TCS Daily


A Martyr Without a Cause

By Adam Blinick - September 28, 2007 12:00 AM

According to a CNN report, the recent controversy over the four-letter, "Taser this: F*** Bush" editorial in the Colorado State University's student newspaper "sparked a national free speech debate". Indeed, the Rocky Mountain Collegian's editor-in-chief, David McSwane, has justified his decision to publish a terse editorial, claiming that he was "exercising his right to free speech." And some of his supporters have echoed these sentiments, like vice president of the university's Young Democrats, Alesia Gifford, who remarked that "[in] this society we are taking a step backwards, especially with the free speech debate. President Bush has lost our respect as a country...At some point we have to stand up for our rights. [McSwane] was just showing that speech, even when explicit, should always be protected by the First Amendment."

To be sure, there are plenty of calls for McSwane to resign as editor for his poor editorial judgment—not to mention his inability to formulate a basic argument or coherent thought—and several companies that previously advertised with the paper have refused to continue to do so. Still, any accusation that this incident is about free speech is pure demagoguery. Basically, some folks seem to confuse the right to say what you want and freedom from being accountable for what you say. If McSwane is removed from his post or if he resigns due to pressure, it will be the result of his own stupidity that led to economic damage to his paper and a black eye for his school. If anything, a little bit of self-censoring could have saved him a whole lot of grief.

Let us take a few moments to unpack the editorial. (It is only four words, after all). The first half/introduction, "Taser this," is an opaque reference to another faux-free speech issue regarding the tasing of a University of Florida senior, Andrew Meyer, as officers tried to remove him from a John Kerry speech last week. You read correctly: John Kerry. The same John Kerry who was the Democratic candidate for president in 2004, running against—and losing to—Bush. The student in question was noticeably agitated and disrespectful, launching into a tirade about why Kerry would concede the election when there were reports about election irregularities. Meyer also shouted out some question dealing with the Senator's affiliation with the Skull and Bones society. I have no opinion about the tasing itself—it very well could have been an unnecessary, over-the-top response by the campus police. That said, those who organized the event and the police were well within their rights to (a) ask Meyer ask a question, as the forum so dictated, (b) ask him to let Kerry answer the question, (c) shut off the microphone when it became apparent that he was more interested in launching into a self-serving rant than actually posing a question, and (d) have him removed from the venue when he would not heed to their requests.

But enough about that. Let's get back to the "editorial" at hand.

What about the dramatic back-half/conclusion? What did the tasing have to do with Bush? Were these campus police that tased Meyer subconsciously responding to a general transformation in U.S. culture where figures of authority feel that they can trounce on people's civil liberties at will? True, the University of Florida campus is only a short boat ride away from Guantanamo Bay. Something may very well have rubbed off.

I'm actually pretty sure that McSwane would buy into this, but he sadly felt there was no need to extrapolate on his initial "argument". My guess is that his reluctance to elaborate was—in frat boy terminology—one part "laziness", two parts "realizing-how-ridiculous-it-would-read-in-print". Still, had he actually expressed a developed idea, no matter how inane, one can be sure that this would never have become a national story.

In these cases no noble cause is to be found and no freedom of speech was violated. Excess force may have been applied in the first one post facto, but the first amendment remained firmly intact. They had the right to say what they said—and they said it.

It can only be hoped that McSwane, in the event that he does lose his position as editor, doesn't become a martyr. His behavior most certainly doesn't warrant bestowing on him such a status. McSwane and his supporters must grow up and learn that, while they absolutely have the right to free speech, they don't have the right to exercise it without the possibility of repercussions.

Call the lesson, Free Speech 101.


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17 Comments

Revelation
Well, you touched on the underpinnings of this event. That is, Bush had nothing to do with the tazing incident and yet, the stupid child-editor conflates the two with an immature burst of profanity. If someone wants to reveal themselves as an idiot through the practice of free speech, then I encourage them to do so.

Re: A Martyr Without a Cause
Nothing you say in print or on the Internet ever goes away. Keep on bleating like this editor did, and watch your credibility hit the basement. Say "hello" to Dan Rather when you get there!

Cool water on fevered brows
Thanks for addressing:
- 1) the prevalence of issues scapegoating (toying with connections so as to create an appearance of causality ex nihilo or ex minimo)

- and 2) a peculiar form of red-herringism we seem to be afflicted with, wherein molehills are magnified into mountains not out of genuine ignorance, but in order to attempt to distract us from the mountains.

Speaking of all this...
AP starts to set the record straight...out of a sense of shame?


