Revisiting Pat Young’s Creeping Fascism

Last month I wrote about Delegate Pat Young’s anti-free speech bill that will chill the free speech of our news programs. The bill went down in flames in committee, receiving an unfavorable report by a unanimous vote of the committee members.

But watching Young’s testimony to the committee says much about Young and his bill. Click here to view the testimony, which starts about 1 hour and 50 minutes into this video.

The genesis for Young’s First Amendment affronting “truthiness” bill apparently lies in his consternation over erroneous reporting by WBAL Radio during the Columbia Mall shooting. Notwithstanding Young’s concerns, WBAL issued an apology. They got it wrong and they admitted it. That’s the desirable outcome when this type of thing happens.

We should not set about curtailing our fundamental rights in a fit of pique because someone on the radio said something a legislator didn’t like.

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Young may think his bill is a well-intentioned response to “fake news,” but the provisions within it are the first step towards the chilling of speech. It would require television and radio stations that broadcast a “news analysis program,” a talk show, panel show, or newsmagazine to broadcast a disclaimer.

The bill attempts to distinguish between “news analysis program” and “news program” i.e., the evening news. However, Young’s bill suffers from the fatal flaw of a fundamental misunderstanding of the fact that journalism is primarily an activity, and the first amendment covers more than just the people reading the news to those expounding opinions.

In the foundational context of the first amendment, “the press” does not solely apply to the folks with press cards in their fedoras. It meant the printing press and the right of citizens to publish their speech.

Set aside the fundamental constitutional flaws, the practical application of the bill would be a practical mess. The media marketplace is too diverse and complex to regulate in the way Young desires.

Let’s look at WBAL Radio again. How on earth would the state police their morning show WBAL News Now, which is a mix of news reporting, commentary, and analysis? Is an episode wherein the same hour WBAL reports the traffic, news, weather, and also features an interview with oh say Delegate Pat Young giving his opinions about his bill, a “news analysis program” or a “news program?” That’s just one of a myriad of examples of where our speech rights would run afoul of this ill-considered legislation.

The antidote to speech that is we find wrong or objectionable is not the heavy hand of government, but more speech. Instead of asking big daddy government to protect us from fake news or Russian trolls it’s incumbent upon us to develop better BS detectors to sift fake news from fact. To be fair, too many of the rubes on our side of the aisle reach for the shovel instead of moving on when they come upon the pile.

The Economic Matters Committee unanimously rejected Young’s bill but disturbingly three of his colleagues, CT Wilson, Courtney Watson, and Eric Bromwell, applauded Young for this bill and expressed a desire to “work” with him on the issue. What “work” is needed? We’re talking about government chilling of speech. This is especially disconcerting that this talk is coming from a collection of people who are notorious for their inability to cope with even the slightest criticism.

The text of the first amendment is quite clear. It restrains Congress from abridging the freedom of speech or the press. That same prohibition applies to the thin-skinned denizens of Maryland General Assembly as well, whether they like it or not.

Sadly it’s clear that this nonsense will be back next year, and Pat Young will have more Democrats joining his crusade of creeping fascism.

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