Free and false speech are protected under First Amendment

Statements made by politicians and political groups are subject to fact checking.

Statements made by politicians and political groups are subject to fact checking.

By Rachel Popa

Staff Reporter

According to PolitiFact.com, a Pulitzer Prize winning website that is the truth-seeking project of the Tampa Bay Times, 13 statements made by Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson have either been half-true, mostly false, or just “pants on fire” wrong.

Examples of such erroneous statements include Carson claiming that Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger wanted “people like him” to be eliminated, and that there is not one Muslim nation that does not harbor discrimination against women, gays, and people of other religious beliefs.

In an interview with Fox News, Carson misquoted Thomas Jefferson as saying that gun control “works great for the people who are law abiding citizens and it does nothing for the criminals…all it does is put the people at risk.”

However, “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver pointed out that the misquote was not entirely Carson’s fault. Oliver said that the quote Carson hinted at was originally paraphrased by Jefferson in his journal, and ultimately came from Cesare Beccaria’s “Essay on Crimes and Punishments.” All the same, Jefferson himself never said what Carson claimed he said.

PolitiFact also found that Democratic candidates quote false information. During a campaign event in Iowa, Hillary Clinton claimed that gun manufacturers are “the only business in America that is wholly protected from any kind of liability.”

Clinton’s statement was ruled as being false by PolitiFact due to an existing law called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. The law protects manufacturers from being held liable if their products are misused, but it does not explicitly protect gun manufacturers from being held accountable for illegally purchased weapons.   

The factual errors that presidential candidates and overall politicians make may be slight, but such errors can affect the trust shared by the public and politicians, especially when such falsehoods are a part of free speech.

In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List when it made false statements about Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) voting for taxpayer funded abortion. According to the Huffington Post, Rep. Driehaus was able to file a complaint against SBA List under an Ohio law that prohibits false statements.

However, the Supreme Court ruled that SBA List’s false statement about Rep. Driehaus is constitutional under the First Amendment.

“Groups who can’t win based off of the facts or the merit of their argument often resort to lying and deceiving the public,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue in relation to the SBA List ruling.

As Arnold Dornfeld, former night editor of the City News Bureau of Chicago used to say, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

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