'Times' Curbs Its First Amendment Enthusiasm When It Comes to Tobacco

Don't the press in general and the New York Times in particular take pride in portraying themselves as ever-the vigilant defenders of the First Amendment? But judging by an editorial in the paper this morning, the Times experiences a power loss worse than the one currently gripping Queens when it comes to defending the First Amendment rights of groups it disfavors, in this case the tobacco industry.

Entitled Take the Tobacco Pledge, the editorial urges ratification of The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, known colloquially as 'the tobacco treaty.' Here's how the Times describes its provisions:

"Countries that ratify the treaty promise to limit or ban tobacco advertising, promotion and event sponsorship; raise cigarette taxes; enlarge warning labels on cigarette packs; move toward ending smoking in public places; crack down on tobacco smuggling; and make it more difficult for tobacco companies to influence legislation on smoking."

Raising taxes is a no-brainer for the liberals of the Times. But limiting or banning advertising? Isn't that an infringement of First Amendment free speech rights? And making it "more difficult for tobacco companies to influence legislation on smoking" - isn't that a restriction of the First Amendment right to petition the government for the redress of grievances?

How would the Times feel about a treaty that would restrict the ability of newspapers to advertize and make it more difficult for newspapers to influence legislation that concerns the press? What do you call people who sanctimonously cloak themselves in the banner of the Bill of Rights when it comes to defending their own interests, but would deny those same rights to others?

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.