L. Neil Smith's
Number 269, May 2, 2004

Morons Marching

Is Everybody Lying?
by Lady Liberty

Special to TLE

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column called "Is Anybody Listening?" In it, I detailed some correspondence I'd received from my Congressional Representative. I had written to Washington to ask that Congress make no laws or permit no regulations that would infringe free speech. It is my contention, I wrote, that the market place—including boycotts of networks or stars—would provide what is arguably the most effective check and balance we could have on any expression some might consider offensive. The letter I got back said my Representative agreed with me, and that legislation to increase fines for broadcasters and other methods of controlling expression were being considered accordingly.

No, I didn't make a typographical error above. And yes, you are reading what I wrote correctly. I said, "Don't do it;" the letter said, "I agree with you, so I'm doing it."

I said it in that earlier column, and I'll repeat it here for emphasis: I'm bothered far less by a politician disagreeing with me than by the fact that politician is obviously not paying any attention to communications from constituents at all. I told you then that I intended to call my Representative's office to find out just what excuses or explanations were offered, and that I'd let you know. Well, I did, and here's what happened:

For those of you who've never written or called your Congressional Representative or Senators before (as an aside, if that's you, why not?), you rarely get to speak with the actual politician. Instead, your letter or phone call is directed to an aide. Different aides are usually responsible for different subject matter. In my case, my call went to the man who was responsible (among many other things, no doubt) to respond to inquiries or comments concerning broadcast decency. Since his name matched the initials on the bottom of the letter I received, I think it's safe to say I had the right guy on the line.

I explained the situation to the young man—I'll call him Bob— and asked for his response. Bob was terribly apologetic. "I don't know how this happened!" he said. "I do apologize!" He also told me that, "We would never intentionally respond to something you didn't write about."

I told Bob that I wasn't upset that his boss disagreed with me, but that I had been somewhat taken aback by the response I got. Bob assured me that his boss "supports freedom of speech" and that the Representative had "introduced an amendment against fining individual broadcasters." Hmmm. Interesting. You see, the letter I'm holding in my hand during the phone call says (and I quote): "That is why I have co-sponsored the bipartisan 'Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004' (H.R. 3737) which imposes a ten-fold increase in the statutory maximum fines the FCC may dole out to offenders."

My call, which was intended to get some acknowledgement my opposing viewpoint, has now resulted in a viewpoint in which the Representative's aide apparently opposes his own official viewpoint! (At least I can sleep guilt-free now, knowing with certainty that it wasn't me who caused the confusion there.)

I am, apparently, an eternal optimist. I thought that perhaps Bob— who was speaking largely unrehearsed to a kind of question I suspect most constituents don't bother to ask—might need some time to think and formulate a more detailed and accurate response. So I told him I'd written an editorial commentary about the matter, and that I'd like to give him a chance to respond to it. Before I could offer to fax him a copy, he stopped me: "Oh, I can't comment on something like that. You'll need to speak with the man in charge of media relations. I'll have him call you." Okay. I'll wait.

Believe it or not, I actually didn't have to wait too long before I got a phone call from the media relations man in my Representative's office. I'm still changing names to protect the guilty here, so I'm going to call this Congressional aide Jim. During the space between phone calls, Bob got Jim a copy of my original letter as well as a copy of the response I received. I was glad to hear it; now we'd get things straightened out!

Jim parroted Bob's earlier apologies (not that I'm not grateful for the patronization, mind you), and then said to me, "You should never have received this letter." Gee, do you think? He assured me that letters are read; he said, "I'm reading it right now!" (Exerting iron control, I managed not to ask if it was the first time anyone had done so.) He also pointed out to me that, "You and [his boss] disagree." Jim is batting a thousand, now, and his grasp of the obvious is impressive. Then he said to me, "You disagree. I mean, you're *for* free speech." (The emphasis here was his, not mine.)

Now let me just say that it's not that I don't already believe that many in Congress are pretty much against most of the Bill of Rights. But I don't recall any of them actually admitting out loud that they're opposed to what's usually viewed as a pretty popular amendment. I must have heard Jim wrong. But no, he said it to me again: "Well, you and [the boss] are on different sides here, because you're *for* free speech." (Again, the emphasis was his.)

It seems my Congressional Representative's office has taken a page from the administration's initial Iraq attack and renamed the technique more suitably for the circumstances. I am, at this point, a victim of a "Shock and Dismay" operation. Because I'm always relatively prepared for such a thing, however, I recovered quickly. After a moment of uncomfortable silence (just so you know, it was me who was uncomfortable and silent), I told Jim about the editorial column and indicated to him I'd be pleased to print any response the Representative might have. And with a smile in his voice, Jim told me, "Well, I don't really see a need to respond."

Let's see: I've accused a Congressional Representative's office of ignoring its constituents. I've learned that my Representative (at least according to an aide) is against the First Amendment. I hold the evidence in my hand that contradicts some of what I've been told in my phone conversations, and in fact is contradictory in and of itself. And I've made it clear that much of this information has already been publicized. And there's no need, or even a desire, to respond? I think I've got my response right there...

The first column I wrote on this matter asked, "Is Anybody Listening?" I suspect that they probably were not. In this column, I wondered, "Is Everybody Lying?" After hearing what the aides had to say about my letter and about the First Amendment, I can only say that I hope so. But my eternal optimism is slipping, now, because I'm very much afraid that this time—and concerning those matters where it would count the most—they were not.

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