Update On Journalists Arrested At Republican Convention

At the Republican National Convention in Minnesota this month, there was an unprecedented assault on freedom of the press as dozens of journalists were arrested along with the protesters they were covering. Those arrested included members of local broadcast media, the Associated Press, and mainstream newspapers, along with alternative media and Internet news sites.

The actions of law enforcement in St. Paul were thoroughly unjustifiable and smacked of police state suppression of free speech. It is a black mark on the city’s reputation, and the fact that it was done with the cooperation of the Republican Party doesn’t say much for their commitment to the First Amendment either.

Today Mayor Chris Coleman of St. Paul announced that the city will decline to prosecute all misdemeanor charges against journalists arrested during the convention. While dropping these charges is the only acceptable course of action, Coleman still believes that the arrests were proper and in the interests of the community. He asserts that “the police did their duty in protecting public safety.” (Exactly who in the public did Coleman think the journalists were threatening?) Nonetheless, he heaps praise on himself for reversing the police on their arrest authority.

“This decision reflects the values we have in Saint Paul to protect and promote our First Amendment rights to freedom of the press. A journalist plays a special role in our democracy and that role is just too important to ignore.”

If this is an example of how St. Paul protects and promotes the First Amendment, it is a sad commentary on their understanding of the Constitution. Dropping these charges is not a demonstration of principle. It is merely a correction of prior misbehavior. And it does nothing to undo the damage caused by the detentions in the first place.

If the reason for arresting the journalists was to limit the free distribution of information from the convention site, and there is no other plausible reason, then their mission was accomplished. Reporters cannot post stories from jail. By releasing them after the event was concluded they were effectively silenced. Whatever news these reporters might have gathered and supplied to the public is forever lost.

Another deficiency in Mayor Coleman’s statement is language that calls into question who will be cleared and what defines a journalist:

“The decision will only affect people identified as journalists who face the misdemeanor charge. Recognizing the growing media profession in print, broadcast and the Internet, the city attorney’s office will use a broad definition and verification to identify journalists who were caught up in mass arrests during the convention.”

What these means is that any person that doesn’t meet the city’s definition of a journalist, or any journalist the city chooses to indict on charges higher than a misdemeanor, is exempt from this absolution. This interpretation directs the power back to the government and away from the Constitution. It would be far too easy to apply these vague rules arbitrarily in order to harass selected individuals whom the government dislikes.

If the city of St. Paul faces no consequences for their repressive tactics, then they and other government bodies will have a green light for future clampdowns on lawful, Constitutionally protected activities. Hopefully one or more of these journalists will file suits for false arrest and violations of their Constitutional rights. At this point the courts are one of the few remaining paths left to affirm the principle of a press that is unshackled from government control.

Also on the path are the ACLU and Free Press. They are both in hot pursuit of truth and justice in this affair. Feel free to help them out.

The Fox News War On News

David Carr of the New York Times seems to finally have noticed what has been obvious for years to any objective news analyst. Fox News has a long-standing scorched Earth policy when reacting to other media who dare to report on Fox News.

In his column titled, When Fox News Is the Story,” Carr confesses that just the thought of having to deal with Fox News as a subject in a story makes him and his peers nervous:

“Once the public relations apparatus at Fox News is engaged, there will be the calls to my editors, keening (and sometimes threatening) e-mail messages, and my requests for interviews will quickly turn into depositions about my intent or who else I am talking to.”

The key tactic in Fox’s PR strategy is to intimidate reporters and editors, and by Carr’s own admission, it’s working. Carr goes on to profile the Fox news PR machine as an operation modeled on political warfare, as directed by CEO Roger Ailes, a veteran of campaigns going back to Richard Nixon. He describes it as “a kind of rolling opposition research” effort intended to cause material harm to their perceived enemies. Carr cites the recent example of the hosts of Fox & Friends taking out their revenge on two Times reporters who wrote about how the competition is gaining on Fox. Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy displayed altered photographs of the reporters that were at best unflattering, at worst anti-Semitic.

While Carr’s revelations are interesting, they don’t go nearly far enough to provide an historical context for Fox’s behavior. This is not a recent phenomena. Three years ago David Folkenflik wrote about how Fox bears its fangs when it doesn’t like what’s being said. And the AP’s David Bauder documented what has become known as Fox’s “Wishing Well,” a back-handed slap at anyone who says anything about Fox News that isn’t complimentary:

  • Because of his personal demons, Keith [Olbermann] has imploded everywhere he’s worked. From lashing out at co-workers to personally attacking Bill O’Reilly and all things Fox, it’s obvious Keith is a train wreck waiting to happen. And like all train wrecks, people might tune in out of morbid curiosity, but they eventually tune out, as evidenced by Keith’s recent ratings decline. In the meantime, we hope he enjoys his paranoid view from the bottom of the ratings ladder and wish him well on his inevitable trip to oblivion.
  • Ted [Turner] is understandably bitter having lost his ratings, his network and now his mind. We wish him well.
  • Tim [Russert]’s sour grapes are obvious here, but at least he’s not using his father as a prop to sell books this time around. That said, we wish him well on his latest self-promotion tour.
  • We are disappointed that George [Clooney] has chosen to hurt Mr. O’Reilly’s family in order to promote his movie. But it’s obvious he needs publicity considering his recent string of failures. We wish him well in his struggle to regain relevancy.
  • We wish CNN well in their annual executive shuffle. We wish Jon [Klein] well in his battle for second place with MSNBC.
  • We can understand David [Shuster]’s disappointment in being let go by Fox News Channel, but he’s too young to be so bitter. We wish him well in getting his career back on track.

It’s not just PR flacks volleying in this debate. The big dogs at News Corp. are fully engaged. Rupert Murdoch’s spokesperson delivered an ultimatum to GE, saying that if they reined in Keith Olbermann, Fox would call off Bill O’Reilly. Roger Ailes stepped into the fray personally, threatening…

“…that if Olbermann didn’t stop such attacks against Fox, he would unleash O’Reilly against NBC and would use the New York Post as well.”

In the weeks that followed, Ailes made good on his threat. Bill O’Reilly, Steve Doocy, Neil Cavuto, Sean Hannity, Gretchen Carlson, and others at Fox News all laid into NBC/GE with renewed vigor. O’reilly even has his own Media Hall of Shame. The New York Post’s gossips on Page Six initiated a week-long assault on Olbermann’s personal life, alleging tax evasion, calling him unstable, and even publishing his home address – a vile act whose only purpose could be to cause him harm.

