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Missouri Law Enforcement Officials Threatening Prosecution of People Who Say False or Misleading Things About Obama?

[UPDATE: More facts and analysis here.]

Some people have mentioned this story to me — there's been a lot of buzz about this story over the past few days — and I think there might be something troubling going on. But I think we may be lacking some important information, so let me lay out the facts as I know them, and ask readers whether they can point me to more.

As best I can tell, it all started with this report from a Missouri TV station. The report points to Missouri prosecutors and sheriffs who have joined the "Obama Truth Squad," and says "They" — referring to the prosecutors and sheriffs — "also say they plan to respond immediately to any ads and statements that might violate Missouri ethics laws." The text accompanying the report also says, "The Barack Obama campaign is asking Missouri law enforcement to target anyone who lies or runs a misleading TV ad during the presidential campaign."

Now the "plan to respond immediately to ... statements that might violate Missouri ethics laws" does sound like a threat of prosecution, since that's how law enforcement tends to respond to violation of the law. But most of the statements in the interview, including all the statements that actually come out of the sheriffs' and prosecutors' mouths, seem to focus — or at least can be very plausibly interpreted as focusing — on responding to false or misleading statements with rebuttals, the normal way such responses happen in election campaigns.

So this makes me wonder exactly what the sheriffs and prosecutors are saying about law enforcement; recall that the statement in the news story about violations of the law came from the mouth of the narrator, not one of the sheriffs or prosecutors who was interviewed. Did the sheriffs and prosecutors mostly talk about responding with counterspeech, and talked about ethics laws enforcement only in response to an interviewer question (e.g., "But what if you find actual illegal conduct — would you also take legal action?")? What kinds of violations were they discussing? Did they make the paraphrased statement in the context of promising evenhanded enforcement of election laws, or were they focusing on anti-Obama statements (which is indeed the context of the statements that were quoted)?

I am troubled by the way the statement appears in context, since it does suggest likely law enforcement targeted on critics of Obama, and perhaps the sheriffs and prosecutors should have spoken up to correct this impression, if they hadn't intended to send it. But I don't know whether they have indeed tried to say something along these lines (among all the other things I don't know, despite having listened to the broadcast and read several posts that criticized the broadcast). [UPDATE: One of the prosecutors quoted in the story has indeed said that "My sole purpose in participating in this initiative is about getting truthful information to the voters. This has never been or never will be about prosecuting people."] The Missouri Governor's press release condemning the statements doesn't add much by way of detail.

Now some might argue that it's troubling whenever sheriffs or prosecutors get involved in broader political campaigns, because even pure promises of constitutionally protected counterspeech might be seen as implicitly threatening legal suppression of protected speech, or as discriminatory enforcement of otherwise valid speech restrictions. But these are elected officials, who are identified with particular political parties. As I understand it, in our political system it's normal for such officials to get involved in broader campaigns on behalf of the party, and while perhaps there should be an exception for law enforcement officials, I'm not sure that this is a settled tradition, and there would be costs as well as benefits to such a tradition.

As I said, there may well be something potentially troubling here, for instance if the prosecutors and sheriffs are threatening to enforce very broad (and perhaps unconstitutional) readings of election laws, or if they are threatening to enforce the laws only against anti-Obama speakers. But before figuring out just how troubled I should be here, I'd like to know more about what exactly the prosecutors and sheriffs said.

I'd also like to know what laws it sounds like they're threatening to enforce. My quick search couldn't find any "Missouri ethics laws" that ban false or misleading statements in a campaign. (Some states have such laws, and they have sometimes been upheld, if they are narrowly drafted to cover only knowingly or recklessly false statements, but I don't see any such Missouri laws — please let me know if I've missed some.) I did find laws that require that sponsors of paid ads supporting or opposing candidates identify themselves, and banning false or misleading identification in such ads. [UPDATE: As I note in the follow-up post, it looks like even this ban on false or misleading sponsorship identification doesn't apply to campaigns for federal office.]

I should note that Missouri apparently has no criminal libel statute (as my own quick Westlaw search confirmed), and the statement I heard in the TV segment focused on "Missouri ethics laws," not criminal libel laws. Some suggestions that the threat is of criminal libel prosecution strike me as unlikely.

So I stress again: There might well be something troubling going on, especially if the prosecutors and sheriffs haven't tried to clarify the paraphrased threat of law enforcement [UPDATE: One of the prosecutors has clarified this, as the Update above notes]. But before I know how troubling this is, I'd like to know more exactly about what they're threatening, and what the relevant Missouri laws are. If anyone has more factual details on this, I'd love to hear them.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. A Bit More on the Obama "Truth Squad" in Missouri:
  2. Missouri Law Enforcement Officials Threatening Prosecution of People Who Say False or Misleading Things About Obama?
John_R:
One of the prosecutors is claiming there is no intent to prosecute

But, it looks to me like they should have been crystal clear about that from the beginning.

I still maintain that this is clearly chilling, remember not everyone is a lawyer or knows enough about the law to call bs.
9.28.2008 1:06pm
SideshowBob (mail):
Apparently some ads are already being pulled, although it is not clear where the threats are coming from
9.28.2008 1:19pm
pedens:
They've tried this before. They wanted DOJ to investigate the 527 group that was running ads about his associations with Bill Ayers. DOJ promptly denied that request.

