The events of Wednesday remind us of the striking fact that at least 66 journalists were killed in 2014, many for daring to express unpopular or dangerous ideas, to speak truth to power and to tell the stories that powerful institutions around the world, from terror groups to transnational corporates, would rather not have told. Now more than ever is the time to stand forcefully against those who seek to silence criticism or expression through violence and terror.
This is a potentially tragic turning point in American
politics and policy. We are on the verge of turning over the internet – the
most important communications system ever invented– to telecoms that grew huge
through the government granting them monopoly status. Barring a genuine shift in policy
or a court stepping in to ensure fair treatment of captive customers – or
better yet, genuine competition – companies like Verizon and Comcast will have
staggering power to decide what bits of information reach your devices and mine,
in what order and at what speed. That is, assuming we’re permitted to get that
information at all.
Do we want an open internet? Do we want digital
innovation and free speech to thrive? If we continue down the regulatory road
pursued by the former cable and wireless industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler, all of
those good things will be in serious jeopardy.
Did you know that Wheeler has a comment page? Do you care enough about the way that the internet is presented to you to tell him what a rotten rule he has proposed? Are you genuinely upset to enough about the death of net neutrality to actually write someone who has something to do with it?
The U.S. government agreed to a police request to restrict more than 37 square miles of airspace surrounding Ferguson, Missouri, for 12 days in August for safety, but audio recordings show that local authorities privately acknowledged the purpose was to keep away news helicopters during violent street protests.
On Aug. 12, the morning after the Federal Aviation Administration imposed the first flight restriction, FAA air traffic managers struggled to redefine the flight ban to let commercial flights operate at nearby Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and police helicopters fly through the area — but ban others.
“They finally admitted it really was to keep the media out,” said one FAA manager about the St. Louis County Police in a series of recorded telephone conversations obtained by The Associated Press. “But they were a little concerned of, obviously, anything else that could be going on.
At another point, a manager at the FAA’s Kansas City center said police "did not care if you ran commercial traffic through this TFR (temporary flight restriction) all day long. They didn’t want media in there.”
FAA procedures for defining a no-fly area did not have an option that would accommodate that.
“There is really … no option for a TFR that says, you know, ‘OK, everybody but the media is OK,’” he said. The managers then worked out wording they felt would keep news helicopters out of the controlled zone but not impede other air traffic.
The conversations contradict claims by the St. Louis County Police Department, which responded to demonstrations following the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, that the restriction was solely for safety and had nothing to do with preventing media from witnessing the violence or the police response.
Police said at the time, and again as recently as late Friday to the AP, that they requested the flight restriction in response to shots fired at a police helicopter.
But police officials confirmed there was no damage to their helicopter and were unable to provide an incident report on the shooting. On the tapes, an FAA manager described the helicopter shooting as unconfirmed “rumors.”
The AP obtained the recordings under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. They raise serious questions about whether police were trying to suppress aerial images of the demonstrations and the police response by violating the constitutional rights of journalists with tacit assistance by federal officials.
In solidarity with free press: Some more blasphemous cartoons January 15, 2015
Defending free speech and free press rights, which typically means defending the right to disseminate the very ideas society finds most repellent, has been one of my principalpassions for the last 20 years: previouslyas alawyerandnowasajournalist. So I consider it positive when large numbers of people loudly invoke this principle, as has been happening over the last 48 hours in response to the horrific attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
Usually, defending free speech rights is much more of a lonely task. For instance, the day before the Paris murders, I wrote an article about multiple cases where Muslims are being prosecuted and even imprisoned by western governments for their online political speech – assaults that have provoked relatively little protest, including from those free speech champions who have been so vocal this week.
Central to free speech activism has always been the distinction between defending the right to disseminate Idea X and agreeing with Idea X, one which only the most simple-minded among us are incapable of comprehending. One defends the right to express repellent ideas while being able to condemn the idea itself. There is no remote contradiction in that: the ACLU vigorously defends the right of neo-Nazis to march through a community filled with Holocaust survivors in Skokie, Illinois, but does not join the march; they instead vocally condemn the targeted ideas as grotesque while defending the right to express them.