The risks faced by reporters who merely want to do their jobs is very real. Fox News will throw whatever they can at you to derail your reporting and/or tarnish your reputation. Carr relates horror stories from his colleagues who have dared to cross Fox News:

“…they have received e-mail messages from Fox News public relations staff that contained doctored photos, anonymous quotes and nasty items about competitors. And two former Fox employees said that they had participated in precisely those kinds of activities but had signed confidentiality agreements and could not say so on the record.”


“…few were willing to be quoted. In the last several years, reporters from The Associated Press, several large newspapers and various trade publications have said they were shut out from getting their calls returned because of stories they had written. Editors do not want to hear why your calls are not being returned, they just want you to fix the problem, or perhaps they will fix it by finding someone else to do your job.”

That’s an old tactic practiced by political operatives and office holders. They know that if they deny you access, your editor is going to have to get someone else who doesn’t have that problem. In effect, they get you fired. It is unprecedented, however, for a media company to employ such hardball tactics against other media companies. But that is the way Fox does business, and their peers had better develop strong stomachs if they hope to endure.

The impression left by Carr is that many in the media have already given up fighting. They will either decline to report on anything having to do with Fox News (if it’s critical), or they will simply adjust their reporting to be more positive. That is the danger of letting bullies get away with their bad behavior. Once again, it will be up to the people to insist that they get honest, responsible journalism from the Conventional Media. It is up to us to force them to do their jobs. If we succeed then it won’t matter what Fox’s attack dogs do. Their vacant yelping will disperse like a fading echo. We wish them well as they collapse from the fatigue of chasing their own tails.

Gawker has more on Fox News PR Priestess, Irena Briganti.

George W. Bush’s Legacy Of Secrecy

Joseph Wheelan, with George Mason University’s History News Network, reminds us of a dangerous assault on open and honest government. It came in the form of George W. Bush’s Executive Order 13233: The Presidential Records Act Executive Order.

“…this is not just another blow against openness; Bush’s Executive Order 13233 could change history – literally – by restricting historians’ access to materials that help them document and ultimately judge a president’s actions, lapses, and principles.

Executive Order 13233 gives ex-presidents nearly unlimited discretionary authority to prohibit the release of their papers…”

The article goes on to describe the practical impact of this Order.

“Executive Order 13233 portends a day when spin, the currency of politics, may become the province, too, of presidential history. One can envision a future when a presidential library’s watchdogs would allow only “safe” historians to sift through the library’s holdings for material to cook up a bracingly whitewashed version of his subject’s actions. Objective historians, denied access to the panegyrist’s primary sources and all the juicy details, would be placed at a severe disadvantage. Which version do you think would get the seven-figure publishing advance and the lavish promotional campaign?”

This is not a new development. The Order was issued in November of 2001, shortly after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. It’s almost as if the still new Bush administration knew in advance that they would be engaging in nefarious activities that had to be covered up. In the intervening years, Bush has proven to be the most secrecy-obsessed president in U.S. history.

This being an election year, it is a good time to recall this stain on academic freedom and the public’s right to know the truth about it’s leaders and their actions. It would be nice to get the present crop of presidential aspirants to go on record as to whether they would revoke Executive Order 13233 if elected.

OPEN Government Act Signed In Near Secret By Bush

In an unpublicized, media-free, non-ceremony, President Bush secretly signed a bill intended to bring an end to much of the secrecy that has surrounded this administration. The OPEN Government Act was passed by Congress with overwhelming majorities. But that was only after it had been blocked for months by a secret “hold” that was placed on it by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who was acting on behalf of Bush and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The OPEN Government Act is a positive step forward, enhancing the 41 year old Freedom of Information Act. Among other things, the Act will…

  • require the release of requested documents unless their disclosure would do actual harm
  • bring government contractors under FOIA
  • compel the government to respond to FOIA requests within 20 days of their receipt
  • create a system by which citizens may track the progress of their requests
  • establish a hot-line service for all federal agencies to cope with problems
  • establish an ombudsman to help resolve disputes about non-disclosure

In addition it codifies the definition of a “representative of the news media” as…

“…any person or entity that gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the public, uses its editorial skills to turn the raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience. In this clause, the term `news’ means information that is about current events or that would be of current interest to the public.”

That is an admirably broad definition that would include much of the blogging and alternative media communities. With these changes the public has a much better chance of gaining access to documents that were produced in their name, and with their tax dollars. And there is a much higher likelihood that government agencies will be foiled in their attempts to keep vital information from being made public.

Update: Well, it only took 3 weeks for BushCo to pervert the intent of Congress and the just passed OPEN Government Act. The administration is attempting to shift the funding for the Act to the Department of Justice which has no facility to perform the duties enumerated by the Act, thus killing it. The matter is not, however, concluded as the bill’s authors will oppose this subterfuge and insist that the National Archives retain jurisdiction. Stay tuned.

Stop Hurting America: The WGA And The Daily Show

The ongoing strike by members of the Writer’s Guild against the AMPTP is an important line in the sand for rights of the creative community in Hollywood and elsewhere. The producers have thus far proven that they are far more interested in hording their profits than in sharing credit and compensation with the people most responsible for generating those profits – the creators. But there has been an unanticipated drawback to this otherwise righteous cause that could have a significant impact on our nation.

A month from now the first of the presidential primary contests will take place in Iowa. The campaigns are already at cruising speed and the media is hurtling forward with their usual fare of speculation, conflict and the inane horserace chatter that they think passes for news. What’s missing is the perspective of what has become the most insightful segment of the commentator class in the 21st century – Satire.

While news programs continue spewing their corporatist, insider views of presidential politics throughout the strike, programs like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, etc., have become silent. This is not a trivial matter. Many of these programs have assumed a unique role in our culture by highlighting the absurd quirks and contradictions of our politicians and press. The light these programs shine on the political landscape is nowhere countervailed in the dimwitted din of the so-called Mainstream Media.

Numerous studies have concluded that programs like The Daily Show are much more than comic relief. They have been shown to contain as much news content as the news programs they lampoon. They are a top source of news for young viewers/voters. They are a staple in the media diet for information about our nation and our world. Two years ago I wrote “The Real Fake News” to juxtapose the legitimacy of the Daily Show as compared to the pretenders in the “serious” press:

“While esteem for the media is spiraling ever-lower, respect for The Daily Show continues to grow. It receives awards for both its humor and its news content. And it performs the function of a media watchdog, alerting us to the hypocrisy, collaboration, and contrivance of the corporate-dominated media.”