It's just their attempt to stifle anyone who says anything contrary to the script they're running about him and his campaign.
9.28.2008 1:25pm
John (mail):
I think your effort to parse this misses the point; these guys (the prosecutor/sheriff/Obama campaigners) know that words carry meanings that may go well beyond their literal ones. Any lawyer knows this. The plain intent was intimidation, and that was conveyed--obviously it was conveyed or everyone wouldn't have been going beserk over this (including the governor).

Now, you can say "well, you know their exact words don't really mean that," and that might be true. But the message conveyed was different, and I can't believe they didn't know what they were doing when they spoke whatever words they did.
9.28.2008 1:31pm
Sagar (mail):
There is a perception that Republicans engage in voter suppression, and Democrats engage in voter fraud. Obama has a reputation for trying to use the law (or procedure) against his election opponents in the past.

This election should provide evidence of some or all of the above.
9.28.2008 1:31pm
John_R:
I forgot to include a link to this St. Louis blog that has been following this.
9.28.2008 1:32pm
John_R:
For some reason the Link didn't take
9.28.2008 1:34pm
theobromophile (www):
Agree that perception does matter. It's not as if the "Truth Squad" in question were featured as a prosecutor, a homemaker, and an engineer; the featured people are exclusively law enforcement officers (or so it seems). That makes their professions relevant.

The perception may be enough to get people to stifle their speech, and to get others to wonder if the McCain campaign (and its supporters) are breaking the law.
9.28.2008 1:48pm
ejo:
One can be sure, given that these are responsible members of law enforcement, that the efforts will be even handed and not so crass as to be political, right? even with the title obama truth squad, these are public servants.
9.28.2008 1:56pm
Federal Dog:
""They" -- referring to the prosecutors and sheriffs -- "also say they plan to respond immediately to any ads and statements that might violate Missouri ethics laws.""

Abusing authority granted to state law enforcement officials to intimidate political opponents doesn't violate Missouri ethics laws? If there's no crime here, this seems like sanctionable misconduct.
9.28.2008 1:58pm
genob:
Link

Missouri's governor seems to think it's a threat of some sort from law enforcement.

And sure, he's reacting in part for political reasons.

But if you compare the amount of screaming from the left about theoretical abuses that could occur under the Patriot Act, to these kinds of threats from law enforcement over political advertising, I'm a lot more frightened by this. And if it's going to be civil disobedience to run critical political ads, I'll be an enthusiastic activist.
9.28.2008 1:58pm
BruceM (mail) (www):
I don't think the First Amendment should protect demonstrably false political speech any more than it should protect demonstrably false commercial speech. Both are extremely harmful.

The problem, of course, is that politics and political facts are so nebulous and multifarious that it is pretty much impossible to demonstrate by any standard of proof that a statement by or about a candidate is false. About the only thing I can think of would be false quotations. Even then it's hard to prove someone did not say something. If the quote has a false citation to it, that might do it. I.e. Obama running an ad that says McCain said "all black people should be denied the right to vote" on Larry King on June 2, 2008. It can be proven that such a claim is not true, and thus it should NOT be constitutionally protected.

The notion that political speech, regardless of content, has some special place in the First Amendment's dear heart is quaint, to say the last, and damaging to democracy, to say a bit more.
9.28.2008 2:00pm
Lior:
I'm not sure why we should find these statements threatening.

Surely when the people of Missouri made the choice to have their sheriffs and prosecutors directly elected they expressly wanted them to take political considerations into account in the performance of their jobs -- otherwise why make the posts political (subject to election) in the first place?
9.28.2008 2:04pm
Ed Scott (mail):
There is nothing unusual about "People Who Say False or Misleading Things" during a political campaign, it's how a politician gets elected. However, in this campaign, one of the candidates has a very "thin skin."

To be fair, "Missouri Law Enforcement Officials" should prosecute "People Who Say False or Misleading Things About" McCain/Palin or Obaba/Biden.

Politicians advocate "clean" campaigns. It would be a novelty to have veracity rewarded and mendacity punished in a political campaign.

Saying the truth is not an attack and not misleading.
9.28.2008 2:12pm
p. rich (mail) (www):
It's a threat. It originated from the Obama tent. Active participants include serving law enforcement officials. It is clearly intended at the very least to intimidate Bambi critics and minimize critical media statements. This behavior is maybe once removed from the sound of jackboots on cobblestones and the loud knock at four in the morning.

Trying to spin this as "harmless" is once again indicative of the atrophied intellectual integrity of the leftist herd. Altogether now Dembots, go moooooooooo...
9.28.2008 2:22pm
theobromophile (www):
BruceM,

The logic, from the NY Times v. Sullivan decision, is that punishing merely "false" speech, as opposed to "maliciously false" speech, will have a chilling effect upon free speech. Given that the very core of our First Amendment rights are those of private citizens who speak out against their elected officials, the courts are reluctant to impose standards which could result in punishment for political speech. The requirement of animus ensures that people will not be forced to defend themselves over disagreements in the extent of veracity.

