Laws to suppress mudslinging can stifle speech

An editorial from The Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — By nature, and by profession, we do not like lies. As journalists, we’re truth tellers. Or at least we attempt to get at the truth through research, attribution, documents and comments from people on either side of an issue.

Sometimes it ends up with “telling lies from both sides,” as a crusty reporter once mused a handful of years ago. That seems especially true during election seasons, as we are currently experiencing. That is not to say that all those who seek office tell lies. But many times, the things said within a campaign season are generalizations and assumptions and are put out there for the shock value.

“My opponent’s proposed tax platform would put mom and pop stores out of business.”

“My opponent wants to pass laws that would put semi-automatic assault rifles in the hands of children.”

Those seem like far-fetched statements. And it’s entirely possible that there is a thread of truth to each statement, but it’s weaved into a shocking accusation and carefully scripted for the most voter impact.

Policing false statements made during a political campaign, whether they be in print, on websites, on billboards or spoken, is a very dangerous practice. And during arguments earlier this week over an Ohio law in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, justices said that laws in 15 states are questionable and possibly an attack against free speech and debate within political campaigns…

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