For these reasons they should be allowed to continue in production along with the rest of television news programming. The absence of the perspective of The Daily Show could have a measurable effect on public opinion including the presidential race. In just one month since the strike began, there have been stories and events that would have been covered by TDS in a manner that no other outlet would have the courage to get near. Imagine, for instance, Jon Stewart’s take on Rudy Giuliani’s “Tryst Fund” affair; or the CNN/YouTube Republican debate; or the Hillary campaign office hostage crisis; or Bill O’Reilly’s book tour to Afghanistan; or the WGA strike itself. By approaching the news from angles that the straight press ignores, TDS and its peers bring out issues that would otherwise be missed or would fall from the radar before their ramifications could be fully explored.

I believe that our country is being ill-served by shutting down The Daily Show. But there is something that can be done. Because TDS can be plausibly categorized as a news program, it can be given special status with regard to the strike. The union could grant it a waiver to allow it to remain in production. Or better yet, the union could negotiate with the production company on an individual basis. This has been done in previous labor disputes. The production company can agree to terms with the union that can later be aligned with the terms that are spelled out in the final contract. In fact, by negotiating with individual production companies, the union can place tremendous pressure on the companies that do not negotiate, as well as on the AMPTP. It is a tactic that effectively divides to conquer. How long could the AMPTP hold out while their members are signing contracts independent of the Alliance?

I am calling on the WGA to enter into negotiations with TDS, its producers, and/or Comedy Central. It’s time to restore this national resource to the airwaves. The strike could drag on for many months and the loss to our social psyche is too great to rest on the potential for the warring factions to reach a settlement. The tenor of our times is too tense to leave to the addle-brained punditry of CNN, Fox, et al. What’s coming round the bend of civic life in America needs to be reviewed and regurgitated by the creative minds that gave us Mess O’Potamia and ClusterF@$k To The White House.

Any WGA members reading this are encouraged to contact your union reps and push for this solution. It can’t hurt the union (it might help), but not doing so can hurt the country. So please…stop hurting America.

UPDATE: From some comments I’ve received, it is apparent that I need to clarify my position. I am TOTALLY in support of the writer’s strike and their mission to fairly compensate their members and all creative workers. What I am proposing here would ONLY be implemented if those negotiating individually got the terms that the Guild is now demanding (at the least). The theory is that if the Guild can peel off members of the AMPTP who will agree to the Guild’s terms, then the AMPTP is weakened as their alliance falls apart. This tactic has been used in the past by and for the benefit of the union. Both the WGA and the DGA have used it successfully. Perhaps in today’s marketplace, with increasing consolidation and vertical integration, this tactic may not be as effective, but I think it is worth exploring.

I really do think that the absence of TDS and its peers has a measurably negative impact on public discourse. And these types of programs are the most effective media watchdogs around as they put the media in a critical light that no one else does – at least no one with their reach (I do it, of course, but I think TDS gets more viewers than me).

UPDATE II: The WGA agrees with me!

“So it’s interesting that, today, WGA prez Patric Verrone began calling on the more moderate CEOs to break ranks with AMPTP which he claimed is “allowing bottom-line hard-liners to rule the day.” I’ve heard top WGA’ers privately refer to this as the “Let’s Make A Deal” strategy. But it hasn’t been articulated in public until now. “If any of these companies want to come forward and bargain with us individually, we think we can make a deal,” Verrone told AP while conferring with picketing writers at NBC in Burbank.”

Bill O’Reilly: Censorship, Lies And Plunging Popularity

A couple of days ago Bill O’Reilly again demonstrated his aversion to free expression as well as his penchant for dishonesty. An op-ed that appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (a paper that O’Reilly regularly castigates as “far-left loons”) laid out a case for Impeachment: If not now, when? The column was accompanied by a political cartoon that had Bush and Cheney dressed up for their mugshots.

That was more than enough to set O’Reilly off on a rant that amounted to a call for censorship (YouTube):

“Look at this. This is ridiculous […] It’s based on nothing […] I want you to excoriate them. Let them have it […] It’s wrong though for them to do it. Don’t you think that showing a mug shot of a sitting president, a sitting vice president is irresponsible?”

O’Reilly is outraged that anyone would exercise their First Amendment rights to express an opinion about the criminality of this administration. He believes that such open expression “diminishes intelligent conversation,” (as if O’Reilly ever engaged in one) and his response is to shut down conversation entirely. Note that O’Reilly is complaining about the cartoon, not the content of the article. Although he does say that the cartoon is “based on nothing,” despite the fact that it is attached to a well-documented column that enumerates specific justifications for investigating the President and his administration.

After once again calling the paper “loons,” (an example of his idea of “intelligent conversation”) O’Reilly attacks the paper’s credibility by smugly declaring that it has lost 40% of its readers in the past ten years:

“Almost half of their readers have said ‘We don’t like you anymore, we’re not going to read you.'”

What O’Reilly leaves out is any actual context that would enlighten his viewers. The truth is that almost all major newspapers have suffered sharp declines in circulation over the past ten years. But more to the point, in only two years (Sept 2005 to Sept 2007) Bill O’Reilly himself has lost 33% of his total viewers and a whopping 59% of viewers in the all-important 25-54 age group. That’s more than half of his viewers saying, “We don’t like you anymore, we’re not going to watch you.”

This brief exchange reveals much about O’Reilly. It shows that while he is vociferously objecting to the free speech rights of others, he will use his own platform to misinform his viewers. No wonder they don’t like him anymore.

Clear Channel Refuses VoteVets Ad

Radio giant Clear Channel Communications is refusing to air an ad by VoteVets, a veterans group protesting Rush Limbaugh’s recent assertion that vets who oppose the war in Iraq are “phony soldiers.”

VoteVets received a letter explaining that the ad would not run because:

“Airing anti-Rush Limbaugh ads during the Rush Limbaugh Show on WJNO would only conflict with the listeners that have chosen to listen to Rush Limbaugh.”

Once again, Clear Channel has taken it upon itself to stifle public debate and restrict the free flow of information. In refusing to air this ad, they are stepping on the free speech rights of the veteran activists at VoteVets. Clear Channel’s offer to air the ad at other times or on other stations denies VoteVets the opportunity to counter Limbaugh’s rantings in context. They fail to recognize the importance of directing the response to the audience that was subjected to Limbaugh’s insulting diatribes in the first place. And Clear Channel also makes the mistake of assuming that there aren’t any listeners who disagree with Limbaugh.