Given that politicians often make numerous contradictory statements, and have votes that contradict the actions they say they will take in the next term, or in a different office, it would be almost impossible to criticise politicians without running afoul of a "misleading" or "false" statement standard. Furthermore, since falsity would be incredibly easy to prove (one need only to demonstrate a single contradictory statement or vote), it would effectively shift the burden of proof to the defendant.
9.28.2008 2:25pm
DangerMouse:
The Cult of Obama strikes again. Now it's prosecuting people who attack THE ONE.

Is Obama another Hugo Chavez?
9.28.2008 2:36pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
What are they thinking? Even viewed in the most forgiving light, it looks and sounds terrible. But then, maybe it will work, who knows? It's incredible to me that voters could actually be swayed by the dirty tricks played on McCain in SC in 2000, but apparently they were.
9.28.2008 2:49pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
I don't think the First Amendment should protect demonstrably false political speech any more than it should protect demonstrably false commercial speech.


The First Amendment protects demonstrably false noncommercial speech about a public figure, as long as that speech was not made with "the knowledge that the information was false" or that "it was published with reckless disregard" for the truth or falsity of the relevant information.

Commercial speech is held to a lower standard, but given that this particular speech does not seem to be about making a profit as a result of directly related economic transactions.

Civil action would require Obama's campaign to demonstrate losses, and would not involve the circuit attorneys. Criminal action on "ethics laws" would be a mess, but the Obama campaign seems quite willing to make free speech infringing threats on the matter.
9.28.2008 3:12pm
sbron:
Obama's tactics are very similar to those of BAMN and NCLR -- suppress any speech that attempts to bring up controversial issues especially regarding race, racial preferences, and non-white racial supremacy. BAMN in particular has engaged in far more voter suppression than any Republican-sponsored organization.
9.28.2008 3:17pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
It strikes me as an impolitic statement, but I'd have to see the statute they're 'planning' to use before I accept that this is 'Stalinism,' as alleged at NRO.

Politics is a great equalizer. On one side, Bush Derangement Syndrome, on the other Obama Derangement Syndrome.
9.28.2008 3:17pm
Federal Dog:
"I'd have to see the statute they're 'planning' to use before I accept that this is 'Stalinism,' as alleged at NRO."

I am not finding this allegation on that site. Do you have a link?
9.28.2008 3:30pm
John A.:
The local prosecutors and police need to be careful. I would think they put themselves at risk for Federal civil rights claims if they did anything to inhibit political speech under color of law. See, e.g., 42 USC 1983.

It is worth noting this statute (among others) is what bankrupted corrupt local prosecutor Mike Nifong of the Duke lacrosse case. I really doubt they would want to write a substantial personal check to their political enemies and THEN have their names permanently associated with Mr. Nifong. Given the high damages, I expect many Republican plaintiff's lawyers would leap at the chance to collect a fat contingent fee while doing the right thing.

A related question -- if gov. Blunt was concerned enough to issue a press release, why hasn't he ordered an investigation into the allegations? As governor, he clearly has sufficient jurisdiction to do so.
9.28.2008 3:49pm
richard cabeza:
On one side, Bush Derangement Syndrome, on the other Obama Derangement Syndrome.

With the difference that Obama's leftists campaign is doing its best to cultivate by its actions real apprehension before an election, as opposed to the constant barrage of leftist conspiracy theories against the enemy ("vast right wing").

Actually, it looks like the derangement is all one one side. Huh.
9.28.2008 3:55pm
jbvv (mail):

So I stress again: There might well be something troubling going on,

In other words, you have no idea whether there is any truth to this or anything improper going on, but since it is a rumor which could hurt Obama, you are passing it along immediately.

Nice.
9.28.2008 3:57pm
Jonathan Limebrook (mail):
Prof. Volokh—

This:

bauer

purports to have the text of a threatening letter sent by the Obama campaign to Missouri broadcasters.
9.28.2008 4:32pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
I am not finding this allegation ['Stalinism'] on that site. Do you have a link?


Here:

This is an outrageous and shocking attempt by the Obama campaign to again employ Stalinist, police state tactics against those who dare to disagree with Barack Obama


That's not exactly NR speaking. It's NR approvingly quoting someone else.
9.28.2008 4:42pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
They don't intend to prosecute. That would get messy. Plus it would not help in time for the election. So I believe DA Joyce.

What they intend is to intimidate and use their law enforcement credibility to paint critical ads as illegitimate. Not Stalinism but not in the best traditions of American justice either.
9.28.2008 5:08pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
As far as I can tell, the Obama truth squad in Missouri is a truth squad of the sort that both campaigns have in various states. The McCain campaign also has a truth squad in Missouri. The function of the truth squads is to promptly refute what they consider false claims coming from the other side. The members of Obama's truth squad include several law enforcement officials. There appears to be no evidence that they or any other members of the truth squad have suggested that they are acting in their official capacity or that they intend to do anything other than issue statements in response to attacks on Obama. The kerfuffle over this appears to have originated with anti-Obama forces, who have misrepresented the truth squad as a group of law enforcement officials threatening to use their official powers against opponents of Obama.

Have a look, for example, at the governor's statement. It is pure political innuendo. He never actually specifies the object of his outrage. There are no specific factual claims as to what the Obama folks are allegedly doing.

