Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fox, Police Must Not Censor Freedom of Speech

Neither the Fox Television Network nor the University of Florida police in my view acted properly in recent days when they silenced free speech, either by censoring out a swear word used by Sally Field at the Emmy awards, nor by using a Taser electric stun gun on a student who asked Sen. John Kerry unfriendly questions on the Florida campus.

The Founding Fathers mandated freedom of speech in the Bill of Rights, and in the USA, the correct judge as to the validity of what someone says is public opinion, not the police or a politically biased television network. That is all the more important to remember as we head into the 2008 presidential campaign, during which a great many uncivil things have already been said, and it is clear many more will be said.

The Fox network is bound to be an issue in that campaign, because it blatantly sides with the Bush Administration and the Republican party, while castigating the antiwar movement and giving Democratic candidates far less time than Republicans.

Fox can say what it pleases, subject to possible restraints of public opinion and perhaps to the TV ratings, but it should not take it onto itself to practice outright censorship, as it did against Field and two other entertainment personalities who spoke at the Emmy awards.

The network cut off Field when she used the word "goddamn" in an antiwar remark. It was hypocritical in doing so, because, as the New York Times pointed out, when a federal appeals court ruled last summer that broadcast networks were not responsible for censoring "fleeting expletives" uttered on television, Fox had hailed the ruling as a victory for viewers.

Also, the network censored comments by Ray Romano and even a remark that could not be heard away from the microphone by Katherine Heigl, on the grounds that some viewers might be able to lip read her remark.

All of this was contrary to the Bill of Rights and raises questions whether Fox, owned by the reactionary Rupert Murdoch, is respectful of bedrock American principles.

Then, Tuesday, at the University of Florida, Andrew Meyer, a 21-year-old student known as radical, was ushered away from the microphone and Tasered in the back of the room in full view of those attending the event after asking Sen. Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, why he had not challenged the result in Ohio, why he was not supporting the impeachment of President Bush, and whether he was, like Mr. Bush, a member of the Skull and Bones secret society at Yale University, which both Mr. Bush and Sen. Kerry attended.

As the police stopped Meyer from speaking, Kerry exclaimed, "That's all right. Let me answer the questions." Later, Kerry reiterated that he, not the police, could have taken care of the situation, and the chancellor of the University of Florida suspended the two campus policemen involved in the incident, pending an investigation.

While reporting on the 1972 presidential primary campaign in Florida, I was present one day at North Dade Community College when a scantily-clad young woman leaped on the stage while former Vice President Hubert Humphrey was speaking and exclaimed that everything he said was "bullshit." She was not arrested, and Humphrey, in his subsequent remarks, acknowledged she had a point. That was a more appropriate defusing of a challenging situation than we saw at the University of Florida this week.

It is, as a Supreme Court justice once pointed out, not a permissible use of freedom of speech "to yell fire in a crowded theater," but it is permissible to say almost anything political, even blasphemously, and then, in the end, it is up to the electorate to decide what they think about it.

This also is pertinent to the recent exchanges involving the anti-Iraq war organization, MoveOn.org, and the former mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

Perhaps, both sides of this dispute exhibited questionable taste in running full-page ads in the New York Times regarding the testimony last week of the U.S. Army commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus. But it was certainly correct for the New York Times to run the ads once purchasers wanted to pay for them.

MoveOn.org may not have done its cause any service when it renamed Gen. Petraeus "Gen. Betray Us." Among other Democrats, Kerry, who is strongly against the war, called the ad "over the top," and it came in for much criticism on all sides. It may well have been a demonstration that the antiwar people, can easily, in the current environment, become too shrill for their own good. But, again, that is a judgment for the electorate.

A few days after the MoveOn.org ad, the Giuliani campaign took its own full page ad, castigating the attack on Petraeus and warning bluntly that if Giuliani is elected president, he will be a "nightmare" for MoveOn.org.

Again, this is arguably "over the top," and, in the long run, might not do Giuliani any good. Many moderates and independents already have expressed concern about the tone of his campaign.
But this too, is ultimately the judgment of the electorate, and the New York Times should be commended, not criticized, for running the Giuliani rebuttal to MoveOn.org.

Finally, I want to draw a distinction between the incidents above, and the arrest of antiwar demonstrators in Washington over the weekend, when they ignored police orders and crossed a security barrier protecting the U.S. Capitol. This was not freedom of speech, but a violation of property boundaries, and I think it was correct for the police to move in.

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The greatest demonstrations for freedom in the world today are the marches going on in Rangoon and other cities of Burma by Buddhist monks against an abomination, the Burmese military junta which has ruled that country against the clearly expressed will of the country's electorate for many years.

In 1990, the Nobel Prize winner and daughter of the founder of an independent Burma, Daw Aung San Suu Kwi, won, with a massive majority, an election to replace the junta. The military rulers ignored that result and have kept her under house arrest for years, even while continuing to follow policies which are abhorrent to the Burmese people.

In August, without any prior announcement or public debate, this vile bunch of thugs suddenly raised fuel prices by a large amount, and, even in the repressive atmosphere, citizens began to demonstrate against them. There have been many arrests, but the demonstrations have not been squelched, and recently the monks, as revered a group as the country has, have joined the marches, thousands of them participating.

No one knows whether they can be successful in the short run, but freedom-loving people everywhere should support them in their demands that the junta give up power. Free elections, if held again today, would unquestionably elect the heroic San Suu Kwi as prime minister.

--

A bomb in Beirut this morning killed another Christian Maronite member of the Lebanese Parliament, Antoine Ghanem, and six others. Ghanem is the eighth political victim of an alleged campaign directed by the Syrian dictator, Bashar Assad, against democracy in Lebanon, beginning with the 2005 assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri after a direct threat by Assad.

The Syrian regime, accused in the last few days of inviting North Korean nuclear engineers into the country to assemble a weapons system, and an ally of the worst elements of the Iranian government, is increasingly a menace to the world. Assassination is a crime, by no means a reflection of freedom of speech or opinion, and it would be proper to subdue this regime by any means necessary, including force.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Matt Weinstock said...

You forgot to mention the squashing of Liberal Democrat Lawrence Summers' address to the UC Regents by the manly feminist mafia of lesbian professors up there in Berkeley.

9/19/2007 1:23 PM  
Blogger Miss Havisham said...

This is the best read I've had in a long time on a subject near and dear to my heart.

I have to admit suspicion of Kerry's control or lack of it regarding the Florida incident. Kerry seemed to have a great deal of control over the Boston police when they barred Ralph Nader from attending a debate.

I just watched An Unreasonable Man.

Our political issues almost seem petty in comparison to those others you've mentioned, Burma, etc. Perhaps, Fox could rectify their transgressions by giving that some ink and air. Fair and Balanced?

I know, I'm dreaming.

9/19/2007 5:40 PM  
Blogger jaike said...

LoL... Cmon this kid was an idiot he coulda just shut up and not got tased. He asked for it, had video cameras set up and was joking around once he left the room. He ran back in the room and thats when it was over for him.
Funny "Don't Tase Me Bro!@ Shirt http://www.tailgateshirts.com

9/19/2007 5:58 PM  

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