The first amendment covers sketch comedy

Jonah Goldberg writes about Hillary Clinton’s funny appearance on SNL, and also remembers Nixon’s pioneering efforts on Laugh-In.

The first amendment covers sketch comedy. And it’s hardly as if Clinton is the first presidential candidate or politician to take advantage of Saturday Night Live or some other entertainment show.

In 1968, Richard Nixon had many of the same challenges Clinton faces today. He was seen, rightly, as stiff, aloof, conspiratorial and too self-serious. That’s why he went on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In and said “sock it to me.” Nixon, didn’t win the very close presidential election because of one five second bit on Laugh In. But he probably wouldn’t have won if he hadn’t followed the advice of a 28-year-old media consultant wunderkind named Roger Ailes, who helped choreograph Nixon’s image makeover, and the “sock it to me” moment was arguably the most significant part of that effort. (Note: Ailes now runs Fox News where I am a contributor). George Schlatter, the producer of Laugh In, later apologized for helping Nixon get elected.

If Hillary Clinton is elected president in 2016, I very much doubt that Lorne Michaels, the executive producer of Saturday Night Livewill express similar regrets.

And that’s fine, too.

Again, Saturday Night Live, has the same first amendment rights as The New York Times, The Washington Post and this newspaper. But you know who else has the same free speech rights as the mainstream media? You and me — and George Soros, Charles and David Koch, and every other citizen of the United States.

And that’s why the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United was correct. In that decision, the Court held that everyone has the right to get their views and opinions out into the public conversation.

In the arguments before the court, the Obama administration took the position that the government could even ban books during election season if those books amounted to “express advocacy” for a candidate, even if that advocacy took the form of a single mention of a candidate.

The court rejected that argument and President Obama, along with most liberals, have never forgiven the justices. Hillary Clinton is so opposed to the ruling, she has made amending the First Amendment a cornerstone of her campaign.

Why do liberals hate Citizens United so much? No doubt there are many explanations, but one seems particularly obvious. In a world where only powerful institutions in the mainstream media have an unfettered right to make their case during elections, then the conversation is going to go in their favor. Even if Fox News and Rush Limbaugh were the monsters liberal claim they are, the scales still lean inarguably leftward when you include the biggest newspapers, the major TV networks, National Public Radio, and popular programs like The Daily Show and 60 Minutes.

None of these outlets would consider their editorials, news coverage and comedy sketches to be “in kind donations,” but from the perspective of political campaigns, that’s a distinction without a difference.

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