Though an Obama supporter, I certainly agree that it would be outrageous for members of his campaign to use their status in law enforcement to intimidate his political opponents. But thus far I have not seen any evidence that this has actually happened. Can anyone produce any?
9.28.2008 5:17pm
Jim Kansas City, MO (mail):
On Their Own Time - NOT Illegal

Blunt said he has "exposed plans." He does not site any incident of actual treats to anyone.

Frank Donatelli, deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee:

http://tinyurl.com/4anoxc

In a telephone interview with the News-Leader, Donatelli admitted the Democratic prosecutors “haven’t specifically said” they would use their prosecutorial powers on Obama’s behalf."


I watched the video. There was no statement from the interviewed individuals to indicate they planned to doing anything in their official capacity of enforcing laws.

Claire McCaskill is too smart to do anything that stupid. She was Missouri's State Auditor and a prosecuting attorney. Federal and State employees are trained about the law about not campaigning on official time or while wearing a uniform.

It has not been in the KC Star or any major news site. Searching the web only finds the story on a few small websites or blogs.

It appears to be a smear by Republican Matt Blunt, who is so unpopular that he is not running for reelection. He has been involved in scandals, including missing emails

Gov Blunt is a sleaze that is greasing the wheels to get another job after he leaves office because Missourians would [b]never[/b] reelect him.

He is looking for a job in the McCain administration.
9.28.2008 5:27pm
Ken Arromdee:
There was no statement from the interviewed individuals to indicate they planned to doing anything in their official capacity of enforcing laws.

Their words may not literally say "I'm going to prosecute", but that's their implication. Those statements are understood as threats to prosecute, even if a lawyer might pick at their words and realize they didn't explicitly say they were going to do so.
9.28.2008 5:44pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
Bill Poser, here is the Rock solid Evidence you asked for. Any questions?
9.28.2008 5:50pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
Ken:

This is how lawyers work parsing every sentence. This is why lawyers are the single most hated group in America. Everyone watching that video with any common sense knows that they are sending a message - "we will prosecute any ads we deem libelous" without explicit using the words "we will prosecute". I'm sorry but that's how the mafia makes threats. Obama is a facist, full stop.
9.28.2008 5:56pm
Dan M.:
Funny. The Palin Truth Squad puts out press releases and tries to get on the record correcting false statements. The Obama Truth Squad threatens to prosecute, sue, and revoke licenses if people say anything (even truthful) that harms The Messiah.
9.28.2008 6:01pm
SMatthewStolte (mail):
In addition to Professor Volokh's request, I would also appreciate it if someone could provide some historical context for this. Do we have a history of the sort of behavior alleged of the Obama campaign in American politics? I'm curious, in part about whether or not this has taken place but also about the details, concerning what specific shape the tactic took, how effective it was, and how these tactics appeared to the general public — ie, did most people regard them as scare tactics or as merely law enforcement, etc.
9.28.2008 6:04pm
Wayne Jarvis:
You'd have to have your head pretty deep in the sand to think that having "sheriffs" and "prosecutor" go on television to announce that they are "targeting" people who "violate ethics law" is not a threat. Whether it is an empty threat or not is neither here nor there.

Throughout his ascendancy, I've felt that BO's wet dream is to make America exactly like Europe. Whether you think that would be a good thing or a bad thing shapes how you feel about BO. Well, now it appears BO have a very European attitude toward "free" speech.

Also, check out some of the gripes the prosecutors are reciting. It's now "false" to say that Obama will raise taxes on those making less than $250k. Doesn't this presume that nobody earning less that $250k ever has any capital gains? Who decides what is false? Some low wattage Obamaniac in Missouri.
9.28.2008 6:05pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"It has not been in the KC Star or any major news site. Searching the web only finds the story on a few small websites or blogs."

Of course it's not in the KC Star. They ceased being a reliable indicator of anything long ago. They will run front page stories day after day when a kite string noose is found on a school floor, but rarely run anything critical of McCaskill.

{An Asian American kid finally admitted to tying the noose because he was bored in class.)
9.28.2008 6:09pm
Rod Blaine (mail):
Shouldn't the Squad members be wearing blue Minutemen uniforms? (With Michael Moore's permission as copyright holder, of course).

But maybe I am just being too paranoid. As pointed out, at no point did they actually SAY "We'll prosecute anyone who defames Our Leader." Why, out of the blue, 217 years after the ratification of the First Amendment, would American local law-enforcement officials suddenly start abusing their discretion to harass political opponents? Where would anyone get the idea that a Chicago politician would countenance such unsavoury tricks? And why won't the Republican Attack Machine inform the American people that the Truth Ministry also has chapters composed of undertakers, gas-station attendants, florists, stockbrokers, and quantity surveyors who are dedicated to answering right-wing slurs in the newspapers and on talkback radio? Why focus solely on the law enforcement officials chapter as if that were the only group the OTS consists of?
9.28.2008 6:13pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
C'mon. If it wasn't meant as threat of criminal sanctions, why is it composed of prosecutors and LEOs? Whoever created and publicized it knew that "a group of elected officials and defense attorneys" wouldn't do, because it wouldn't chill the speech that was intended to be chilled.
9.28.2008 6:35pm
FlimFlamSam:
"You can't say that" is increasingly finding application in campaigns through finance and ethics laws. It is very dangerous and blatantly unconstitutional, though you wouldn't know it by reading McConnell v. FEC.
9.28.2008 6:35pm
Bad English:
"That's not exactly NR speaking. It's NR approvingly quoting someone else."

