As much as I'm repelled by his message, Duke is a national figure, even if marginalized for a long time due to the extreme nature of his views. Donald Trump has made him relevant again because Trump is a candidate many suspect may share some of Duke’s thinking.
It's true, by reason of coverage, that the press may help elect, or promote, certain distasteful views and people, but the media cannot abdicate its responsibility to report the news. This is not to say, however, that reportage should not be contextualized. That's one purpose of op-ed columns. If, however, the media ignores various topics, or people, with whom, or which, it disagrees, then it is abdicating its primary responsibility to inform. In the same way, if it doesn't cover them, it is censoring free speech and limiting thought.
Some years ago, as many may recall, the ACLU advocated, successfully, for the right of Nazis to march in the primarily Jewish town of Skokie, IL. Courts agreed with the ACLU and confirmed the group’s right to march. Similarly, courts have ruled flag-burning is legal, however odious, contrary to what the Cleveland police may have believed at the RNC unless, of course, the city was enforcing a law against starting fires in public rather than flag burning, itself, when it rousted a woman trying to burn an American flag with a Bic lighter.
In California, during Viet Nam, it was found legal to wear a t-shirt that said, "Fuck the Draft" in a courthouse. An appellate court overturned a young man's conviction for wearing that shirt, after finding he was entitled to voice his opinion of the war, albeit in a crude manner.
The Confederate flag is another hot button issue, and not just in the South. The girl who wears a Confederate flag dress to her prom may get her picture in the paper, thus encouraging others to do the same, but that doesn't mean the outlet running the story endorses her decision. Of course, if no one noticed, or protested, what she did it wouldn't be newsworthy except, perhaps, if the dress was especially stylish. If there's an uproar of support, or horror, over an issue, then it is news, per se, and should be covered for the readers to judge or, at the very least, to stimulate discussion about the topic.
Debates about probity are in the nature of democracy and depend, in a very large degree, on a free press. Even W. conceded this point after being roundly criticized, for one thing or another, when he observed "We still have free speech speech in this county, I suppose." Trump has built his campaign, in large part, on the free publicity he has received by reason of language many perceive as being outrageous, racist, or any number of other anti-social things. He has bragged about all the money this tactic has saved him.
To ignore Trump’s more outrageous speech, however, would've been wrong, even if it advanced his candidacy, as it surely did. The same is true with Duke. If he is blacked out, the media would be complicit in just the type of violation of rights that Trump has implied he would make part of a new order, one in which America is first.
If the media minimizes Duke, for whatever reason, it will have less to complain about should a Trump administration censor news coverage, under color of law, on the grounds that the government finds certain expressions to be alien and seditious. It’s not that farfetched. Trump has suggested closing parts of the Internet to protect the country.Larry Flynt put it well when he said, "If the First Amendment protects someone like me, imagine what it can do for you." Flynt, probably, sold more magazines with the coverage afforded the obscenity trial he won, just as Duke, probably, will sell more books because of coverage of his quixotic run for senate. That, however, is the price of freedom.
Mike Malak is an attorney, writer and photographer. He resides in California.