Civil Discourse Now

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Mayor Ballard's TV ad blatantly lies: he's lowered taxes? Really? I mean---really?

   Is Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard a Kurt Russell-type character?
   In the 1980 film “Used Cars,” a used car lot owner is threatened with prosecution for false advertising after a television ad is altered, by people connected to her lot’s competitor, to claim her lot has a “mile of cars.” The movie was promoted, in part, by a photo shoot in Penthouse magazine, the box office ticket sales were mediocre, and Wikipedia tells me it has gained cult status.    Kurt Russell plays an unethical used car salesperson/manager, Rudy Russo, in the film.
   The First Amendment protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press—a “bundle” sometimes called the right to “free expression.” Under our Federal Constitution and the constitutions of the various States and Commonwealths, there are limits to these freedoms. The classic example of such limits is a person cannot yell “Fire!” is a crowded theater. Another example is the area of law generally described as defamation. That includes libel—to defame someone in a “permanent” medium, such as the printed word—and slander—to make a false, defamatory statement in a transitory form, such as the spoken word.
   Some States have statutes that prohibit false advertising. This would appear to have been the lynchpin for the plot in “Used Cars.”
   While First Amendment protections are eased in the areas described, one area of expression receives greater protection. That is in the area of political speech. Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971), is one of my favorite cases.  Other political speech cases recite the notion that political speech is subject to the strict scrutiny test. Under the strict scrutiny test, the state must establish that it has a compelling interest that justifies and necessitates the law in question. More recently, the Citizens United and McCutcheon cases, issued by the Roberts Court, have pressed back limits on corporate speech. The notion is that, of any area of expression, that which relates to political views or beliefs is protected by the First Amendment.
   Last night I saw the first television ad, since the last municipal election cycle, I have seen run on behalf of Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard.  In the ad, footage of a smiling Mayor Ballard is shown while the voice-over tells us how Greg Ballard ran for Mayor of Indianapolis on a promise to lower taxes and, since that election, Mayor Ballard has done just that—lowered taxes for people of Indianapolis.
   I wanted to change the channel to WTF.
   In their blogs recently, Paul Ogden (“Ogden on Politics”) and Gary Welsh (“Advance Indiana”) have itemized the tax increases under the reign of Mayor Greg Ballard. Pat Andrews, at “Had Enough Indy?”, also has covered—perhaps “uncovered” is a better choice of verb—the financial fiascos of the present Mayor. I would hope the local daily newspaper runs a headline this morning like: “BALLARD TV AD LIES!” Unfortunately, the local daily newspaper usually is a cheerleader for this mayor. We are more apt to see a headline: “MAYOR RUNS NIFTY TV ADS!” with a sub-title: “LOVED THOSE ZIP LINES FOR THE SUPER BOWL!”
   The First Amendment protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press.  Our own Indiana Constitution protects such expression. Political speech deserves protection. A counterweight to propaganda is the so-called Fifth Estate—the press or media. Society, and with it its forms of communication, has changed. While politicians and their parties have big budgets to air political ads that more than gloss over facts, but outright lie, exposure of such inaccuracies as they set forth only can be “checked” by people on blogs.
   I do not advocate limits on free speech. I just wish there were an app in the TV that would increase the length of a candidate’s nose when the candidate tells a lie. At the very least, the app could put polyester, plaid bell bottoms and open-collar shirts on Mayor Ballard, circa 1980 Kurt Russell, to make the mayor look as silly as he deserves to look. After all, we shall pay for years the debts Mayor Ballard and his cronies have incurred, and will try to incur in what one hopes will be his final months in office. We at least should be entitled to a few laughs with the show.

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