But this week’s defense of free speech rights was so spirited that it gave rise to a brand new principle: to defend free speech, one not only defends the right to disseminate the speech, but embraces the content of the speech itself. Numerous writers thus demanded: to show “solidarity” with the murdered cartoonists, one should not merely condemn the attacks and defend the right of the cartoonists to publish, but should publish and even celebrate those cartoons. “The best response to Charlie Hebdo attack,”announcedSlate’s editor Jacob Weisberg, “is to escalate blasphemous satire.”
Some of the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo were not just offensive but bigoted, such as the one mocking the African sex slaves of Boko Haram as welfare queens (left). Others went far beyond maligning violence by extremists acting in the name of Islam, or even merely depicting Mohammed with degrading imagery (above, right), and instead contained a stream of mockery toward Muslims generally, who in France are not remotely powerful but are largely a marginalized and targeted immigrant population.
But no matter. Their cartoons were noble and should be celebrated – not just on free speech grounds but for their content. In a column entitled “The Blasphemy We Need,” The New York Times‘ Ross Douthat argued that “the right to blaspheme (and otherwise give offense) is essential to the liberal order” and “that kind of blasphemy [that provokes violence] is precisely the kind that needs to be defended, because it’s the kind that clearly serves a free society’s greater good.” New York Magazine‘s Jonathan Chait actually proclaimed that “one cannot defend the right [to blaspheme] without defending the practice.” Vox’s Matt Yglesias had a much more nuanced view but nonetheless concluded that “to blaspheme the Prophet transforms the publication of these cartoons from a pointless act to a courageous and even necessary one, while the observation that the world would do well without such provocations becomes a form of appeasement.”
To comport with this new principle for how one shows solidarity with free speech rights and a vibrant free press, we’re publishing some blasphemous and otherwise offensive cartoons about religion and their adherents.
Americans abide in a state of illusion. We are a republic no longer able to comprehend the need for transparency in government, much less what it takes to protect our civil liberties like our constitutionally afforded guarantees to privacy.
With the Obama administration’s rhetoric calling Edward Snowden a traitor in full swing, and the American media following as close as Tom to Jerry, it’s no wonder the illusion of trading liberty for security has become self-reinforcing and ubiquitous. Every time you check into CNN or Fox News you see Wolf Blitzer or Shepard Smith perpetuating the idea that Snowden did we United States citizens a life-endangering disservice. The fact remains though, it is not Snowden who has violated our rights, it is and continues to be our own government.
Who then is treasonous?
As we witness Snowden’s unfolding narrative we can be reminded of how this may play out by looking back over the Obama administration’s crackdown of whistleblowers like Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, and Bradley Manning, the young soldier brave enough to leak hundreds of thousands of US cables.
In 2010 WikiLeaks’ release of a seventeen minute video depicting an unwarranted attack by United States military forces on several Iraqi civilians, reporters, and even children, catapulted the news organization into the sights of our government. Since then Julian Assange has now been relegated to the Ecuadorian embassy for over a year, avoiding extradition to Sweden on allegations of sexual misconduct. Assange refuses to face those charges because he suspects they are a smokescreen to extradite him into US custody. Manning, who leaked the video, has been remanded to solidarity confinement for more than a year, and is just now having a chance to exercise his right to a trial.
Snowden fears the same wrath. The irony is United States prides itself as the shining light of democracy in the world. But if critical questions cannot be asked and the answers sought, that light has been extinguished. Our constitution protects freedom of speech and press under the first amendment, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” (United States Constitution). Instead of our first amendment rights though, we are getting freedom “of what the U.S. government wants us to know,“ and apparently if that isn’t good enough, too bad. Either remain ignorant or go to jail, and you’re lucky if it’s not Guantanamo.
After Wikileaks published the video, in a statement to the Associated Press, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said, “To the extent that we can find anybody who was involved in the breaking of American law, who put at risk the assets and the people I have described, they will be held responsible; they will be held accountable," then calling Wikileaks an “ongoing criminal investigation.”
