Readers of my occasional rants and my Internet newsletter Current Invective may be confused by special prosecutor William Mueller’s indictment of thirteen Russians for “information warfare.” Neglecting to mention their ethnicity, the Russians posted stuff on the Internet accusing white people of racism and defaming Democrat Hillary Clinton, among other offenses. They spent over a million bucks on their project–described as an act of war by leading Democrats–aiming to expose the USA and our political system to ridicule and to “sow discord” among our people. That’s pretty much what I do. I thought it was my right. I treat it as a civic duty.
The fact that the defendants live in Russia may not be the only impediment to a successful prosecution. The First Amendment is a limit on the power of the state to control speech, anyone’s speech. It’s not reserved for citizens. Our Bill of Rights gives Russians, Australians, Japanese, Canadians, Israelis and everyone else the right to express preferences in US elections. Non-citizens can’t vote, but their right to express political opinions may not be infringed. Carve out an exception to free speech for these guys, and you’re asking for trouble.
It’s funny that we’re OK with media companies actually meddling in our elections–the news media boycotted Sanders and ignored his supporters–but we fret when foreigners heap well-deserved criticism on us and our system. And it’s ironic that the beneficiaries of the First Amendment–our own mass media–are demanding in unison that we abridge it. They continue to holler “Russia!” even though the indictments cite no evidence whatsoever that Putin or any agent of the Russian government was involved. Reporters seem to have no misgivings about their portrayal of this as an “information warfare” campaign against the USA, neglecting or declining to mention that criticism of our government is a variety of free speech. What we have here is an industry that wants to enjoy all the benefits and privileges of the Constitution but is unwilling to bear the inevitable costs. That’s the USA for you: the land of double-standards. And I hope I’m not committing treason by saying so.
It may be worth pointing out that the USA is not presently at war with the Russian Federation. Russian nationals have the same status with us as Canadians and Koreans. You have a right to express approval of Putin, just as you can say what you like about Trudeau or Moon, and we have no right to remonstrate when Russians criticize us or our leaders. On the contrary, as heirs to republican government we should welcome the critical views of people in distant lands as we work to better ourselves and our nation. Yeah, right.
I hope the Kremlin 13 come here to face the music. Their verdict will either vindicate freedom of speech or curtail it. I’d defend them. Advertising is protected in our system, including political advertising. A competent defense will emphasize that the federal government exceeds its authority when it forbids foreign enterprises from criticizing candidates for office, even under the pretext of a ban on expenditures of money. The amounts in this case, as the defense will point out, are trivial. Compared with the tithes our own legislative branch exacts from its benefactors in private business, this is chicken feed. Do we really have the effrontery to blame the corruption of our own system on Russia?
This is a phony crisis created by the embedded mass media and government to distract from the catastrophic failure of our social institutions. Journalism and our national government top that list.