WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Very few things ever surprised the recently deceased editor of The Wall Street Journal, Bob Bartley. However, I know of one firsthand. When the First Amendment rights of The American Spectator were trampled by the Clinton administration, specifically via a melodramatic grand jury investigation, almost no one from the press paid any attention.
That surprised Bob. He believed that legions of civil libertarians would hasten to the magazine's defense, not only from the media but also from the First Amendment "Watch Dog" groups that sempiternally pat themselves on the back for their fearless idealism and their direct lineage to Thomas Jefferson.
Bob told me to call upon Floyd Abrams, the Moses of First Amendment law in these United States. I hope Floyd will not consider it libelous of me to report that he took no interest -- facts are facts. Later, when I asked the great man why he had shown no interest in the Spectator's trials, he explained, "Because you don't listen." He had just delivered a very stirring sermonic on -- what else? -- free speech.
Well, OK so the First Amendment is not extended to the hard of hearing. I guess that explains why the guardians of the First Amendment have been so slow to defend Rush Limbaugh from the prosecutorial excess besetting him in progressive West Palm Beach.
Rush is hard of hearing. He has had a cochlear implant to improve his hearing. That and chronic spinal pain got him hooked on prescription painkillers. Now, after admitting to his addiction and undergoing rehab, he is being exposed to prosecutorial harassment that no Hollywoodian with a coke habit or any other confessed user of recreational drugs is likely to experience. But Limbaugh is known to the public for the political and philosophical positions he espouses, not the leading roles he plays in film or on stage. So in the spirit of encouraging Diversity, the West Palm Beach government is going to nail him. The only support he has gotten from the civil liberties strutters is from the American Civil Liberties Union. Bravo the ACLU, and shame on the phonies.
In a finely illuminating piece in the May issue of The American Spectator, my friend Sam Dealey lays out the Florida prosecutor's hypocrisy. When last fall the prosecutor -- he will be remembered by the enlightened everywhere as Barry Krischer -- was asked by Limbaugh's lawyer how he planned to deal with claims about Rush's addiction made by a crook and his shady wife in the National Enquirer, the prosecutor was reassuring. Krischer claimed his office had already been aware of Limbaugh's reliance on painkillers.
"If it was their intention to prosecute?" reports Dealey, "they would have done so already. Their office policy, Krischer continued, was not to prosecute the drug addict, but to go after the pusher."
The media's reports of Limbaugh's addiction elicited such howls, however, that Krischer suddenly changed his mind. Now Limbaugh, the recovering addict, was Public Enemy Number One. The West Palm Beach prosecutor went after Limbaugh's medical records from four doctors, skirting the subpoena process. His office released confidential correspondence between the prosecutor and Limbaugh's lawyer. Mysteriously portions of Limbaugh's medical records popped up all over cable television for a day or two.
Not a peep of protest from the Floyd Abramses of the world was heard, and the silence remains as Limbaugh continues to defend himself against this obvious harassment.
That brings me to another of Bob Bartley's beliefs. He thought that the institutions of the Old Order, that is to say the institutions of moribund liberalism, were passing. He thought the New Order, that is to say rising libertarian conservatism, was going to have to establish its own institutions -- at least, for the most part. Thus it is incumbent on nonliberals to defend the First Amendment.
We are fortunate that the ACLU has gone to the defense of Limbaugh. To assume other First Amendment defenders are going to play their part is futile. The time is now for the friends of personal liberty to remonstrate against the prosecutorial excess being practiced in West Palm Beach.
What Krischer is doing is wrong. It is a threat to the rule of law and to free speech. Limbaugh should be treated as any other recovering addict might be. Let us hear from the commentators of the New Order.