# News Should politicians be legally liable for their words?

#### Ivan Seeking

Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
With all of the mud slinging in politics around election time, one begins to wonders where the line is drawn between attack ads, and defamation of character. Perhaps part of the problem with the system is that there is no personal responsiblity for all of this nonsense. I'm starting to think that losing or winning an election does not forgive all sins. Many of these attack ads would certainly result in a law suit in most any other context.

Did the "bunny" in the Tennessee [Corker] attack ad really meet Ford at a party? She sure looked like an actress to me.

Of course, this actually applies to many people within the political process, not just the candidates.

Edit: I just saw that she really did meet Ford at the Playboy party. Still, I think that and many commercials go way too far.

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#### edward

The playboy Super Bowl party was held in Florida after the 2005 game. There were over 3000 celebrity guests.

#### Ivan Seeking

Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
If someone ran a deceptive commercial like that about me, I would sue. How can one possibly argue that this is not defamation of character; esp since it applies to an election?

#### Astronuc

Staff Emeritus
Such adds and TV programming in general are some reasons I don't watch TV.

Certainly, a person can sue for libel or slander.

Some commercials though simply take excerpts out of context, which falls in a grey area.

#### Ivan Seeking

Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
It would be a hornet's nest to filter legitimate campaign rhetoric from libel, but in a way I see this in the same way as the violence in sports issue. If a guy on the street walks up and punches someone in the face, he will likely get arrested. If this happens in a hockey game, he goes to the penalty box or gets thrown out of the game. I think he should be arrested like anyone else. In the same way, some or much or what I see in the political attack ads is more like a punch in the face than a high-sticking offense.

The important thing here is that attack ads clearly can change the results of an election. If elections are won by lies and not by the honest position of the candidates on important issues, then democracy is an illusion.

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#### Office_Shredder

Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Ivan, if I walked up to my friend and punched him in the face, odds are I won't get arrested.

Context is key.... in a hockey game, you willingly place yourself in an environment where punches are possible and accepted. Likewise, if you place yourself in the position of a public figure (that would be someone who's known by the public, not a government official), you place yourself open to the acknowledged possibility of distortions, misrepresentations, and outright lies.

It should be pointed out that a punch in the face can be less penalized than a high sticking offense (depending on context, of course)

#### Astronuc

Staff Emeritus
you place yourself open to the acknowledged possibility of distortions, misrepresentations, and outright lies.
I worry about this conclusion. I certainly do not expect it, but maybe many people do. Does this mean we should expect politicians to solicit campaign donations and then be influenced by the money? If that is the case, then, as Ivan mentioned, democracy is an illusion. I think we (as a society) should expect better than, I think we should be better than, and I think we ought to demand better than that.

#### Ivan Seeking

Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
An interesting bit of California history that applies.

...After a particularly nasty primary she faced Republican Congressman Richard Nixon in the general election. The campaign was destined to be one of the nation's most famous--and infamous. Nixon, waging an inspiring red-baiting campaign, was unrelenting in his charges. If he never actually called her a communist, saying she was "pink right down to her underwear" was not a fashion critique. His legions were yet less restrained. Murray Chotiner, Nixon's campaign manager, printed an infamous flyer that was handed out at rallies. Printed on pink paper (and, thus, forever known as the "pink sheet"), it more than implied a connection between Douglas and communism.

Other Nixon campaign workers called Douglas a communist when they approached strangers on the street. They called her a communist when they telephoned thousands of homes the night before the election. In an era when the nation's fear was palpable, the strategy was a great success. On election day Nixon won handily. Douglas never again ran for public office. She did not, however, leave the spotlight. A tireless public speaker and activist, Douglas lobbied for liberal causes until her death on June 28, 1980, in New York. [continued]
http://www.ou.edu/special/albertctr/archives/exhibit/hgdbio.htm [Broken]

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#### Pythagorean

##### excitation
Gold Member
Astronuc said:
Does this mean we should expect politicians to solicit campaign donations and then be influenced by the money? If that is the case, then, as Ivan mentioned, democracy is an illusion. I think we (as a society) should expect better than, I think we should be better than, and I think we ought to demand better than that.
we can't afford to.

#### Office_Shredder

Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Astronuc said:
Just because it's possible doesn't mean you should accept it as the norm.

Does this mean we should expect politicians to solicit campaign donations and then be influenced by the money? If that is the case, then, as Ivan mentioned, democracy is an illusion.
You can still vote the candidate out of office. If you're having trouble because both sides simply resort to name calling and mud slinging, then keep voting the incumbent out. Eventually someone will get smart, campaign clean, and get re-elected. Of course, if people keep voting for candidates based on party, rather than on the candidate, we'll never get this.

I think we (as a society) should expect better than, I think we should be better than, and I think we ought to demand better than that.
If you want to demand better, then don't vote for that side. It's really simple, if you're willing to just stand up for what you believe is right

#### BobG

Homework Helper
Ivan Seeking said:
With all of the mud slinging in politics around election time, one begins to wonders where the line is drawn between attack ads, and defamation of character. Perhaps part of the problem with the system is that there is no personal responsiblity for all of this nonsense. I'm starting to think that losing or winning an election does not forgive all sins. Many of these attack ads would certainly result in a law suit in most any other context.

Did the "bunny" in the Tennessee [Corker] attack ad really meet Ford at a party? She sure looked like an actress to me.

Of course, this actually applies to many people within the political process, not just the candidates.

Edit: I just saw that she really did meet Ford at the Playboy party. Still, I think that and many commercials go way too far.
Who should be legally liable? With the PACs and 527s, it isn't actually the candidate making the false charges, even if they reap the benefits or, occasionally, the backlash from the ads.

