Why Does Sarah Palin Keep Getting The First Amendment Wrong?
Sarah Palin took to her Twitter account this morning to say this about the Juan Williams story:
NPR defends 1st Amendment Right, but will fire u if u exercise it. Juan Williams: u got taste of Left’s hypocrisy,they screwed up firing you
This isn’t the first time that Palin has invoked the First Amendment when she has a beef with the media. In the final days of the 2008 campaign, she complained that journalists who were asking questions about her and her record were violating her First Amendment rights and that such journalists were “a threat to democracy.” During the Carrie Prejean beauty pageant/gay marriage kerfuffle, she accused the media and pageant officials of violating Prejean’s First Amendment rights. Back in May she essentially said that journalists who printed stories she didn’t like were a threat to freedom of the press. And, most recently, she invoked the First Amendment to defend Dr. Laura Schlesinger from the criticism that followed her repeated on word use of a racial epithet.
None of these, of course, are First Amendment situations, even the Williams case. While NPR does receive a small portion of it’s revenue from the taxpayer-funded Corporation For Public Broadcasting, most of it’s funding comes from member stations and donations. It is, for legal purposes, a private entity and thus not subject to the First Amendment.
Why is it, though, that Palin and others can’t seem to get this idea straight?
It strikes me as either being outright ignorance or a deliberate effort to blur the lines.
Update: As sam mentions in a comment, UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh provides the definitive answer to the question of whether NPR could possibly be covered by the First Amendment:
A bunch of people have asked me whether NPR’s firing of Juan Williams for his statement about Muslims on The O’Reilly Factor violates the First Amendment. The answer is “no.” NPR is not a government actor, and thus not bound by the First Amendment; that it gets some funding from the government does not make it a government actor, just as private colleges’ getting grants and other benefits doesn’t make them government actors bound by the First Amendment. See Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830 (1982) (so holding, even as to a school that got 90% of its money from the government).
Absent a statute from Congress conditioning the federal funding on certain actions, NPR and the CPB are free to act however they wish.