Clear Channel’s justification of their censorship on the grounds that it would create conflict is beyond absurd. This is the Rush Limbaugh Show we’re talking about. Conflict is part and parcel of the program’s mission. If Clear Channel is concerned about conflict, why do they let Limbaugh air audio of Democrats for the explicit purpose of denigrating them and thus, creating conflict? Why do they allow Limbaugh to take phone calls that have the potential to produce further conflict? Why do they let Limbaugh express any opinion at all at the risk of creating conflict wiht the many listeners who do not share his views?

To its credit, WJNO has a fairly balance schedule. Their weekday roster presents Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Randi Rhodes, Ed Schultz, and Sean Hannity. The problem is that Rhodes and Schultz are likely to address the VoteVets matter on their own. It’s the Limbaugh audience that most needs exposure to contrary arguments. I would have no objection to the GOP front group, Vets For Freedom, running ads on Schultz’s show. But I assume that Clear Channel would also think that that’s a bad idea too. What are they afraid of?

VoteVets is an advocacy group that supports soldiers and veterans. Unlike Rush Limbaugh, they fought for the rights enumerated in the Constitution, including free speech. But that right is being denied to them today.

You can call Clear Channel in Palm Beach at 561-616-6600 and tell them to air the VoteVets ad. Tell them that our veterans deserve the right to heard. Tell them that, as a listener, you don’t necessarily agree with everything (or anything) Limbaugh says. Tell them that you’re capable of enduring whatever conflict such an ad subjects you to. But what you are not capable of enduring is a giant media corporation infringing on the rights of citizens.

UPDATE: On his show today, Rush suggested that VoteVets run their ad on his program. Either he’s not talking to his ad sales people, or they’re not listening to his show.

Chilling Effects: Betraying Freedom Of The Press

Last week the U.S. Senate voted to condemn the New York Times for running an ad that was critical of the administration and it’s lackey, Gen. David Petraeus. The inevitable consequences of this government imposition of approved thought are already becoming manifest.

The Times itself is slamming its ad sales group for accepting the ad from MoveOn.org and offering them a rate reserved for stand-by advertisers. Public Editor Clark Hoyt enumerated the list of grievances from opponents of the ad. They include:

  • More than 4,000 e-mail messages with words like “despicable,” “disgrace” and “treason.”
  • George W. Bush called the ad “disgusting.”
  • Dick Cheney said the charges in the ad were “an outrage.”
  • Thomas Davis III, (R-VA) demanded a House investigation.
  • The American Conservative Union filed a complaint with the FEC against MoveOn.org and the Times.
  • FreedomsWatch asked the Times to investigate.

And what did this flurry of hard-core conservative pressure yield? Well, the so-called liberal Times caved in to the rightists and proved the effectiveness of shouting down lawful dissent. Hoyt argued that the Times violated it’s advertising policy which states that they, “do not accept opinion advertisements that are attacks of a personal nature.” But criticizing Petraeus’ intention to go before Congress and parrot the views of the White House is not a personal attack. It is a substantive expression of a viewpoint that is shared by millions of Americans. What’s more, Hoyt didn’t bother to level the same complaint against rebuttal ads by Rudy Giuliani or FreedomsWatch. Hoyt went even further in defining the lengths to which he would go to muzzle free speech saying…

“…I’d have demanded changes to eliminate ‘Betray Us,’ a particularly low blow when aimed at a soldier.”

Had Hoyt been in a position to do so, he would have forced a private advocacy group to alter the message they wished to convey. And as justification, he implies that a general, who is being used as a political prop by the White House, cannot be called to account for abandoning the American people in favor of his boss, the President. Submission accomplished, Mr. Hoyt.

Another example of the fallout from this campaign of suppression is the refusal of the New York Metro to run an ad from the anti-war group, World Can’t Wait. The Metro deemed the ad “too inflammatory” for its criticism of Bush’s thinly veiled threats against Iran. WCW has a right to be disturbed by this rejection and they succinctly explain what’s at stake for our nation’s coveted rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution:

“One of the few avenues to get the truth into the major media – buying advocacy ads – will be in effect closed down if publishers are afraid to sell space. The White House will be the strong-arm arbiter of what is acceptable in terms of political criticism.”

(Visit World Can’t Wait for more info about the ad and how to contact the Metro).

The dominoes are falling. It began with an orchestrated assault on free speech by right-wingers in response to MoveOn’s ad. Then the Senate capitulates and condemns said speech. Then newspapers, feeling the heat, reject ads by independent groups of citizens seeking to engage the public. What’s next? An Official Doctrine of Acceptable Speech?

nullFinally, MoveOn responded to the Times’ assertion that the stand-by rate they were charged was a mistake by volunteering to pay the $77,508 difference. Will MoveOn’s critics, who so vociferously complained about the discount, acknowledge that gesture? Will Rudy Giuliani and FreedomsWatch, two of the most clamorous complainants, who themselves received an equivalent discount, pay back the difference they were afforded? If they do not, they should hear about it, and since the Conventional Media probably won’t do it, it’s up to the blogosphere, again.

Update: Lane Hudson at News For The Left has filed a complaint with the FEC against Giuliani. Good luck Lane.

Also, Giuliani is refusing to pay the difference between the stand-by rate he received and the full rate, as MoveOn did. His spokeswoman said that the ad “was placed at the standby rate with no commitment it would run on a specific date.” But she is contradicting her boss who you can listen to here for yourself.

U.S. Congress Or U.S. Betray Us?

The MoveOn ad affair is still plodding forward with the President’s comments this morning calling the ad “disgusting”, and now the Senate weighing in with a resolution condemning MoveOn for exercising its free speech rights. The bill’s author, Sen. John Cornyn, made explicitly anti-speech language in his statement supporting the bill.

Before anyone has an opportunity to get distracted, this is not about the war in Iraq; it is not about respect for the military; it is not about terrorism; it is certainly not about patriotism. It is about Free Speech and nothing else (well, maybe a little hypocrisy). It is about the United States Senate deciding that it can penalize private citizens and groups for expressing their opinions.

Despite the chilling effect legislation like this has on lawful dissent, the Senate overwhelmingly passed Cornyn’s bill by a vote of 72-25. That majority means that a lot of Democrats caved in to the “shut up and pretend to support the military” crowd. It means that they believe that it’s acceptable for the government to crush dissent.

And while they are trashing our Constitutional liberties, they don’t even feel compelled to maintain a semblance of consistency. As evidence of the hypocrisy of the Senate censors, Sen. Barbara Boxer offered a companion bill that condemned political attacks on any military figure. Boxer’s alternative included patriots like Max Cleland and John Kerry, in addition to General Petraeus. The Boxer bill failed 51-46 (short of the 60 votes needed for passage), with all but three Republicans voting against it.

