MoveOn.org is going after Fox News Channel. Presumably you’ve heard of MoveOn.org. It is the large email list and web site that was formed during the time of Clinton’s impeachment proceedings. MoveOn.org assembled an awesome email list collected from friends and spread through word of mouth. It used its list to unsuccessfully petition Congress to skip the Clinton impeachment proceedings. Instead it wanted its members to tell Congress to just censure Mr. Clinton for his lying under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinski. In their view it was time for the country to “move on”.
MoveOn.org is the embodiment of an idea whose time had come. It became (and likely still is) the nation’s largest, most moneyed and most influential grass roots internet-based political movement. Now it is working hard to return Democrats to power, principally in the White House, but also in Congress. And it rallies its members on causes it considers important. It has had some major successes. One of its more recent successes was in getting the Congress to roll back a nasty FCC ruling. That ruling said the same company could own 45% of both the print and media markets in a given locale (it was 35%). This is quite an accomplishment. There is no member of Congress who has not heard of MoveOn.org. It is often praised and pilloried depending on which side of the political fence you walk.
I’ve been very impressed by the organization to the tune of giving it $400 of my hard earned dollars to date. In addition I’ve signed dozens of its numerous petitions. On their call to arms I have written my congressman and senators (pretty much a lost cause in my state), donated to their recommended candidates and even called my representatives a couple of times. I’ve referred my friends to MoveOn.org.
So I was more than a little upset by MoveOn.org’s recent petition to the Federal Trade Commission. In a complaint to the FTC, MoveOn.org is trying to get the agency to tell Fox News that it cannot claim to be “fair and balanced” because, well, it’s not. It calls their slogan misleading. The logic seems to be if you had a toilet bowl cleaner that didn’t clean toilets and you marketed it as such the FTC would go after it, so why not a news organization?
It doesn’t take too much watching of Fox News to realize that it is about as fair and balanced in its reporting as, say, Pravda was during the Cold War. If you are not convinced the soon to be released documentary Outfoxed should make it crystal clear. To call it a recklessly partisan policy advocate for the Bush Administration is to damn it with faint praise. So I think MoveOn.org has a point in that their slogan is misleading.
However it is a news organization, or at least pretends to be one. It happens to be covered by the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of the press. This also means that the press is not subject to government harassment for its views. I take the First Amendment seriously. I assumed that MoveOn.org as a progressive organization did too. That’s why I was so shocked by this campaign. Because in trying to sic the government after Fox News, MoveOn.org is showing that its standards can be just as low as Fox News’. In other words in this case any form of legal harassment is okay if it makes the other side hurt. The end appears to justify the means.
I think this is a serious mistake for MoveOn.org. It is an organization that is now on my watch list. I may have to give my money to other progressive organizations that understand the First Amendment and won’t flinch because some other organization it doesn’t like is exercising its constitutional rights. This campaign with the FTC is just mean spirited harassment and worthy of Bill O’Reilly at his worst. MoveOn.org in this case should just shut up. In fact, it should do more than that. It should admit this campaign was a mistake and a serious lapse in its judgment. And then it should, well, move on.
The staff of MoveOn.org (who incidentally are not elected by any of its membership) need to shape up and do so quickly before progressives like me take our money and energies elsewhere. We progressives don’t elevate debate and show our character by slinging the same kind of mud as is dished our way.
Bad move, MoveOn.org.