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NLRB vs. Freedom of ⁠t⁠he Press

By: The James Madison Institute / August 16, 2011

Blog

August 16, 2011

By Bob Sanchez, JMI Policy Director
The National Labor Relations Board – packed with pro-union appointees of President Obama – has committed yet another outrage on a par with its ruling that Boeing should not be allowed to manufacture planes at a new plant built in the right-to-work state of South Carolina. Now the NRLB has ruled, in effect, that the First Amendment rights of a newspaper’s owner and publisher are trumped by the preferences of her unionizing employees.As a result, the NLRB has ordered Wendy McCaw, who co-owns the company that publishes the Santa Barbara (CA) News-Press, to offer reinstatement to eight employees who were dismissed, to retract critical evaluations of the performance of various employees, to rescind the suspension notices that were sent to 11 employees, and to award back pay to all employees whom the NLRB feels were the victims of discrimination on account of their union activities.As the Los Angeles Times reports (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/08/newspaper-publisher-retaliated-against-former-reporters-board-rules.html), these “union activities” began about five years ago after some of the paper’s liberal-leaning employees accused their more conservative publisher of “improper attempts to influence the news-gathering process.”The nerve! A newspaper’s owner actually wanted to have a say in what her newspaper published!The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment plainly says, in part, that “Congress shall make no law … abridging … freedom of the press…” Moreover, in the 1974 case of Tornillo v. the Miami Herald Publishing Co., a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court rejected teacher union leader Pat Tornillo’s demand that The Herald be ordered to print his letter to the editor, as the liberal Florida Supreme Court had demanded in upholding the state’s blatantly unconstitutional “right to reply” law.As the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion said in that case, the Constitution guarantees a free press, not necessarily a fair press. So the Tornillo case and numerous other rulings through the years have affirmed that the government must keep its hands off issues involving the content of the news media — except in cases of libel or slander, when it’s matter for the courts to decide.In the Santa Barbara case, however, the NLRB ruling – upholding a union boss’s dream interpretation of federal labor laws – plainly infringes on this publisher’s First Amendment rights to control the content of her publication. Journalists who didn’t like it were free to start their own publication instead of trying to hijack someone else’s.Let’s hope this case eventually reaches the U.S. Supreme Court – and that the Court still leans in favor of press freedom. Meanwhile, I’ll be interested to see how many of the unionized journalists toiling in the nation’s newsrooms – generally so quick to criticize any real or imagined threat to the First Amendment – will come to the defense of Wendy McCaw.