It’s bad enough that so many Democrats voted to censure MoveOn rather than exhibit some backbone by standing up for the Constitution as well as their constituents, but it’s far worse that Republicans, it seems, are only interested in defending the honor of the military when those criticized are right-wing sycophants. Decorated veterans who serve their country are apparently unworthy of respect if they don’t swallow Republican dogma and obey their masters in the White House.

I really don’t understand how the public can tolerate Republican senators who will vote to condemn attacks on one general, then turn around and vote against condemning such attacks on all military figures. This should serve as a lesson to the Democratic leadership in Congress that Republicans are not the least bit interested in bipartisanship or compromise. Democratic leader Harry Reid needs to absorb this lesson and begin to take a more aggressive stance in asserting the majority role in which he serves. When is he going to get tired of wiping the footprints off his damn forehead? And the rest of the Democratic caucus might want to start to take more seriously their obligation to protect free speech, as opposed to making vacant gestures that feign patriotism. Their record of abandoning Constitutional principles is disgraceful – from Habeas Corpus, to warrantless wiretapping, to relinquishing their jurisdiction on issues of national defense, to impeachment. When will they learn what their role is as members of an equal branch of government?

Update: MoveOn is fighting back with a petition drive that will be delivered to Congress:

“The U.S. Senate just told you to sit down and be quiet. They passed a resolution condemning MoveOn.org and it has one purpose: to intimidate all of us who care about responsibly ending this war.”

Sign the petition and join MoveOn. What better time to show support for free speech and a valiant organization that is fighting for it.

Sally Field’s Emmy Speech Uncensored

In accepting her Emmy award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her role as the matriarch in “Brothers and Sisters”, Sally Field delivered an impassioned tribute to mothers everywhere in a message that spoke of world peace.

Unfortunately, it was too much for the censors at Fox who cut Field’s comments at a critical point.

The video above is from the Canadian broadcast that aired the speech unedited. The nannies at Fox snipped the remarks for U.S. viewers as Field said, “If mothers ruled the world, there wouldn’t be any…” The expunged ending of the sentence was, “god-damned wars in the first place.” Was it because Fox thinks that Americans are just too fragile to be exposed to such fiery language? Was it because they were seeking to suppress legitimate dissent in a public forum? Tom O’Neil at the Los Angeles Times reports that it may not have been a matter of shielding the network from liability for broadcasting an obscenity:

“Technically, Field’s censored words are not profane. A 2004 FCC ruling specifically stated no objection to the use of “god damn” on TV when making a judgment on the uproar over Bono swearing at the Golden Globes in 2003 where he used more colorful language.”

Backstage, Field spoke with reporters and responded to the controversy that was already swirling:

“I have no comment other than, ‘Oh, well.’ I said what I wanted to say. I wanted to pay homage to the mothers of the world. And I very, very seriously think that if mothers ruled the world we wouldn’t be sending our children off to be slaughtered.” […] “If they bleep it, oh, well. I’ll just say it somewhere else.”

This is the second instance of Emmy censorship this season, following Kathy Griffin’s remarks a night earlier when, mocking award winners who give credit to God for their victory, Griffin said that, “…no one had less to do with this award than Jesus.” Isn’t it interesting that in both occurrences of a clampdown on free speech, a reference to God was a key factor?

TV Guide Says Fox News Is NOT News

The debate over whether Fox News is a legitimate news enterprise has seized many in the press and academia. But the transparently partisan presentation in their reporting should make for a short and dull debate. Now, an uncharacteristically honest depiction of Fox News can found in an unlikely place.

TV Guide publishes the industry’s most widely read magazine of program listings and this is how they categorize news programming for their readers:

Note that according to the legend on the top right of the page, the purple highlighting designates a program as “news”. Then, scanning down to the listings, you will see that TV Guide does not consider The O’Reilly Factor to be a news program. However, glancing down a little further reveals that TV Guide does view Keith Olbermann’s Countdown as news. Dig even further than that and you’ll see that the entire Fox News schedule is not designated as news with the exception of Studio B with Shepard Smith. Even Special Report, the program anchored by Brit Hume, Fox News’ managing editor and chief Washington correspondent, is apparently not really news. On MSNBC, Countdown and MSNBC Live are the only programs tagged as news. But CNN’s entire broadcast day is identified as news except for Lou Dobbs and Larry King. (Source: TV Guide September 17-23, 2007)

Now, on a cursory level, that may just appear to be an obvious and objective evaluation of the content on these networks. CNN has always been a dedicated news programmer, just as Fox has always been a propaganda vehicle for the Republican National Committee. But there may be something more to this than just the labeling of program content.

Gemstar-TV Guide International, Inc., the publisher of TV Guide, is owned by … wait for it … Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Murdoch sits on its Board of Directors along with News Corp. president and COO, Peter Chernin. The Board is chaired by Anthea Disney, a News Corp executive VP. So why would Murdoch’s own publication seemingly disparage the cable network he is working so hard to establish as a source of reputable journalism by declining to identify it as news? Could it have something to do with the fact that news programming routinely under-performs entertainment programming and that intentionally mislabeling Fox broadcasts could result in driving more viewers to their network? By extension, they could also be attempting to suppress viewers for their main competition, Countdown, by coloring it purple and diverting the broader interest entertainment viewers away from the program.

By owning both the networks and the publications covering them, News Corp. can circle the PR wagons around itself and effectively manipulate viewers, coverage, and potentially, ratings. TV Guide presently has almost 3.3 million subscribers. Although that is a 12% decline from the previous measurement period, it is still a significant audience. They also operate electronic TV Guides on cable, satellite, and the Internet, that expose them to another 82 million viewers. That reach allows them to define the market in ways that accrue to their own benefit. For example, look at how TV Guide describes the O’Reilly/Olbermann match-up:

The Factor: The bestselling author mixes news, interviews and analyses, and some of his most passionate commentaries, not surprisingly, deal with liberals (such as, to pick one name at random, Al Franken). The conservative guru’s `No Spin Zone’ has been the major factor in Fox News’ climb (past CNN) to the top of the cable-news chart, with some three million viewers nightly.

Countdown: The nightly news program ranks the day’s top five stories by what will likely be the next morning’s hottest topics for discussion. `It’s a hard-news broadcast produced and hosted by people who are uncontrollably silly,’ quips the wry Olbermann, who also conducts newsmaker interviews.

In short, The Factor is the number one show hosted by a popular and passionate bestselling author, while Countdown is a hard-news broadcast that is also regarded as “silly.”

