A one-time controversial Federal Communications Commissioner who is now a University of Iowa law professor, says the media should play a stronger role in critiquing campaign advertising. Professor Nicholas Johnson says the courts have been too easy on news organizations who let campaigns go after each other on the air.
"I’ve raised recently a question of whether we need to revisit New York Times vs. Sullivan which gives them a base on balls when they’re involved in repeating information that is defamatory, if the person who would be the plaintiff is also a public official," Johnson says. Johnson praises those who take the time to evaluate the truth of ads.
Johnson says, "Since the media is taking money from the campaigns to put these commercials on the air, I think they have the responsibility — and indeed some exercise it — to do a kind of truth squad evaluation of the commercials." Johnson says the old rules need another look.
"Because I think we’ve got some awful stuff out there," Johnson says. Johnson is a native Iowan who made news during his stint with the F-C-C, including appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine as a dissenting voice on the commission in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
Johnson wrote a book called "How to Talk Back to Your Television," during his time on the commission and has a new book is entitled "Are We There Yet: Reflections on Politics in America." Johnson made his comments on Iowa Public Radio’s "The Exchange."