The Times' Hypocritical Cries of Verizon's "Censorship"

A lead editorial accuses Verizon Wireless of censoring political speech - but what about the Times' editorials that call for limiting political speech before elections in the name of campaign finance "reform"?

Wednesday's lead editorial, "The Verizon Warning" lambasted the telecommunication company for its initial refusal to host a source for pro-choice text messages, claimed it "censorsed political speech on one of its mobile services." (The Times ran a front-page story on the matter September 27, which no doubt helped mobilize liberals against Verizon.) Wednesday's editorial called it "textbook censorship."

Aren't these the same editorial writers who pushed so hard for campaign finance "reform" and the placement of severe limits on political advertising before elections?

"We have long been concerned about the potential threat to free speech and a free press as communications migrate from old-fashioned telephone lines, TV broadcasts and printing presses to digital networks controlled by unregulated private companies. The threat stopped being theoretical recently when Verizon Wireless censored political speech on one of its mobile services.

"Verizon did the right thing after the problem was disclosed: it promptly dropped a misbegotten policy and said its new policy is to open its network to any legal communication. But alarm bells should be ringing on Capitol Hill, where industry lobbying, legislative goldbricking and Republican aversion to regulations have bottled up much-needed laws on digital communications.

"Late last month, Verizon Wireless denied an application from Naral Pro-Choice America, a reproductive rights group, for a 'short code,' a few numbers that a mobile phone user can use to subscribe to a particular source of text messages. Verizon said its policy was to refuse 'issue oriented' text-messaging programs from any group that 'seeks to promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users.' The policy also said political candidates may be granted short codes if the content is, 'in VZW's sole discretion, not issue-oriented or controversial in nature.'"

"Leave aside for the moment the sorry spectacle of a major American company aiming to make campaigns even more substance-free than they already are. The Verizon policy was textbook censorship. Any government that tried it would be rightly labeled authoritarian. The First Amendment prohibits the United States government from anything approaching that sort of restriction."

But how much does the Times truly value "substance" and free speech beyond it's own, which it of course considers sacrosanct?

Back on June 26, the Times was hardly a staunch defender of the First Amendment, tossing such concerns blithely aside when it got in the way of restrictions on campaign speech it favored (hat tip George Will). The Times huffed about a "bad ruling" by the Supreme Court in defense of political speech (probably the most vital kind of speech to protect).

"The Supreme Court hit the trifecta yesterday: Three cases involving the First Amendment. Three dismaying decisions by Chief Justice John Roberts's new conservative majority....First, campaign finance. Four years ago, a differently constituted court upheld sensible provisions of the McCain-Feingold Act designed to prevent corporations and labor unions from circumventing the ban on their spending in federal campaigns by bankrolling phony 'issue ads.' These ads purport to just educate voters about a policy issue, but are really aimed at a particular candidate....The decision contained a lot of pious language about protecting free speech. But magnifying the voice of wealthy corporations and unions over the voice of candidates and private citizens is hardly a free speech victory."