This state of affairs is just another reason for rolling back the consolidation that has occurred in the media since the abominably irresponsible Communications Act of 1996 (thanks Bill Clinton). But in the short term, Murdoch and TV Guide need to be called to account for their abject dishonesty and their efforts to deceive the public.

Networks Refuse To Air Liberal Ads, Too

John Hinderaker at the Power Line blog is expressing some selective outrage over the alleged refusal of MSNBC and CNBC to air ads by a pro-war shadow press office for the White House. Led by former Bush press secretary, Ari Fleischer, Freedom’s Watch is seeking to target congressional members who aren’t sufficiently hawkish by placing ads that ask viewers to call their representatives and voice their support for the President and the war.

Hinderaker has republished a letter from Bradley Blakeman at Freedom’s Watch (FW) to NBC that says in part…

Your history of airing other issue advocacy advertisements makes the denial of FW advertisements troubling and raises the issue of whether your denial is based on an editorial disagreement with FW’s message.

NBC has yet to respond to the complaint so it is unknown at this time what their reasons for declining the ad might be, if in fact it was declined. However, both Hinderaker and Blakeman should be commended for their commitment to free speech. The only problem is that there is scant evidence that they exhibited similar concern for liberal victims of censorship on the commercial airwaves. Did they ever speak out against these abuses:

GOP Warns TV Stations Not to Air Ad Alleging Bush Mislead the Nation Over Iraq
Attorneys for the Republican Party are warning TV stations not to air a new commercial by the Democratic National Committee that charges President Bush misled the country in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.

NBC, CBS, ABC Reject Ad Criticizing Their News Coverage
American Progress created a television advertisement for BeAWitness.org, our netroots campaign that calls out the television news media for their deplorable coverage of the genocide in Darfur. Over the last few days, three Washington DC television affiliates, NBC-4, CBS-9, and ABC-7, informed us that they refuse to air the ad.

Prickly Peacock Nixes Chicks
The Weinstein Co. is claiming that NBC and the CW have refused to air national ads for the new Dixie Chicks docu “Shut Up & Sing.”

CBS, NBC Refuse to air Church’s Television Advertisement
The CBS and NBC television networks are refusing to run a
30-second television ad from the United Church of Christ because its
all-inclusive welcome has been deemed “too controversial.”

CNN, NPR Refuse Ads for Assassination Film
Two major U.S. news outlets, CNN and National Public Radio, will not air advertisements for a controversial movie depicting the assassination of President Bush, citing the film’s content, network spokeswomen said Tuesday.

Bush Helps CBS, CBS Helps Bush
While advertising industry sources say CBS will air a pair of advocacy commercials prepared to advance the agenda of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the network has refused to accept an advertisement prepared by critics of the man who currently occupies the White House.

When Might Turns Right
L.A. Weekly has learned that CBS, NBC and ABC all refused Fahrenheit 9/11 DVD advertising during any of the networks’ news programming. Executives at Sony Pictures, the distributor of the movie for the home-entertainment market, were stunned. And even more shocked when the three networks explained why. “They said explicitly they were reluctant because of the closeness of the release to the election.”

ABC Refuses Outfoxed Ad, Censors Boston Legal
[T]hey have refused our money, refused to make suggestions to the ad so they would run it, and in short have said no!

Networks Refuse To Air Soldier Ad
Now a non-partisan, pro-soldier activist group is having trouble getting an ad featuring a wounded soldier on the air. Operation Truth executive director Paul Rieckhoff told GNN, “the bottom-line is there are some networks who don’t want to hear the truth because the truth is a little too abrasive for people to handle.”

Fox and CBS Refuse To Air Condom Ads
…Fox and CBS networks recently refused to broadcast condom advertisements. Had they somehow missed the memo that there are 19 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) each year…

To the hypocrites on the right, free speech is reserved for the narrow constituency of the elite and the sycophants of the powerful. To any objective observer it is obvious that the media has an historical pattern of tipping the scales against progressive views. And this applies to news content as well as to advertising.

I generally lean heavily in favor of unfiltered and unfettered expression, but FW’s croc tears just don’t make me misty. I would be a little more sympathetic to FW’s complaint had anyone connected to it ever lifted a finger in support of free speech in any context other than that which is in their own interest.

It would also help if the ad in question weren’t so deceptive. At the end of ad there is a telephone number displayed for viewers to call Congress and express their opinion. But in a perverse game of bait and switch, the number actually connects to an operator who asks if you agree with the ad. If you do, your call is patched through. If you do not, they hang up on you. I would not be surprised if that is the reason NBC hung up on FW.


Bill O’Reilly’s Trespassing Producer
A Hillsborough sheriff’s deputy issued trespass warnings to O’Reilly Factor producer Jesse Watters, and staff Brian Lyle and Colin Kelly, when they tried to ambush interview Circuit Judge Manuel Lopez. O’Reilly aired Watters harassing the judge but failed to broadcast any of the encounter with the sheriff.

Non-Freedom of Information Act
In a motion filed yesterday, Justice Department lawyers argued that the Office of Administration is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Their reasoning: the office is not an “agency,” by the definition of FOIA. This contradicts the White House’s own web site that says the Office of Administration is subject to FOIA. But it affirms the White House’s commitment to excessive secrecy.

Censorship at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Department administrator, Nicole R. Nason, has adopted a policy that has blocked virtually all of her staff – including the communications office – from providing any information to reporters on the record, which means that it can’t be attributed. What are they trying to hide? Nason, a Bush appointee, must be making her secrecy obsessed boss very happy.

Fox/CBC Democratic presidential debate “postponed”
Fox News and a black political group say they will not hold a Sept. 23 Democratic presidential debate in Detroit, which the leading candidates already were planning to skip. Right, and I canceled my date with Angelina Jolie.

The Road to War: Iraq
On August 27, the National Geographic Channel will air a documentary on the events that led up to the invasion of Iraq. NGC is majority-owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. I don’t want to prejudge this film, but it seems to be populated with interviews of a bunch of Bushies like Andy Card, Richard Armitage, and Mary Matalin. We’ll see where it goes.

Tastes Almost Like Free Speech

Free Speech ZoneAlmost like the real thing.

We live in a substitute society. Our consumer culture has produced numerous products that are only meant to emulate other products that, for one reason or another, we seek to avoid. There is mock meat and faux fur and sodas sweetened sans sugar. Now, courtesy of BushCo, we have fake free speech.

