particularly high-brow or scholarly mag. It typically presents its arguments in a black and white, sweeping, judgmental tone without much evidence of research or reporting. Also, and I know this is goofing out on journalism stuff, the leads to most of the magazine’s articles take forever to get to the point.
City Journal writes about a lot of the stuff I’m interested in, and typically I disagree with their Liberatarian take on things. I’ve been tempted to link a few of their articles on Slog as contrarian pieces here. (For example, they had one on cap and trade and another on muni wi-fi.) However, like I said, it turns out, their articles are underwhelming, and so, I never bother.
It’s written in that blockheaded City Journal style, but this time it actually had me reconsidering my pro net neutrality POV.
Arguing that net providers are like newspapers and so have the right to run or not run whatever content they choose, here’s the crux of their argument:
The Times apparently needs to brush up on the First Amendment. It’s certainly true that any government action restricting online speech in this fashion would be unconstitutional. When government censors, it does so in a sweeping and coercive fashion, prohibiting the public, at least in theory, from seeing or hearing what it disapproves of and punishing those who evade the restrictions with fines, penalties, or even jail time. Not so for Verizon or any other private carrier, which have no power to censor sweepingly or coercively. A world of difference exists between a private company’s exercising editorial discretion to transmit—or not transmit—certain messages or types of content and government efforts to censor.
Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe made this point eloquently at a recent Progress & Freedom Foundation event. In his view, those who would impose net-neutrality regulations on First Amendment grounds fail to appreciate “the fundamental right of editorial discretion. For the government to tell that entity that it cannot exercise that right in a certain way, that it must allow the projection of what it doesn’t want to include, is a violation of its First Amendment rights.” The principle that Tribe articulated would apply equally to the New York Times’s editors if they decided, say, not to run an advertisement from the Ku Klux Klan. That’s why it’s particularly puzzling that the Times ended its editorial about the Verizon incident by arguing that “freedom of speech must be guaranteed, right now, in a digital world just as it has been protected in a world of paper and ink.” Does the editorialist believe, then, that government should regulate what ads the Times may run in its own pages?
This twisted theory of the First Amendment cannot support net-neutrality regulation. The First Amendment was intended to protect us from tyrannical, coercive government power, not the silly mistakes of private companies.