While we’re on the subject of super PACs and the law, my friend and former Court TV colleague Dan Abrams has just written a long-overdue piece on his Mediaite website about how the mainstream media—he singles out The New York Times, The Washington Post, and MSNBC—regularly and routinely misstate the meaning and impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision on campaign finance rules. They and other media, Abrams points out, repeatedly refer to Citizens United as having enabled people like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson to become Newt Gingrich’s multimillion-dollar sugar daddy. In fact, as Abrams explains, Citizens United only had to do with freeing corporations and unions to contribute unlimited amounts to supposedly independent PACs; individuals like Adelson have had a right to do so long before Citizens United, as demonstrated by the way in which a bunch of rich donors swift-boated John Kerry six years before Citizens United was decided.
This basic misreading of an easy-to-read Supreme Court decision is so egregious—and fits so nicely into a political riff that holds the Roberts Supreme Court responsible for elections gone wild—that I’d like to see more on this than Abrams’s blog post. Someone needs to ask the reporters involved—Chris Matthews at MSNBC or Dana Milbank of The Washington Post are among those whose bald misstatements Abrams documents—how it is that they and their colleagues keep making this obvious mistake and why no one has corrected it. And what does Adam Liptak, the highly regarded New York Times Supreme Court reporter, think about all this? Has he tried to get his paper to correct itself? Someone needs to shove a microphone or pad and pencil in front of a bunch of people who are usually the ones asking the gotcha questions. Let’s play hardball, Chris.