Hmm. Actually, all NRO says is: "AIP responds," then quotes the response.
9.28.2008 6:37pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
eide:

here is the Rock solid Evidence you asked for. Any questions?


Yes. I see people saying they will speak up to counter falsehoods about Obama. I see no one saying they will prosecute anyone for speaking falsehoods about Obama.

It's nice to know that people are now responsible not for what they actually say and do, but for what you claim they meant, and for what you claim they might do.

Are you really eager to deal with that standard, in reverse?
9.28.2008 6:53pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
bad:

all NRO says is: "AIP responds," then quotes the response


I see no clues in the context to suggest that NR doesn't agree 100% with the AIP text they cite. Do you see any such clues?
9.28.2008 6:53pm
severywhere (mail) (www):
I can't imagine any context in which the aired statements imply a threat of criminal prosecution. I challenge the author to create a plausible fictional conversation in which they do.
9.28.2008 6:59pm
Bad English:
"I see no clues in the context to suggest that NR doesn't agree 100% with the AIP text they cite. Do you see any such clues?"

You misleadingly assert that NR "approvingly" cited AIP's reference to Stalinism, but there is no evidence of that. The burden is on you to provide evidence in support of your assertion.

That fact that a media source reports:

"_______ responds..."

does not logically signify that that source "approvingly cites" whatever that response may be.
9.28.2008 7:03pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
I did find laws that require that sponsors of paid ads supporting or opposing candidates identify themselves,
These statutes are unconstitutional under Talley and McIntyre, Watchtower Bible &Tract Soc’y v. Stratton, 122 S. Ct. 2080 (2002), and followed in the 8th circuit in Shrink Mo. v Nixon (not the same shrink mo case that went to the supreme court.) Shrink Mo struck down another part of the same statutes, but didn't directly confront the disclaimer regulation.
9.28.2008 7:21pm
Arkady:
Eugene wrote:


I am troubled by the way the statement appears in context, since it does suggest likely law enforcement targeted on critics of Obama, and perhaps the sheriffs and prosecutors should have spoken up to correct this impression, if they hadn't intended to send it.



Jennifer Joyce, St.Louis Circuit Attorney, and one of the people involved in the "truth squad," issued this statement:


As a citizen, I believe that elections should be about issues. I also have enormous respect for our First Amendment and freedom of speech. My sole purpose in participating in this initiative is about getting truthful information to the voters. This has never been or never will be about prosecuting people. [Source]


As near as I can tell, from googling 'missouri Jennifer Joyce', this "story" spread through the right-wing blogosphere at roughly the speed of light. And I lost count of the the number of times I saw the words 'Stalinist' and 'Stalinism' on those blogs. Perhaps we can formulate a new law, Godwinochav's Law, which describes the mean time between the occurrence of a story about Obama on a right-wing blog and the occurrence of a reference to Obama's Stalinism in the comments. (To be sure, plain old Godwin's Law was also in evidence.)
9.28.2008 7:27pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
Eugene, I think the phrase for which you are groping is "plausible deniability."

It's a clear threat; what it is not is an undeniable threat.
9.28.2008 7:37pm
Dan M.:
Yes, the sheriffs and prosecutors want this election to be about issues, and they're going to make sure of it.
9.28.2008 7:39pm
Catherine:

As near as I can tell, from googling 'missouri Jennifer Joyce', this "story" spread through the right-wing blogosphere at roughly the speed of light. And I lost count of the the number of times I saw the words 'Stalinist' and 'Stalinism' on those blogs.


But of course, Left Wing blogs never do this kind of thing.
9.28.2008 8:58pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
EIDE_Interface,

Sorry, there's no evidence of any wrongdoing in that news clip. (By the way, it is now also on youtube: http://'www.youtube.com/watch?v=iStZAbf47FA,
which allowed me to download it and watch it locally.) In the actual interviews, all they say is that as as members of the Truth Squad they intend to respond to false statements by Obama's opponents. The only potentially worrisome thing is the reference to violations of Missouri's ethics laws, but that is on the part of the reporter, not that of either of people interviewed. If you look them up, which I did, Missouri's campaign ethics laws apply only to the candidates and deal exclusively with campaign financing and identification on ads. They say nothing about the content of political statements. Insofar as the reporter didn't just make this up, I suspect that what happened is that someone explained that in his or her official capacity he had a role in enforcing the ethics laws and differentiated this from his role as a private citizen in refuting attacks on Obama. The reporter then made a confused statement about this.

As for those of you who have made the argument that one can make inferences from the fact that the Truth Squad is made up of law enforcement personnel, your premise is false. The Truth Squad contains a variety of people, only a few of whom are in law enforcement. The focus on law enforcement was created by the TV station's choosing to emphasize the involvement of law enforcement personnel.

There's nothing to see here other than yet another instance of rumor-mongering by rabid right-wingers.
9.28.2008 9:25pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
Here's why you don't want to prosecute false statements in the political context.

False statements of opinion are not false. If I say Barry is an effing commie faggot all I am saying is that that is my opinion.