Sounds like deja vu. Last week FBI director Robert Muller said of Snowden, "As to the individual who has admitted making these disclosures, he is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation. Mueller continued: “We are taking all necessary steps to hold the person responsible for these disclosures.”
This is all superfluous language to reiterate that our government is simply seeking to silence whistle-blowers.
And we allow ourselves to be persuaded. With the bobble-heads of the 24 hour news cycle constantly demonizing men like Snowden, Assange and Manning, it is easy for us to forget the tradition of reigning in our government through meaningful unabridged transparency. We need people like Edward Snowden like we needed Daniel Ellsberg and The Pentagon Papers.
On June 13, 1971, the Times began printing a 7,000 page document which depicted lies to the American public preceding the Vietnam War, ultimately embarrassing the Nixon administration beyond repair. The event aided public support for leaving the war. Then The Pentagon Papers, like Snowden’s NSA leak now, exposes the truth that government cannot be trusted.
Ellsberg himself has praised Snowden too, saying “I think there has not been a more significant or helpful leak or unauthorized disclosure in American history ever … and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers.”
Per the usual course, the Obama administration has continued attacks on Snowden as they try to defend the NSA’s surveillance apparatus.
We Americans have to look past the illusion that our government is so benevolent as to always have our best interests at heart. The truth is the Obama administration is wielding its political clout to suppress our first amendment rights, and because yet again the American public is in denial about our government, we are letting it happen. Wake up folks, the tyranny is right here—it is called Washington, D.C.
In its attempt to define who’s a journalist and who’s not, is the US Senate trying to say that Thomas Paine, a corset-maker, wouldn’t have deserved the same protections from government heavy-handedness as a newspaper publisher like Ben Franklin?
The first version of a media shield law that handily made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday defined for the first time what constitutes a “real reporter” deserving of extra protection versus what Sen. Dianne Feinstein called a “17-year-old blogger” who doesn’t deserve a legal shield.
Following the NSA scandal, President Obama tried to assuage fears by saying that he would push for a new media shield law. Many critics argued it would be a vehicle for the government to sneak in new restrictions or regulations on protected speech. Looks like the critics were right. You know something’s wrong when the government gets in the business of defining or re-defining words.
The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.
The Obama administration set a new record again for more often than ever censoring government files or outright denying access to them last
year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new
analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.
took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly
that it couldn’t find documents, and refused a record number of times
to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy.
also acknowledged in nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to
withhold or censor records were improper under the law — but only when
it was challenged.
Its backlog of unanswered requests at year’s end grew remarkably by
55 percent to more than 200,000. It also cut by 375, or about 9 percent,
the number of full-time employees across government paid to look for
records. That was the fewest number of employees working on the issue in
The government’s new figures, published Tuesday,
covered all requests to 100 federal agencies during fiscal 2014 under
the Freedom of Information law, which is heralded globally as a model
for transparent government. They showed that despite disappointments and
failed promises by the White House to make meaningful improvements in
the way it releases records, the law was more popular than ever.
Citizens, journalists, businesses and others made a record 714,231
requests for information. The U.S. spent a record $434 million trying to
keep up. It also spent about $28 million on lawyers’ fees to keep
The government responded to 647,142 requests, a 4
percent decrease over the previous year. It more than ever censored
materials it turned over or fully denied access to them, in 250,581
cases or 39 percent of all requests. Sometimes, the government censored
only a few words or an employee’s phone number, but other times it
completely marked out nearly every paragraph on pages.
other occasions, the government said it couldn’t find records, a person
refused to pay for copies or the government determined the request to be
unreasonable or improper.
Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) won its challenge to U.S. open-Internet rules as an appeals court said the Federal Communications Commission overreached in barring broadband providers from slowing or blocking selected Web traffic.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington today sent the rules back to the FCC, which may attempt to rewrite them.
The rules required companies that provide high-speed Internet service over wires to treat all traffic equally. With the regulation voided, companies such as Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. could face new charges for the fastest connections.