On Politics and Censorship in Modern Times

Given the international public’s unique readiness to equate “business” with “criminal,”  it’s auspicious timing for the question of corporate money’s role in politics to return to the Supreme Court. 

The question put before them, Should contemporary campaign finance laws ever put at risk our noble First Amendment?  What is the Court’s place if a corporation makes a film supporting one candidate over another?  The slope seems classically slippery.  


The Times coverage of the Hillary Clinton “slashing documentary” perhaps said more about the Court, and the place it continues to occupy in American life, than it does about the threat of banned books—or, even, the threat of banned tacky bio-pics of Presidential candidates. Justice Breyer’s note of the Clinton film that “It is not a musical comedy” was emblematic of what we think about when we think about judicial restraint: it should be leveled with wit, subtlety, and strength. Yet, are works of art which take—or twist—views on political candidates at risk?  Likely, not.  The First Amendment is strong.  And while a Farenheit 911 was funny, did it really rock the polls?

Remember obscenity.   There were years on the Court when the question of what was obscene was necessarily defined as wholly and, judicially speaking, subjective (if, infamously, recognizable). In The Brethren, Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong’s close look at the Court over seven terms (1969-1975), the authors describe what was known as “Movie day.”

“Movie day was the humorous highpoint of most terms.  Year after year, several of the Justices and most of the clerks went either into a basement storeroom or to one of the larger conference rooms to watch feature films that were exhibits in obscenity cases that had been appealed to the Court. Douglas, and Black during his years on the Court, never went. In their view, nothing could be banned.  ‘If I want to go see that film, I should pay my own money,’ Black once said, and he wondered aloud why nine men, many in their seventies, should make judgments about sexuality . . . Burger too preferred not to go . . . During his later years, Harlan watched the films from the first row, a few feet from the screen, able only to make out the general outlines. His clerk or another Justice would describe the action.  ‘By Jove,’ Harlan would exclaim.  ‘Extraordinary.’ Clerks frequently mocked Stewart’s approach to obscenity, calling out in the darkened room: ‘That’s it, that’s it, I know it when I see it.’”

A Movie day for political documentaries might be even tougher to judge (if less stressful).  In 2009, any Government claiming that it possesses the power to “ban” any work of art is deeply troubling, and tough to grasp. Yet if the phrase “corporate-backed” provokes reaction today it’s perhaps not surprising that some congressmen might take steps to try and “claw-back” the power of those, as it were, creative contributions, if not the actual contributions themselves.

Justice Scalia had the finest line of the day.  “I’m a little disoriented,” he said. 

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Keep reading Show less

Four philosophers who realized they were completely wrong about things

Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?

Sartre and Wittgenstein realize they were mistaken. (Getty Images)
Culture & Religion

Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

Keep reading Show less

The history of using the Insurrection Act against Americans

Numerous U.S. Presidents invoked the Insurrection Act to to quell race and labor riots.

The army during riots in Washington, DC, after the assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., April 1968.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • U.S. Presidents have invoked the Insurrection Act on numerous occasions.
  • The controversial law gives the President some power to bring in troops to police the American people.
  • The Act has been used mainly to restore order following race and labor riots.
Keep reading Show less

Facebook finally adds option to delete old posts in batches

Got any embarrassing old posts collecting dust on your profile? Facebook wants to help you delete them.

Facebook
Technology & Innovation
  • The feature is called Manage Activity, and it's currently available through mobile and Facebook Lite.
  • Manage Activity lets users sort old content by filters like date and posts involving specific people.
  • Some companies now use AI-powered background checking services that scrape social media profiles for problematic content.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…