'Black and white becomes gray in La. town'

By TODD LEWAN, AP National Writer, a few days ago

JENA, La. - It's got all the elements of a Delta blues ballad from the days of Jim Crow: hangman's nooses dangling from a shade tree; a mysterious fire in the night; swift deliberations by a condemning, all-white jury.

And drawn by this story, which evokes the worst of a nightmarish past, they came by the thousands this past week to Jena, La. — to demand justice, to show strength, to beat back the forces of racism as did their parents and grandparents.

But there are many in Jena who say the tale of the "Jena Six" — the black teenagers who were charged with attempted murder and conspiracy for attacking a white classmate at Jena High School last December — is not as simple as all that.

Black and white, they say that in its repeated retelling — enhanced by omissions and alterations of fact — the story has taken on a life of its own. It has transformed a school-yard stomping into an international cause celebre, and those accused of participating in it into what one major Southern daily came to describe as "latter-day Scottsboro Boys."

And they say that while their town's race relations are not unblemished, this is not the cauldron of bigotry that has been depicted.

To Ben Reid, 61, who set down roots in Jena in 1957 and lived here throughout the civil rights era, "this whole thing ain't no downright, racial affair."

Reid, who is black, presently serves on the LaSalle Parish council. He reads the papers. He hears the talk outside of church on Sundays about how the Jena Six business is dividing his hometown down racial lines.

He doesn't buy it.

"You have good people here and bad people here, on both sides. This thing has been blown out of proportion. What we ought to do is sit down and talk this thing out, 'cause once all is said and done and you media folks leave, we're the ones who're going to have to live here."

Clearly, something bad occurred in Jena, population 2,971, an old sawmill town in LaSalle Parish that, once upon a time, was Ku Klux Klan country. And, as most white and black residents readily agree, there is no good reason for embracing what unfolded here.

But what happened, exactly?

The story goes that a year ago, a black student asked at an assembly if he could sit in the shade of a live oak, which, the story goes, was labeled "the white tree" because only white students hung out there. The next day, three nooses dangled from the oak — code for "KKK" — the handiwork of three white students, who were suspended for just three days.

Much of that is disputed. What happened next is not: Two months later, an arsonist torched a wing of Jena High School. (The case remains unsolved.) Two fights between blacks and whites roiled the town that weekend, culminating in a school-yard brawl on Dec. 4 that led the district attorney to charge the Jena Six with attempted murder. The lethal weapon he cited to justify the charge: the boys' sneakers.

In July, the first to be tried, Mychal Bell, was convicted after two hours of deliberations by an all-white jury on reduced charges of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit it.

(It was widely reported that Bell, now 17, was an honor student with no prior criminal record. Although he had a high grade-point average, he was, in fact, on probation for at least two counts of battery and a count of criminal damage to property. In any event, his conviction was overturned because an appeals court ruled he should not have been tried as an adult.)

There is, however, a more nuanced rendition of events — one that can be found in court testimony, in interviews with teachers, officials and students at Jena High, and in public statements from a U.S. attorney who reviewed the case for possible federal intervention.

Consider:

_The so-called "white tree" at Jena High, often reported to be the domain of only white students, was nothing of the sort, according to teachers and school administrators; students of all races, they say, congregated under it at one time or another.

_Two nooses — not three — were found dangling from the tree. Beyond being offensive to blacks, the nooses were cut down because black and white students "were playing with them, pulling on them, jump-swinging from them, and putting their heads through them," according to a black teacher who witnessed the scene.

_There was no connection between the September noose incident and December attack, according to Donald Washington, an attorney for the U.S. Justice Department in western Louisiana, who investigated claims that these events might be race-related hate crimes.

_The three youths accused of hanging the nooses were not suspended for just three days — they were isolated at an alternative school for about a month, and then given an in-school suspension for two weeks.

_The six-member jury that convicted Bell was, indeed, all white. However, only one in 10 people in LaSalle Parish is African American, and though black residents were selected randomly by computer and summoned for jury selection, none showed up.

Free Speech 102: Free speech is rightly constrained...
by private property rights. The 1st Amendment right to free speech, etc is first and always subject to the rights of property. That is, if you are on my private property you do NOT have any right to say what you wish other than what I grant you. If you refuse to comply with my wishes regarding what you have to say, I can simply eject you from my property--by force if necessary. On public, or your own, property you are free to speak your mind--as long as you do not slander, liable or otherwise defame others--nor may you damage other people's property under the guise of "freedom of expression". Free Speech 102.

“It is better to keep your mouth closed....
and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

“The trouble ain't that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain't distributed right.”

