RCP Morning Note, 05/23/2017: The Sanders Factor; Holding the House; Advice for Dems; ‘Tonight Show’ on Trial

05/23/2017
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Carl Cannon’s Morning Note

The Sanders Factor; Holding the House; Advice for Dems; ‘Tonight Show’ on Trial

By Carl M. Cannon on May 23, 2017 09:08 am
Good morning, it’s Tuesday, May 23, 2017. Today’s news from Manchester, England, was particularly sickening and enraging, even in a world where depravity has become so frequent. A lone madman who could inflict such carnage would be a difficult societal problem to address, but this bombing fits a more disturbing profile. To underscore the point, Islamic State supporters gloated on social media about the murder of so many children — and called for similar attacks. Obviously, abettors of such horror aren’t susceptible to reason. But exterminating such thinking isn’t easy, partly because the tools of free expression pioneered in the West, and cherished by enlightened people, are employed against civilized societies. Should we curb free speech to make ourselves safer? It’s an enduring dilemma, as an event on this date in 1979 reminds us. That was the night Johnny Carson allowed himself to be “hanged" on national television. Watching that program was an impressionable 13-year-old Rhode Island boy named Nicholas DeFilippo Jr. I’ll have more on his tragic story, and its legal ramifications, in a moment. First, I’ll point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion pieces spanning the political spectrum. We also offer a complement of original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following: * * * How Hillary Clinton’s Party Produced Bernie Sanders. David Byler has this analysis of ideological change among Democratic voters, who warmed to the throwback populism of the Vermont senator. Losing the House Is Not a Pre-Existing Condition for GOP. Peter Wallison and Joseph Antos explain why they believe House Republicans’ vote to repeal Obamacare won’t lead to election losses next year. How Democrats Can Hasten Trump’s Departure. Paul Bledsoe prescribes three moves the party should take before the midterms. What Would a President Pence Mean for America’s Future? In RealClearDefense, Loren Thompson has this assessment of the potential commander-in-chief. Cost and the Pre-existing Conditions Pledge. In RealClearHealth, Robert Graboyes warns that the current reform debate does not focus on the high cost of care — only on who pays. Will the EPA Abandon the Science of Risk? In RealClearPolicy, Jeff Stier urges the Trump administration to resist calls to disregard risk analysis in environmental regulation. Google Is Building the Future, and That Depresses the NYT. RealClearMarkets editor John Tamny comments on a Times lamentation that the government is increasingly leaving artificial-intelligence research to the private sector. * * * “The Tonight Show" airs on the East Coast following the local 11 o’clock news. That’s too late for most kids on a school night, but if you’ve raised teenagers, you know that they often outwait the adults. May 23, 1979 was a Wednesday, but Nicky DeFilippo stayed up to watch television after his parents, Shirley and Nicholas Sr., had gone to bed. They found their son’s body early the next morning, hanging from a noose around his neck. The television set was still on, tuned to WJAR, the NBC affiliate in Providence. They wondered, as any parent would, what could their son possibly have been watching? As it happened, one of Johnny Carson’s guests the previous night was a professional stuntman named Dar Robinson. Carson introduced Robinson to the audience, along with a tantalizing tease: Robinson would “hang" the show’s popular host later in the program. After a commercial break, the two men were shown conversing about the upcoming stunt. Before doing so, Robinson took pains to make it clear to viewers that this wasn’t something they should emulate. “Believe me, it’s not something that you want to go and try," he said. “This is a stunt." When the studio audience laughed, Robinson and Carson had the following exchange: Robinson: “I’ve got to laugh, you know, you’re all laughing…" Carson: “Explain that to me." Robinson: “I’ve seen people try things like this. I really have. I happen to know somebody who did something similar to it, just fooling around, and almost broke his neck." Returning from another commercial break, viewers saw Carson standing on a makeshift gallows with a trapdoor, a noose beside him, as Robinson and an assistant stood by. More banter ensued, before a hood and the noose were fitted over Carson’s head. As the Supreme Court of Rhode Island later noted drily: “The trapdoor was opened, and Carson fell through. To the delight of the audience, he survived the stunt without injury." Nicky DeFilippo was not so fortunate. Why he did what he did was never established with any certainty, but in their anger and grief the boy’s parents sought redress from NBC. Their lawsuit was dismissed by a local trial judge, who ruled that an adverse ruling against the network “would create a chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of others." The state Supreme Court upheld this ruling. Taking note of federal case law holding that viewers and the general public also have constitutional rights that “supersede those of the broadcasters" — and that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that Americans have a right to expect “social, esthetic, moral…experiences" while watching television — Rhode Island’s highest court acknowledged that it was being asked to balance “two distinct First Amendment protections." In the end, it decided that the choice was clear. “Using this balancing test," it ruled, “we find that plaintiffs cannot overcome the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment." Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)
ccannon@realclearpolitics.com

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