Author: publicpolicylegal

What Happens When a Well-Known Advocate Says Something Unexpected

What Happens When a Well-Known Advocate Says Something Unexpected

Alan Dershowitz, a professor-emeritus at Harvard Law School, is a well-known liberal advocate for a variety of causes, defense counsel for O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson, and others, and a strong backer of Hillary Clinton for President. Last year he became a vocal critic of the American Civil Liberties Union, saying:

The Director of the American Civil Liberties Union has now acknowledged what should have been obvious to everybody over the past several years: that the ACLU. is no longer a neutral defender of everyone’s civil liberties; it has morphed into a hyper-partisan, hard-left political advocacy group. The final nail in its coffin was the announcement that for the first time in its history the ACLU would become involved in partisan electoral politics, supporting candidates, referenda and other agenda-driven political goals. …

“The move of the ACLU to the hard-left reflects an even more dangerous and more general trend in the United States: the right is moving further right; the left is moving father left; and the center is shrinking… America has always thrived at the center and has always suffered when extremes gain power. The ACLU’s move from the neutral protector of civil liberties to a partisan advocate of hard-left politics is both a symptom and consequence of this change.”

Dershowitz has long been a fixture on Cable News Network, but apparently CNN has decided that the “new” Dershowitz is too hot for it to handle. The specific impetus? Dershowitz’s vocal defense of President Trump against the special counsel’s “collusion” inquiry led by Robert Mueller. As Dershowitz writes:

In our hyperpartisan world, in which so many people watch only media that will give them news with which they agree, CNN viewers understandably expected the Mueller report to find overwhelming evidence that President Trump colluded, conspired with and is beholden to Russia. After all, that is what they have been hearing for many months. 

During the first several months of the investigation, CNN viewers also heard my more nuanced, more centrist views. As a liberal Democrat who strongly supported Hillary Clinton, I had some credibility when I raised questions about the certainty with which other CNN guests had declared Trump guilty. I introduced constitutional analysis regarding the allegations of obstruction of justice, arguing that — regardless of Trump’s intentions — he could not be charged with obstruction based exclusively on exercising his constitutional authority under Article II. …

CNN viewers benefited from evaluating my viewpoints against those of other guests and hosts.

But then, suddenly, I was banned from CNN.

Over the past half year or so, I have never once been asked to appear on a CNN program. Initially I wondered why, and I asked some of my friends at the network. They were evasive and studiously avoided any direct answer to my question.

Then I received off-the-record information that an order had come from the very top: CNN executive Jeff Zucker didn’t want me on CNN any more. My centrist, nuanced perspective was anathema to CNN’s emerging brand as the anti-Trump network.



Some Media Stories Don’t Need Much Explaining

Some Media Stories Don’t Need Much Explaining

“The politician with the largest campaign account in Houston and Harris County — excluding self-funded mayoral candidate Tony Buzbee  has $3.6 million on hand. That exceeds the combined sums of Houston’s incumbent mayor and the Harris County judge, and all but ensures this official would be better-funded than any challenger. He has little use for it, however, because he has been dead for three years.”

From the Houston Chronicle, h/t Political Activity Law.

Despite much complaining over the fact that this makes the dead politician’s campaign account, managed by his widow, potentially a powerful player in Texas politics, there is no indication of malfeasance or failure to comply with state laws.

Why did the Supreme Court not review the campaign contributions cases?

Why did the Supreme Court not review the campaign contributions cases?

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States announced that it would not review Lair v. Mangan, No. 18-149, a challenge to Montana’s limits on campaign contributions.

Lair was brought by Jim Bopp, who has brought several important constitutional challenges to campaign law restrictions, so it was generally thought that Lair stood a better-than-usual chance of being accepted for review. The Public Policy Legal Institute filed a friend of the court brief asking the Court to review the case, as had several other attorneys who participate in the First Tuesday Lunch Group.

As usual, however, the Supreme Court did not explain why it was denying review, and no justices issued dissents to the denial. Earlier, the Court had denied review in a very similar constitutional challenge to campaign contribution limits enacted by Austin, Texas. Zimmerman v. City of Austin, No. 18-93. The Court did not explain why it denied review in that case either. So we can only speculate.

Actually, a consensus view has already formed: law professor Rick Hasen, who vigorously opposed the Petitions in Lair and Zimmerman, said: “I take this to mean that the Court does not want to wade into these controversial waters right now, not that the Court agrees with the 9th Circuit’s more permissive tests for such regulations.”

Though it doesn’t happen often, this time I agree with Rick’s analysis. The Court is being quiet in the wake of the tumultuous confirmation hearings on Justice Kavanaugh, so the timing wasn’t right to take up something highly controversial.

There are other cases in the contribution limits challenges pipeline, including one out of New York and another from Alaska, that likely will come before the Court later.

“Less Than You Think,” Fake News on Facebook in the 2016 Election

“Less Than You Think,” Fake News on Facebook in the 2016 Election

How important was “fake news,” including false social media postings, in the 2016 national elections, and who was sharing the posts? A newly-released study from Princeton and NYU professors indicates that “sharing this content was a relatively rare activity.”

The vast majority of Facebook users in our data did not share any articles from fake news domains in 2016 at all (Fig. 1), and this is not because people generally do not share links. … Sharing of stories from fake news domains is a much rarer event than sharing links overall.

The authors and many observers have focused on the study’s principal conclusion: that older readers shared “fake news” the most. Yet, despite scare quotes about how older people sent more than seven times as many fake news stories as the youngest people, the study shows that 90% of survey respondents didn’t share even one fake news story and only 8.5% shared one. Nevertheless, the authors opine that older people are less likely to have the experience with digital media to distinguish fact from truth. Niraj Chokji, a writer for the New York Times, even speculated that “Another possible explanation is that memory deteriorates with age, potentially undermining the tools people use to discern fact from fiction.” No word on whether the researchers considered the possibility that age also provides a longer experiential line against which to measure claims.

Ageism aside, there is an even greater problem with this focus on age: the researchers did not have access to what the persons who forwarded these articles actually said about the articles — positive, negative or otherwise. Perhaps older people were more prone to send comments like “what a crazy thing to say” about these fake news stories?

Even though it poses some good questions, the study’s authors seem to lean toward demonstrating some need for “interventions” to “reduce the spread of misinformation by those most vulnerable to deceptive content.”

I worry when well-meaning researchers suggest mechanisms to evaluate and moderate the spread of “misinformation.”