You may say that he isn't a faggot because he is in a heterosexual relationship. I counter by sayinbg faggot can just mean that he's soft and unmanly even though he's nominally heterosexusal.

Further I can say that effing is merely an intensive and doesn't imply that he indulges in the penultimate bliss of sexual congress (even though, in discovery, I could probably prove that his children are his and thus he does so indulge).

You might deny that he's a commie but I would counter with testimony about Alinsky, Ayers, and Barrys own words on the audio book version of "Dreams of My Father".

Do you really want to litigate all that stuff and try to prove it to 12 good men and true beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty. I don't think so.
9.28.2008 10:38pm
theobromophile (www):
This reminds me of the lipstick-on-a-pig and old fish comments earlier on: when called out on what appears to be the plain insinuation, Barack Obama says, "Who, me?"

While it is true that you shouldn't presume malice when stupidity is an equally viable option (i.e. the campaign did not realise that talking about prosecutors and police officers enforcing the truth would be taken as a threat against First Amendment rights), there comes a point when you wonder if you want someone who is that stupid to be your President.

Even if we were to assume that Obama and his campaign managers had no idea how this would appear, and did not see that people would take it as a threat against their First Amendment rights (especially in light of BHO's attempt to use the DOJ to harass critics), it demonstrates a serious lapse in judgment. If people came to the (understandable) conclusion that this looks like a veiled threat, anyone with any sense of decency would set the record straight - not by shouting at Republicans, but by addressing the people of Missouri and stating, unequivocally, that the Truth Squad will not use the police powers of the state against McCain supporters. Furthermore, in light of the potential impropriety of sending out law enforcement officers to do this in their spare time, Obama could appoint some of his other many Missouri supporters to the same role.

Let's face it: that's how honourable, decent people act; they do not tell others to tolerate their perceived impropriety, but avoid the appearance of it.
9.28.2008 10:39pm
Jim Kansas City, MO (mail):
The reporter plans to hold a news conference to correct the story

Reporter: Obama 'truth squad' story got twisted

http://tinyurl.com/47pge7

Gov Matt Blunt abused his power. He put maligning information about Sen Obama on a state funded website.

Blunt is so unpopular in Missouri he is not running for reelection. Must be trying to get a job in the McCain administration. Blunt is a sleaze that has been under investigation for all kinds of things.
9.28.2008 10:48pm
Rod Blaine (mail):
Well, now we know it's not only legal but morally unobjectionable for Florida police to set up roadblocks on routes to polling places. They're not threatening to prosecute anyone, and if you're not breaking the law... you have nothing to fear!
9.28.2008 10:49pm
JeremyR (mail):
About 4 years ago, this same Sheriff refused to let me go back into my home unless I consented to a search of it for drugs. My choices were to stay outside in the rain and wait for them to get a warrant (based on a tip I had been buying cold medicine) or to let them in.

It's quite intimidating to have a dozen heavily armed and armored cops all glaring at you. But apparently this qualified as "suspicious" behavior to them.

The guy is a crooked SOB (his cops have been caught doing a lot of bad stuff, like beating people up in bars and then trying to steal the tape of it) and him just mentioning that he would do something is pretty scary, IMHO, having been on the receiving end of his police thugs.
9.29.2008 12:10am
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
Above I meant Shrink Missouri Government PAC v. Maupin, 892 F.Supp. 1246 (E.D.Mo.). The unconstitutional statute is 130.031
9.29.2008 12:52am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
bad:

You misleadingly assert that NR "approvingly" cited AIP's reference to Stalinism, but there is no evidence of that.


You might have a point if NR had just quoted a short passage. But they didn't. They posted a complete press release. And Malkin did the exact same thing, exactly 31 minutes later.

You might also have a point if NR made even a pretense of citing a source presenting an opposing viewpoint. But of course they did no such thing. Neither did Malkin.

You might also have a point if NR made even a pretense of expressing any reservations about the content of the AIP statement, like the accusation about "Stalinist, police state tactics." But of course they did no such thing. Neither did Malkin. On the contrary. The words written by NR and Malkin were fully congruent with the viewpoint expressed by AIP.

NR and Malkin were helping to promote and circulate the AIP release. That's transparently obvious. They were certainly citing it "approvingly."

If some lefty blogger posted a complete press release written by, say, Michael Moore, and they did it in the exact manner I just described, I don't think you would claim that were not doing so "approvingly."

By the way, proof that NR is happy to help McCain spread falsehoods is here.
9.29.2008 3:00am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
catherine:

But of course, Left Wing blogs never do this kind of thing.


The blogs that appear at the top of the search you provide are prominent, popular blogs like bitterandbound, a11news, jeflinstocks and actionooz. Household names, right? Meanwhile, the AIP "Stalinist" claim is being flogged by NR and Malkin. There is obviously no comparison.

Is that the best you can do?
9.29.2008 3:00am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
theo:

that's how honourable, decent people act; they do not tell others to tolerate their perceived impropriety, but avoid the appearance of it.


You mean the way they "avoid the appearance" of using their office to retaliate against their sister's ex-husband? After he has already been disciplined and there is no new evidence to justify reopening a situation that had already been adjudicated?

