AS NASTY AS SHE WANTS TO BE…. Sarah Palin sees her free-speech rights under fire from journalists who’ve highlighted her personal attacks against Barack Obama.

Palin told WMAL-AM that her criticism of Obama’s associations, like those with 1960s radical Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, should not be considered negative attacks. Rather, for reporters or columnists to suggest that it is going negative may constitute an attack that threatens a candidate’s free speech rights under the Constitution, Palin said.

“If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations,” Palin told host Chris Plante, “then I don’t know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media.”

Let’s unpack this a bit.

If I understand her correctly — and with Palin, it’s sometimes tough to understand her general incoherence — the governor believes she should make scurrilous, dishonest, and personal attacks against Democrats. She’s afraid, however, that reporters might tell voters she’s making scurrilous, dishonest, and personal attacks, and worse, that voters might recoil from her vicious style of campaigning.

And if that happens, politicians in the future might hesitate before launching scurrilous, dishonest, and personal attacks of their own. What a brutal “chilling effect” that would be.

So, as Palin sees it, the appropriate solution would be for her to accuse Obama of “palling around with terrorists,” and for the media to simply pass that along without scrutiny. It’s her job to wage vicious smear campaigns, and it’s the media’s job not to tell anyone she’s waging vicious smear campaigns.

And if reporters disagree, and point out reality to voters, it undermines her First Amendment rights.

I realize far-right activists think Palin is a great leader and the future of the Republican Party. I just can’t figure out why.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.