I'm not sure where vice president Joe Biden is getting his information, but he seems rather confident that a tax can be levied against "violent media." He may want to check with the Supreme Court, which has ruled against regulating violent video games and found taxing certain varieties of speech differently to be a violation of the First Amendment.
Possibly Biden just got carried away with the jovial spirit of censorship pervading the post-Sandy Hook political climate. Or maybe he was just in an overly-agreeable mood and started making affirmative statements without considering what he was saying.
Or maybe he was just "playing to the crowd," which was entirely comprised of reps for various religious/community groups.
Those present for the Monday evening meeting included Franklin Graham, son of the evangelist Billy Graham and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Barrett Duke, the vice president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm.
The meeting also included Bruce Reed, Biden’s chief of staff, and Melissa Rogers, the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, according to people who attended.
This is not to say that all
members (or even all representatives) of religious communities are censorious or prone to pushing their subjective morality on others. There are several exceptions. Franklin Graham, however, isn't one of the exceptions.
Graham, two people in the meeting said, told Biden the government should consider taxing media companies that broadcast violent images and produce violent video games.
He floated the idea that media and entertainment that portray violence should be subject to a special tax, with the proceeds going to help victims and their families," said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly.
Let's stop here for a moment and take a look at this proposal, possibly in the way that might befit a nation's Vice President.
First off, the idea is bad and Graham should feel bad. As was mentioned above, applying additional tax to certain forms of speech is a clear violation of free speech rights. The government would be applying this tax to whatever it arbitrarily deemed "violent" enough to qualify for the "sin tax." (This is really what this amounts to -- a tax on certain speech and, indirectly, certain consumer behavior.)
Secondly, the direct flow of tax revenue from "violent media" to "victims and their families" makes an implicit connection between the two principals. This links the two in the government's eyes and
in the public's eyes. This also handily allows the government to dodge the fact that there is very little, if any, explicit
connection between "violent media" and violence. In essence, this presumes guilt on violent media creators and punishes them for exceeding some arbitrarily acceptable
Then there's perhaps the most troubling aspect: who decides what amount of violence is non-taxable and where does that line get crossed? If it's a PG-13 film, does it go untaxed? Does any M-rated game immediately have the tax applied? Will game developers and filmmakers explore other paths, like explicit sexuality, simply because violence gets taxed and sex doesn't? Or will they, more likely, adapt to the new chilling effect and produce stunted, sanitized output?
There are other questions to consider as well. With the consumers footing the bill for violent movies and games, will this price hike affect purchases by attaching some sort of stigma to the products themselves? Would the government label these items with something like: "2% of this purchase goes to victims of violence," thus making consumers feel complicit in violent criminal activity simply by purchasing the media?
[Bonus: will the MPAA be involved? It is
one of Biden's buddies
and its rating system is built on one of the most bizarrely abitrary set of 'standards' in the entertainment industry.]
These are just a few aspects that should be considered before anyone even brings the subject up, much less offers Vice Presidential-backing for the idea. But Biden seems almost charmingly naive in his response:
Biden told Graham that there was “no restriction on the ability to do that, there’s no legal reason why they couldn’t” tax violent images, Clark added.
I'm guessing at this point someone has gotten word to Biden that there's actually at least one
legal reason the government can't tax "violent images," because there has been no further word from either proponent of this terrible idea.
Graham’s representatives did not respond to requests for comment. Biden’s office also did not respond to requests to comment about the meeting.
Maybe Biden felt this conversation would never leave the room and therefore felt comfortable making ridiculous claims. He certainly appears to have tried to chill a little free speech himself.
Five people who attended the 2½-hour meeting told POLITICO that Biden made a specific plea to those present to keep his words off the record from reporters.
“He basically just said in general that these stakeholder meetings that if you put words into the vice president’s mouth it sometimes comes out wrong and gets misquoted,” said Shantha Alonso, the director of the poverty program at the National Council of Churches.
Well, that's a nice out to have. I guess we'll see if the "I was misquoted/comment was off the record" excuse gets run up the flagpole sometime soon. If it doesn't, we might be safe in assuming that, no matter what conclusions the CDC reaches in its study of violence and violent media, Biden and like-minded supporters will be moving forward with their reinterpretations of the First Amendment.
(h/t to Techdirt reader Colin for sending this our way. Not sure which Colin it is as multiple Colins come up in the search, but he knows who he is and can certainly take credit for the tip in the comment section.)