Or maybe you mean the way they "avoid the appearance" of impropriety by ignoring subpoenas, after repeatedly announcing that they intend to cooperate fully with the investigation (video).
9.29.2008 3:00am
hga:
John A.:

[...]

A related question -- if gov. Blunt was concerned enough to issue a press release, why hasn't he ordered an investigation into the allegations? As governor, he clearly has sufficient jurisdiction to do so.

The Attorney General is an elected position, currently held by a Democrat who's that party's nominee for Governor this November (as others have noted, he's not running against Blunt, who's stepping down).
9.29.2008 6:25am
BruceM (mail) (www):
theobromophile, I don't disagree with your comment, which is sort of the effect of what I noted in the 2d paragraph of my comment to which you responded. However, that being said, I still think that false statements made by politicians running for president (on a national scale) about their opponents are per se malicious. The same doesn't apply to two guys arguing over politics at a bar.

If in the course of the presidential election McCain says something blatantly false about Obama (or vice-versa), I think NYT v. Sullivan malice is implied. I would go so far as to say there is malice behind all statements by politicians about their political opponents. As such, if a statement is false, it would be maliciously so. Note that I'm only talking about statements by candidates (or their authorized agents).
9.29.2008 8:35am
Bad English:
jukeboxgrad:

It is telling that you are forced to base accusations against those who disagree with you politically on deception.

The original contention was that NRO accused the Obama camp of Stalinist tactics.

You were then forced to admit that NRO never said that; it simply reported a press release from another source.

You then illogically declared that reporting another source prefaced by the words: "AIP responds" means that the media organization reporting a response approves that response.

When your obviously illogical accusation was questioned, you simply repeated the illogical accusation, totally ignoring your own lack of proof and demanding, again illogically, that people requiring proof of the misconduct that you allege bear the burden of proving a negative.

Presumably you believe that the fact that broadcast networks report McCain's words, those broadcast networks approve his words? You are, to say the least, in disarray.
9.29.2008 8:46am
Fluffy Ross (mail):
Claire McCaskill seems to be engineering a position as liberal emblem, and into the future Obama presidency. God help us from any more of these chameleons. Obama had better look twice at this over-fed Missouri-an, and see what her background tells us: she was a D.A. helped into office by her first husband's family. That husband was the father of her children, not this one she's married, and with whom she pretends an all-American, Sarah Palin family. The former husband had drug problems and drug-run-ins with the law as did the dubious McCaskill. Whether she used meth, or speed, while she was the D.A. she diverted interest from her misalliances, and instead caused a Swat team sweep of one of her friend/co-worker's home. Ruth Carter. Ruth was labeled a "kingpin" of some sorts, thanks to the feral federal govt. teams-- of which Claire McCaskill has always been such a fan...except when it came to her prosecution, or the prosecution of her now-deceased first husband. Her instincts towards justice and mercy did not extend to those who could not help her political career. As did John McCain, in his intervention so far as Cindy McCain's drug arrest(s), so too were Claire's contacts misused. Be that as it may, Claire McCaskill is no liberal, no intellectual, no enlightened politician.
9.29.2008 10:08am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
The Attorney General is an elected position, currently held by a Democrat


Does that mean Blunt can't ask him to conduct an investigation? That's what you seem to be implying.
9.29.2008 10:41am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
bad:

The original contention was that NRO accused the Obama camp of Stalinist tactics.


Close, but not quite. The original statement was this:

It strikes me as an impolitic statement, but I'd have to see the statute they're 'planning' to use before I accept that this is 'Stalinism,' as alleged at NRO.


Harry was simply saying that it was something he read "at NRO." Saying "at NRO" is not quite the same thing as saying "by NRO." You should try reading as carefully as Harry writes.

You were then forced to admit that NRO never said that; it simply reported a press release from another source.


I was never "forced to admit" anything. What I said right from the start was this:

That's not exactly NR speaking. It's NR approvingly quoting someone else.


And that's an exact description of what NR did.

You then illogically declared that reporting another source prefaced by the words: "AIP responds" means that the media organization reporting a response approves that response.


Wrong. I "illogically declared" nothing. I explained in detail what should be obvious: the context and circumstances of a quote indicate whether the quoter is quoting approvingly or not. And there are a variety of unmistakable indications that this quoter (NR) was indeed quoting approvingly. And you have chosen to address this many of those indications: zero. Instead, you've "illogically declared" that NR doesn't approve of the AIP statement, even though they quoted it in full, unedited, and without including the slightest hint of any reservation, dissent, criticism or balance.

When I do you the favor of taking your press release and presenting it to my readers in a supportive, friendly manner, here's what I'm doing: quoting approvingly.

It's incredibly ironic that you think NR shouldn't be held responsible for broadcasting AIP's irresponsible accusations, at the same moment that your pals here are making declarations about "intent" and "perception," and about how "words carry meanings that may go well beyond their literal ones." All those penumbras and emanations sure come in handy, especially when you reserve the right to suddenly resort to extreme literalism, when the shoe is on the other foot.