Mark Twain


With tasers, the lightning can now be distributed appropriately.
http://thinkexist.com/quotation/it_is_better_to_keep_your_mouth_closed_and_let/215886.html

Missing the point?
An editor writing a position piece has a duty to his readers to provide a cogent analysis supporting his conclusion. If he vents his spleen, it must be in conclusion from, or as grounds for, a reasoned argument. This precludes a spleen vent as the selfsame beginning, end and middle of his statement.

There is some leeway in frivolous matters. One can imagine an "editorial" in sympathy with public mood consisting solely of "Go Phillies!" or "Go Lakers." But when the deadly serious matters of national policy and polity are seasoned with claims of incompetence, criminality and treason, much more is needed.

McSwane failed in this obligation in spectacularly intemperate fashion. This seems to me fair grounds for probation or dismissal.

sorry to pick a nit
Technically, even if you are on someone else's property, you are still free to say what you want. It's just that you also have to be willing to accept the consequences, one of which may be having the owner ask you to leave.

The only way to prevent someone from speaking is by getting physical, which would probably constitute assault, and be actionable on the part of the would be speaker.

Careless speech under the shield of free speech
One of the worst aspects of "all this", if I'm making the right connection with your post, is that the time and thought required for real investigation and scrutiny are regarded as prohibitive.

So hucksterism triumphs, and cover is quickly provided for under-the-table power grabs, by the advantages of carelessness, and it's acceptable to counter criticism with a "my-free-speech" power whine.

Negligence is regarded as a satisfactory tradeoff for speed and drama--devil take the truth if there's hate crimes legislation to be promoted, etc.

What about good taste?
First, free speech does not mean I have to listen. Second, someone who cannot express themselves without profanity is either looking to shock or is a idiot. How does this explain anything other than his foul mouth.

Once again, this is indicative of the left. All noise, no class and nothing meaningful to say.

A ideology of emotion.

another nit
The University of Florida is in Gainesville. The closest open water access is probably Cedar Key, about,a one hour drive to the southwest, and high up in the Gulf where the panhandle meets the peninsula - so quite a sail from anywhere in Cuba.

Censorship what it is and isn't.
Who cares about a word of profanity? Profanity has never injured anyone I know. I hate the incorrect use of the word censor. ONLY government can censor as only government can use force on property that it doesn't own. And editor does not censor, editors edit. Radio stations do not censor they select what they play. The editor and radio station owners are acting under then direction of the owners. If the author or vocalist in these cases goes to another paper or station then there is nothing the one that stopped the production of the media can do about it.

Government on the other hand can and does censor. It uses the threat of force to shut out voices it doesn't own. The shock jock Stern is an example of this. Stern could not say what he wanted on a different station as the government would take action against other media.

What happens when the government 'owns' the airwaves.
Stern says what he wants when he wants on medium people must pay for.

Maybe that is his problem. People don't really want to pay for it. It's more fun to push the edge on 'free' radio than on pay radio.

What's the point of using profanity in every sentence?

If words have meaning, then ALL words should be in play and there must not be any 'n' words or 'l' words or '..' words or 'hate' speech.

Is it profane to call people niggardly? Or liberals or socialists or WASPs or .....

You are quite right about that.
One of the hallmarks of living liberty is the non-agression principle. That is "getting physical" is only moral in the context of defense of one's life and property. Of course in todays perverted, PC world what is moral is also often illegal--illegitimately illegal,but bad news all the same.
Thanks for your comment.

Actually...
...not true. You are not "free" to say what you want on private property. The first amendment only prevents government action, not private action. I can kick you off my land for WHAT you say, should I want to. The government cannot do so.

Saying that you are "free to say what you want" is misleading. I can treat you differently because of WHAT you say. The government cannot (with some rare exceptions). That is what "free speech" is all about.

-Bob

Actually...
...with only rare exceptions, the government CANNOT censor. But I can. If I own a newspaper, I can print what I want and keep out what I want. But the government CANNOT tell me what, or what not, to print in my paper (again, with only very rare exceptions). Period. You have it exactly backward.

The "public airwaves" censuring is a rare exception, and one that is rapidly disappearing. Note that Stern can say whatever he wants on satellite radio, and the government can do nothing to stop him.

-Bob

You didn't get the point I was trying to make
I was stating that the only way an owner can prevent you from saying whatever you want, is by physically blocking your mouth somehow.

My point was that such physical restraint would probably fall under various assault statutes.

So you are free to say whatever you want.

The owner is then free to order you off of his property.

That is, the speech is free, but you must be willing to deal with the consequences of your speech.

or more poetically,

your speech is free, but it is not without cost.

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