In response to litigation, the White House was forced to reveal the existence of a secret manual used to manage the public events of the President. Many of the tactics outlined in the Presidential Advance Manual are well known to activists, but now, for the first time, we can see the actual policy from the Oval Office handlers.

The Washington Post reports that:

“A White House manual that came to light recently gives presidential advance staffers extensive instructions in the art of “deterring potential protestors” from President Bush’s public appearances around the country.”

“Among other things, any event must be open only to those with tickets tightly controlled by organizers. Those entering must be screened in case they are hiding secret signs. Any anti-Bush demonstrators who manage to get in anyway should be shouted down by “rally squads” stationed in strategic locations. And if that does not work, they should be thrown out.”

The White House doesn’t view these measures as suppression of lawful dissent. They believe that they are in compliance with the spirit of free speech if they…

“designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed, preferably not in the view of the event site or motorcade route.”

The primary goals of the directives in the manual are not to protect the President or to maintain civil order, but to shield the President from the unpleasant reality that he is universally despised, and to prevent the media from witnessing, and potentially reporting, any outbreak of democratic redress of grievances. It goes so far as to say that if demonstrators are unlikely to be noticed by the press, they should be ignored. That instruction makes perfect sense for the administration because, if protesters are not observed by the media, they will be ignored by the nation.

Despite our cultural acceptance of fakes and knockoffs, there really is no substitute for free speech and other Constitutional liberties. And while a designated free speech zone may have the appearance and texture real freedom, the aroma has the stench of a cowardly administration that is afraid of its own constituents. In other words, it still tastes like chicken.

C-SPAN: As Fair And Balanced As Fox News?

According to C-SPAN’s website, the network is…

“…a private, non-profit company, created in 1979 by the cable television industry as a public service. Our mission is to provide public access to the political process. C-SPAN receives no government funding; operations are funded by fees paid by cable and satellite affiliates who carry C-SPAN programming.”

That sounds like a pretty even-handed organization that is well suited to serve the public interest. But a little digging beneath the surface tells a different story. For instance, the cable and satellite affiliates that fund the network’s operations are predominately assets of the largest media and Telco corporations in the world. Companies like AT&T and Time Warner. It would be naive to presume that they have no agenda to promote.

In 2005, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) conducted a study that showed the network…

“…skewing rightward, favoring Republican and right-of-center interview subjects by considerable margins over Democratic and left-of-center guests. The study also found that women, people of color and public interest viewpoints were substantially underrepresented.”

For a recent example of the network’s bias, take a look a the schedule this week for coverage of two partisan political events. In Chicago, the YearlyKos conference for Democratic bloggers and activists was held August 2-5. The conservative Young America’s Foundation held their National Conservative Student Conference from July 30 – August 3, in Washington, DC. Here is a chart of C-SPAN’s coverage of these events (from their calendar):

Program Title # Airings
YearlyKos Conference Programs:
Media & 2006 Campaign 4
Political Issues & Current Events 2
Young Americas Foundation Conference Programs:
Campaign 2008 2
U.S. Healthcare System 3
Energy Independence 2
Using the New Media 2
Future of the Young Conservative Movement 2
Origins of Planned Parenthood 1

The tally so far is 2 YearlyKos programs with a combined total of 6 airings. That’s compared to 6 Young Americas programs with a combined total of 12 airings. So the conservative conference got twice as many time slots for 3 times as many panels as the progressive conference. The only way this can be described as fair and balanced is if C-SPAN uses the same twisted dictionary as Fox News.

Another recent example of bias is the interview with Kevin Leffler, director of the two year old crockumentary “‘Shooting Michael Moore.” For some reason C-SPAN felt compelled to give a platform to this undistinguished and outdated film but has not bothered to host the filmmakers responsible for the just-released “No End in Sight.”

Feel free to let C-SPAN’s Viewer Services know that you would like for them to schedule progressive events and guest bookings with at least the same frequency as they do for conservative programs. Or is that too much to ask the stepchild of Time Warner and AT&T?

Pearl Jam Censored At Lollapalooza By AT&T

If we really needed proof that the Big Telcos are lying through their teeth when they celebrate themselves as defenders of free speech and open access, we couldn’t do better than this. AT&T, the sole provider for the webcast of Pearl Jam’s performance at Lollapalooza, and noted opponent of Network Neutrality, cut out politically charged portions of the band’s performance. I’ll let them tell it via their website:

After concluding our Sunday night show at Lollapalooza, fans informed us that portions of that performance were missing and may have been censored by AT&T during the “Blue Room” Live Lollapalooza Webcast.

When asked about the missing performance, AT&T informed Lollapalooza that portions of the show were in fact missing from the webcast, and that their content monitor had made a mistake in cutting them.

During the performance of “Daughter” the following lyrics were sung to the tune of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” but were cut from the webcast:

  • “George Bush, leave this world alone.” (the second time it was sung); and
  • “George Bush find yourself another home.”

This, of course, troubles us as artists but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media.

AT&T’s actions strike at the heart of the public’s concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media.

Aspects of censorship, consolidation, and preferential treatment of the internet are now being debated under the umbrella of “NetNeutrality.” Check out The Future of Music or Save the Internet for more information on this issue. [Ed: Save the Internet has clips of both versions of the song here]

Most telecommunications companies oppose “net neutrality” and argue that the public can trust them not to censor.

And if you can’t trust a giant, multinational, consolidated, communications conglomerate like Ma Bell, who can you trust? AT&T has shown that they cannot be relied upon to manage vital national resources like the Internet. They want to own it and constrain its use to the sole purpose of enriching themselves and shaping public opinion to their liking.

Don’t let them do it because, as Pearl Jam says…

This Is Not For You!
“And you dare say it belongs to you…to you…
This is not for you
This is not for you
This is not for you
Oh, never was for you…fuck you…”

First Amendment Repealed For Students

A report in the Chronicle of Higher Education states that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the former editors of the student newspaper at Kansas State University in a First Amendment case:

“The students asserted that the university had violated their First Amendment rights by removing their faculty adviser from the newspaper staff following criticism of the Collegian’s coverage of minority issues.

The judges ruled that the plaintiffs’ status as graduates made their claims moot because, as alumni, they are not subject to censorship by the university.”

What an atrocious ruling. How can a First Amendment violation be wiped away just because the victim’s academic status has changed? There was still a violation. This ruling would effectively repeal the First Amendment for students because in almost every case the student will have graduated before the case comes to trial. Knowing that, the university would be able to censor students with impunity.

Would this ruling extend to victims of racial discrimination who graduate before the court rules? Would it extend to employees of a company whose rights were violated if they no longer worked for the company when the trial took place? Would every violation of the Constitution be rendered moot just because the relationship between the victim and the violator had changed?