In fact, some of these groups feed on the party they're most closely associated with more than they do the opposing party. The 'Republican' Club for Growth is one example: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/elections/article/0,2808,DRMN_24736_5104257,00.html [Broken]. More important than having a Republican win, they're concerned about having the 'right type' of Republican run in the first place.

Nationwide for 2006, they've spent $1.7 million attacking Republican candidates in the primaries, less than$0.2 million attacking Democrats in the general elections, and about $0.7 million actually supporting a Republican candidate. (With stats like that, Dems have to like Club for Growth more than Republicans do). In our Congressional district, they spent$86,000 attacking the two leading Republican candidates in the primary and $21,000 supporting their favorite Republican candidate. They haven't attacked the Democratic candidate at all (negative backlash against attack ads by a conservative Christian group during the primaries are the main reason credited for making the general election competitive in the first place - it suddenly doesn't seem like the best time to start slinging mud). Last edited by a moderator: #### Ivan Seeking Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Gold Member BobG said: Who should be legally liable? Whoever made the false claims. Ultimately someone had to write the check. #### Ivan Seeking Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Gold Member Office_Shredder said: You can still vote the candidate out of office. If you're having trouble because both sides simply resort to name calling and mud slinging, then keep voting the incumbent out. Eventually someone will get smart, campaign clean, and get re-elected. I don't see any evidence for this. The problem is that many people are never the wiser. Many people believe what they hear on the Rush Limbaugh show. #### Gokul43201 Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Gold Member Ivan Seeking said: Whoever made the false claims. Ultimately someone had to write the check. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6085922.stm The commercial created such a storm of protest that it was pulled early from the airwaves by the Republican National Committee - which paid for the piece but said that, under America's arcane campaign-finance laws, it had no input into the content. We paid for it, but we're not responsible for what's in it... #### Ivan Seeking Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Gold Member So the answer is that the Republican National Committee is responsible. If they had the authority to pull it, clearly the responsibility is theirs. Beyond that, someone was in charge who was responsible for the decision to fund the commercial. At the least, that person should be named in a suit. #### Ivan Seeking Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Gold Member At first. Corker allegedly asked the Rep. Nat Committee to pull the commercial. They responded by saying something like they didn't have the authority. Then Ford pointed out how unfortunate it is that Corker is such a puppet that can't even run his own campaign. Shortly thereafter, the ad was pulled. Conversely, I thought it was way out of line to come out and call Foley a child molester based on a few reports of innappropriate emails, so the Dems are just as bad at times. Last edited: #### edward The Dems aren't as bad yet. They are still behind the on the sleaze curve, but they are working on it. #### ptabor Ivan Seeking said: I don't see any evidence for this. The problem is that many people are never the wiser. Many people believe what they hear on the Rush Limbaugh show. Worse yet, many believe what they hear coming from Michael Moore. edited: Ok, maybe it's not worse but it's certainly just as bad. #### Astronuc Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Why can't politicians simply say, "I disagree with opponent on such-and-such issue, and this is my view/alternative idea . . . .". If negative campaigning (all about emotion) is so successful, what does that say about the process, and the electorate? There are serious issues such as security and the long term economic picture (i.e. the government has more obligations than it has funds, trade deficit is huge and likely to continue, federal government is still running huge deficits, . . .), which must be addressed, and ultimately taxes must be increased, or the government must simply cut the budget in half - which will mean, little or no SS, Medicare, Medicaid, and dramatic reductions in defense, education, . . . . Alternatively, the US government can sell all assets of the US to those who have money. Last edited: #### ptabor democracy (at least our brand) IS an illusion. It is, in my opinion, an illusion to think that just be going to vote you are going to affect change. The system itself, as a whole, is broken. Even if you did manage to vote in one candidate who was TRULY dedicated to his or her values, this person would have to contend with the machinery of our political juggernaut. I say the system is broken because both parties resort to name calling and mud slinging as well as manipulation of political issues when it suits their needs. Case in point, in 04 the hubub was over gay marriage. Consequently, this was the big issue for the Republicans and lead to victories in many states as well as in the highest office of the land. Come 2006, we hear absolutely nothing about this issue - the politicians just pander to whatever is popular at the time. Another point, John Kerry, for all his tough talk on Iraq in the begining, did a 180 for the 2004 election - because it was popular to be against the war at the time (well, it still is). Or how about another case... the insecurity of our border. We've got GW signing into law a bill to build a 700 mile fence along our border. Did he do this in 2001 when it might have made a difference? No, of course not... it wasn't popular at the time. [ I don't support a fence on the border. I do, however, support a 25 year prison sentence and$1 million fine for employing illegal immigrants. ]

I won't bother to drum up examples of mud slinging, as we've all seen them from both sides of the aisle.

Clearly the time for change is at hand. There are multiple parties out there, at least one of them is likely to be a better match for your ideals than the Dems/Republicans. Problem is, these candidates stand zero chance of winning as they get zero air time and zero coverage. The system is not going to allow change from within... change must come from the outside.

By continuing to vote for the two party system you are only showing your support for the status quo. If you truly believe in the ideals of one party or the other, fine - vote away. However if you are disatisfied.. don't go to the polls thinking your vote is going to bring about change because you will be sorely disappointed.

As for the original question, it depends. If what the ads say is true (even if it may be out of context or distorted) then you have no room to complain. By taking part in our political process, you know the risks involved - character assassination is a well known tactic. Of course, if the opposing side just makes things up, then clearly this is libelous.

A politician who complains about being slammed in an ad is like a burglar who complains because he breaks into a house and gets mauled by the family dog.

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