Your feeble defense of NR reminds me of Bush's 16 words. You're recycling the famously pathetic defense of him, which relies on exactly your kind of extreme literalism: he wasn't really saying that Saddam sought yellowcake. He was only saying that UK said that Saddam sought yellowcake. Therefore his statement was literally true. Never mind that he was endorsing and promoting the UK claim, even though CIA had already determined that the UK claim wasn't "very credible."

totally ignoring your own lack of proof and demanding, again illogically, that people requiring proof of the misconduct that you allege bear the burden of proving a negative


Thanks for that nice description of what your pals are doing in this thread, along with NR and AIP: ignoring your own lack of proof, and pretending that the people you don't like "bear the burden of proving" that they don't intend to do something they never said they intended to do.

Presumably you believe that the fact that broadcast networks report McCain's words, those broadcast networks approve his words?


If a broadcast network were to broadcast a complete McCain press release, unedited, in a context where their commentator is expressing views 100% congruent with what is expressed in the press release, and where no opposing view is provided, and where there isn't even the slightest hint of any reservation about the content of the press release, it would indeed be fair to conclude that the network does indeed "approve his words." Because their manner of presenting the press release is completely indistinguishable from the way McCain would present it himself, if the network was a wholly-owned subsidiary of his campaign.

Please continue trying to convince us that you really can't grasp the difference between providing a collection of quotes which express a variety of views, as compared with republishing a complete press release in a context that indicates 100% approval. The former is journalism. The latter is propaganda. We already know the GOP thinks these two things are exactly alike. You're just reminding us.
9.29.2008 10:41am
Bad English:
jukeboxgrad:

Your long-winded attempt at obfuscation doesn't change the fact that NRO never alleged Stalinism or approvingly cited allegations of Stalinism.

NRO said: "AIP responds:"

That's all.

Reporting on someone's words does not mean endorsement of those words.

You are, again, in extreme disarray.
9.29.2008 12:15pm
Rod Blaine (mail):
Rare to come across a Blunt that doesn't agree with Obama.
9.29.2008 5:15pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
Reporting on someone's words does not mean endorsement of those words.


Thanks for confirming that publishing a complete press release, verbatim, with no critical commentary, is what you think of as "reporting." We already knew this, but it's nice that you're being so explicit.
9.29.2008 5:27pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
Rare to come across a Blunt that doesn't agree with Obama.


Are you sure you weren't thinking of Palin? Then again, I guess it doesn't count because she said "she didn't like it."
9.29.2008 5:31pm
richard cabeza:
Thanks for confirming that publishing a complete press release, verbatim, with no critical commentary, is what you think of as "reporting."

Your mischaracterization is amusing, especially considering the original story had less analysis than the "press release" comment they added on to it. Tu quoque would be easy, but would it lend you critical thinking skills?
9.29.2008 5:56pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
Your mischaracterization is amusing


What's amusing is that you haven't made even a pretense of demonstrating any "mischaracterization" on my part.

the original story had less analysis than the "press release" comment they added on to it


Bad has a very loose concept of the word "reporting." And you have a very loose concept of the word "analysis," if you're claiming the press release contained any "analysis" at all. It contained words, about 250 of them. The "original story" contained about 175. Yes, the press release is a little longer than the original article. Let us in on the mystery and tell us why this matters. It just tends to underline the fact that NR was very happy to serve as a promotional vehicle for the complete, unedited AIP press release. Even though it made baseless, irresponsible allegations about "Stalinist, police state tactics."

But this is par for the course for NR, since they don't mind publishing outright lies.
9.29.2008 8:39pm
Bad English:
Part of your cognitive problem is that you fundamentally confuse reporting with editorial commentary.

Relating a statement made by an organization that claims to have been subjected to political intimidation is reporting that claim. Approving or condemning the claim is editorial commentary.

NR did the former. It said: "AIP Responds," then related the response verbatim. Nothing more.
9.29.2008 8:48pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
Relating a statement made by an organization that claims to have been subjected to political intimidation is reporting that claim.


When "relating a statement" means 'reprinting a press release, verbatim, with no opposing view, as an appendage to an article that expresses a view 100% congruent with the press release,' that's not "reporting." It's propaganda. We already know you don't comprehend the difference.
9.29.2008 8:55pm
Rod Blaine (mail):
>> Rare to come across a Blunt that doesn't agree with Obama.

> Are you sure you weren't thinking of Palin?

If Palin ever gets into a public debate with the Montgomery County police chief, be sure I'll note it. But right now we're talking about Obama.
9.29.2008 9:41pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
right now we're talking about Obama


That's what I thought. But for some mysterious reason you decided to mention Charles Moose. Why? The cool name?
9.30.2008 1:10am
Rod Blaine (mail):
Jukeboxgrad, stop playing dumb (or, if you really are that dumb, please have yourself stricken off the electoral register ASAP).

Now that we're all clear what the relevant standard of fair play is, I foresee Republicans forming a Committee Against Treason - which just happens to be composed of serving military personnel - who warn that any attempt to give aid or comfort to the enemies of the United States will be met with very, very stern... letters of protest to the local newspaper.

Hey, they're just exercising their freedom of speech, right?
9.30.2008 3:07am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
if you really are that dumb


I aspire to someday be as illustriously brilliant as the likes of you. Until that day, I'll have to get by somehow. But I still don't know why you mentioned Charles Moose. Although he does have something to do with law enforcement, and this thread has something to do with law enforcement. But if that's it, then you might as well mention, say, Officer Francis Muldoon.
9.30.2008 9:15am