This ruling by a three member panel of the 10th Circuit is nothing but an unconstitutional constriction of long-held civil liberties. It is an attempt to repeal the Bill of Rights. It must be struck down by the full court, or the Supreme Court, without ambiguity.

Happy Birthday: Freedom of Information Act Is 41 Today

July 4, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Its purpose was to ensure the public’s right to access information from the federal government. For the first time, the government would bear the burden for certifying why requested information should not be released, and any refusal to release information could be challenged in court.

The FOIA was nearly stillborn as Johnson was bitterly opposed to the legislation. His press secretary, Bill Moyers, described LBJ as having to be:

“…dragged kicking and screaming to the signing ceremony. He hated the very idea of the Freedom of Information Act; hated the thought of journalists rummaging in government closets and opening government files; hated them challenging the official view of reality.”

In 41 years, the presidential impression of the FOIA has actually declined. the Bush administration has been cited as the most secretive in history. Moyers enumerates many examples in a speech he gave before the Society of Professional Journalists. BushCo intelligence agencies have also been busy re-classifying tens of thousands of documents that were previously available for years.

With regard to actual compliance, Bush and his Secret Society associates have assembled a disgraceful record of non-performance. The Knight Open Government Survey published by the National Security Archive of George Washington University, finds systematic failures in tracking, processing, and reporting on FOIA requests. In January 2007, the Archive itself filed FOIA requests with the 87 leading federal agencies to identify the ten oldest pending requests in each agency. Fifty seven of the agencies responded. Out of more than 500 pending requests, only twenty were still within the 20 day period agencies have to respond. All ten of the State Department’s oldest were more than 15 years old. The survey also found that agencies misrepresented their FOIA backlogs to Congress as well as discrepancies between this year’s audit and previous audits.

Any sense of surprise at this administration’s obsession with obfuscation and deceit should have worn off long ago. There are just too many examples to list. But on this holiday celebrating freedom, perhaps the best example occurred just a couple of days ago when Bush issued his payoff (commutation) to Scooter Libby. This is another transparent effort by the crime bosses in the White House to buy the silence of a compromised accomplice. Despite this brazen abuse of executive authority, the Congress still seems incapable of demanding accountability:

“Bipartisan Congressional efforts to solve some of the problems exposed in the Archive’s “ten oldest” audits have stalled in the Senate, with Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona personally holding S. 849 from an up-or-down vote. The bill would impose penalties for agency delay, mandate accurate and timely tracking and reporting of FOIA requests…”

Sometimes it only takes one corrupted soul to throw a roadblock in front of a whole nation, but the result is the same.

As we celebrate that other anniversary that everybody seems to be talking about today, we should take a moment to recognize this 41st birthday of legislation that was enacted in the best spirit of this country’s principles. James Madison seems prescient in his statement back in 1822:

“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both.”

Happy 41st, Freedom of Information Act.
See my salute to FOIA’s 40th.

A New Pentagon Papers

A few days ago, I wrote an article warning of the danger of allowing the government and/or media to avert our attention to important matters through the Art of Misdirection. In it I alluded to the compelling notion of some patriotic Americans exposing the crimes of the Bush Administration in the same way that Daniel Ellsberg did when he brought us the Pentagon Papers. Apparently Ellsberg agrees with me:

“The equivalent of the Pentagon Papers exist in safes all over Washington, not only in the Pentagon, but in the CIA, the State Department and elsewhere. My message is to them: Take the risk, reveal the truth under the lies of your own bosses and your superiors, obey your oath to the Constitution, which every one of those officials took, not to the commander in chief, but to the Constitution of the United States.”

This comment was made at a panel at the annual convention of Unitarian Universalists last weekend. The panel, “The Pentagon Papers Then and Now,” was moderated by Amy Goodman and included Ellsberg, Sen. Mike Gravel, and Rev. Robert West. There is a video of the session at the link above. Watch it. These are three of the principles involved in the Pentagon Papers affair and they relate some fascinating details about an honest-to-goodness spy caper.

After 35 years, most people should be aware of the basic story of how Ellsberg copied secret Defense Department documents and got the New York Times and others to publish them (if not, click here). Less well known is the story of how the Papers moved from the DoD to the public. It wasn’t easy.

Ellsberg was turned down dozens of times before the Papers were published. President Nixon obtained a restraining order halting the presses at the New York Times (the first time in U.S. history that presses were stopped by federal court order). Sen. Mike Gravel wore a colostomy bag as he attempted to read the Papers into the Congressional Record via filibuster. When a quorum could not be held, Gravel convened the Subcommittee on Buildings and Grounds, which he chaired, and read the papers into the record from there.

This is a tale of true American heroism. These people risked their freedom, perhaps their lives, to save the lives of so many more; to insure that Americans, and the world, were informed; to defend the ideals of Democracy. We need more like them.

Let me repeat: We need more like them. I do not say this as a plaintive yearning for a bygone era of dedicated public servants. I say it as an appeal to recruit soldiers of conscience to save more lives; to inform more people; to further defend what is today an ailing Democracy. Daniel Ellsberg heeded the call. Sen. Gravel heeded the call. For all the ridicule Gravel endures in his quixotic bid for the Democratic nomination, he deserves some credit for his courageous participation in these historic matters. I guarantee that you will not look upon him the same after you learn what did 35 years ago to advance peace and liberty.

And now it’s our turn. As Ellsberg said, “The equivalent of the Pentagon Papers exist in safes all over Washington…” Let’s find them. Let’s publish them. Let’s free them and ourselves – again.

FCC Chief Fucks Up

The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin Martin, had some choice words in response to a court ruling yesterday. The case before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York concerned whether the FCC can regulate and penalize broadcasters for spontaneous profanities aired during live television programs. The court ruled that

“The FCC’s decision is devoid of any evidence that suggests a fleeting expletive is harmful, let alone established that this harm is serious enough to warrant government regulation. The order provides no reasoned analysis of the purported ‘problem’ it is seeking to address from which this court can conclude such regulation of speech is reasonable.”

Chairman Martin was less than pleased (PDF) with the court’s conclusion…

“I completely disagree with the Court’s ruling and am disappointed for American families. I find it hard to believe that the New York court would tell American families that “shit” and “fuck” are fine to say on broadcast television during the hours when children are most likely to be in the audience.”

Martin, however, doesn’t seem to have a problem with saying “shit” and “fuck” on the Internet, which children have also been known to use from time to time.