Nets Decry Campaign Finance Ruling, Fail to Hail Victory for Freedom of Speech

The unencumbered ability to sway voters is great for the news media, but journalists are outraged others could re-acquire the same First Amendment rights. Instead of painting a victory for free speech in the Supreme Court's ruling that corporations, non-profit groups and unions can spend money to influence elections, the Thursday broadcast network evening newscasts feared a ruinous future:

“Opening floodgates” to “big money” with “corporate interests having even more of a say” by “attacking political candidates,” resulting in “the real danger...that the candidates are just going to get drowned out” as “special interests” may “take over political campaign advertising.”

“On that subject of big money and power,” ABC anchor Diane Sawyer intoned, “a blockbuster decision from the Supreme Court today opening floodgates for companies and unions to spend all the money they want attacking political candidates.” On NBC, anchor Brian Williams previewed “the news today that will result in big companies and corporate interests having even more of a say in American politics and campaigns.”

Jan Crawford fretted on CBS the ruling means “corporations and unions can just spend unlimited amounts of money on negative campaign ads, more than the candidates themselves can afford. So the real danger is that the candidates are just going to get drowned out and lose complete control of their message.” Anchor Katie Couric despaired: “This comes at a time when everyone's so conscious of the influence of corporations and unions and special interest groups.” Crawford agreed: “Oh, that's right, Katie. I mean, you know, and now with this ruling today, special interests will have the power to almost take over political campaign advertising.”


None pointed out “special interests” spend on campaign ads because of the limits imposed on how much individuals (and an un-changed ban or corporate donations to federal candidates) can contribute to candidates and so the assumed destructive influence of corporations, unions and special interests could be lessened if candidates were on an even playing field re-empowered by being able to accept much larger donations from individuals as well as corporate money.

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this transcript of the coverage on the Thursday, January 21 CBS Evening News:

KATIE COURIC: And big changes are coming for political campaigns. Chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford tells us the Supreme Court today struck down restrictions on political spending by corporations and unions.

JAN CRAWFORD: It started with 'Hillary the Movie,' a negative political documentary about then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

BAY BUCHANAN, IN MOVIE: She's lying.

CRAWFORD: The movie didn't air before the election because it was paid for with corporate money, a violation of federal campaign finance law.

VOICE OF UNIDENTIFIED MALE NARRATOR: Is she ruthless?

CRAWFORD: Today in a 5-4 ruling, a deeply divided Supreme Court said the ban on corporate spending violated First Amendment guarantees of free speech. The ruling demolished the foundation of campaign finance laws, going back to Teddy Roosevelt's days, that restricted spending by corporations and unions.

BENJAMIN GINSBERG, ELECTION LAW ANALYST: -will be a much louder, more robust debate with many more voices, but those voices may not be those of the candidates on whom the voters are choosing.

CRAWFORD: So you'll see a lot more of this as the political system is flooded with big money. Now, it's important to point out that the court upheld disclosure requirements in the law. It said that the public has a right to know who's paying for these ads and that people are smart enough to figure out what's behind it. Katie?

COURIC: Jan, what do you think this means, though, to the average voter?

CRAWFORD: Well, it's going to completely change the way we see political campaigns being run. Corporations and unions can just spend unlimited amounts of money on negative campaign ads, more than the candidates themselves can afford. So the real danger is that the candidates are just going to get drowned out and lose complete control of their message.

COURIC: And this comes at a time when everyone's so conscious of the influence of corporations and unions and special interest groups.

CRAWFORD: Oh, that’s right, Katie. I mean, you know, and now with this ruling today, special interests will have the power to almost take over political campaign advertising.

COURIC: Jan Crawford. Jan, thanks very much.

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center