Schwartz & Niehoff Of Region 10
Cited Among Top Censors In America
At Bottom Of This Post
--The First Amendment to the United States Constitution
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
ANNOUNCING THE 2008 JEFFERSON MUZZLES:
Who were the Best Censors of Last Year?
Via The Thomas Jefferson Center
For The Protection Of Free Expression
Apr 07, 2008 • Category: Muzzle News, Press Releases
The 2008 Jefferson Muzzles are revealed. Toping the seventeenth annual list of the country’s most egregious and ridiculous censors is The Federal Communications Commission (earning only the second "Lifetime" Muzzle ever awarded) for its inconsistent and unpredictable standards for determining what constitutes “indecent” broadcasting. (The first Lifetime Muzzle was awarded in 1999 to Rudy Giuliani who, as Mayor of New York City, embroiled the City in no less than twelve First Amendment lawsuits, only one of which vindicated his actions.)
In addition to the FCC’s Lifetime Jefferson Muzzle, the Thomas Jefferson Center also announced the “winners” of its annual awards. “This year, perhaps more than any other,” says Thomas Jefferson Center director Robert M. O’Neil, “the incidents on which the Muzzles are based range from the imperious to the ridiculous. On one hand, the display of nooses during a civil rights march and the standing on a U.S. flag during the funeral service of U.S. soldier serve as reminders of the fundamental principle that true freedom of speech extends even to protecting expression that most in our society would find repugnant. On the other, the idea that someone in the United States today could be criminally prosecuting for cursing in their own home at an overflowing toilet, or that a rape victim could be barred from using the term “rape’ at the trial of her accused assailant, strains credibility to such a degree it is difficult to believe it actually happened.”
Below is a complete list of the 2008 Jefferson Muzzle honorees with brief summaries of what they did to earn this dubious distinction. For more extensive information on each, please visit the 2008 Jefferson Muzzle Page.
Sarpy County (Nebraska) Attorney L. Kenneth Polikov for pursuing charges of flag mutilation and negligent child abuse against a protestor at a military funeral. The defendant’s son–a minor–placed an American flag on the ground and stood on it during the protest.
US Attorney Donald Washington and acting head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division Grace Chung Baker for bringing federal hate crime charges against an 18-year-old man for hanging nooses on the back of his pickup truck during a civil rights march in Jena, Louisiana.
Lancaster County (NE) District Judge Jeffre Cheuvront for barring use of the words the words “rape,” “victim,” “assailant,” “sexual assault kit,” and “sexual assault nurse examiner” by witnesses (including the victim) during a trial of a defendant on charges of sexual assault.
The New York Department of Motor Vehicles for recalling vanity license plates without offering a reasonable explanation as to why. The NY DMV demanded the return of plates that read “GETOSAMA.”
Scranton (PA) Police Department for charging a woman with disorderly conduct for screaming profanities at an overflowing toilet inside her own house.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for staging a fake news conference about FEMA assistance to victims of wildfires in southern California. FEMA employees pretended to be reporters and asked soft and gratuitous questions, while notice was given to real reporters only 15 minutes before the conference. A call-in 800 number was provided for legitimate reporters, but it was a “listen-only” arrangement.
CBS Radio and MSNBC for allowing public criticism to control their programming by taking controversial shock jock Don Imus off-the-air for his on-air sexist and racist comment regarding the Rutgers University women’s basketball team. The networks took the action despite the fact they were aware Imus frequently made such provocative comments and they could have prevented the comments from being heard by utilizing delay buttons.
The 2007 Managing Board of the University of Virginia student newspaper The Cavalier Daily for firing a cartoonist because of public criticism the paper received for publishing one of his cartoons despite the fact that the editorial staff signed off on the cartoon before its publication.
Ronald M. Zaccari, President of Valdosta State University (GA), for expelling a student for protesting the school’s construction of two parking garages by posting flyers, writing a letter to the school newspaper, contacting members of the state Board of Regents and posting items on his Facebook profile.
Brandeis University (MA) Administration for declaring professor Donald Hindley guilty of harassment after he explained to his class that Mexican migrant workers are sometimes pejoratively referred to as “wetbacks.” Action was taken after a student complained, though the nearly 50-year veteran teacher was provided neither a formal hearing nor written documentation of the claims against him.
Lewis Mills High School Principal Karissa Niehoff and Connecticut Region 10 Superintendent of Schools Paula Schwartz for not allowing a student to run for class office because she posted comments critical of school officials on an Internet blog.
United States Senator Jay Rockefeller for introducing a bill that would require the FCC to maintain a policy that the broadcast of a single word or image (i.e., regardless of context) may be considered indecent and therefore punishable. Rockefeller has also been at the forefront of several other repressive efforts to regulate broadcast content.
The Texas State Democratic Party for refusing to allow presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich on the state’s primary ballot because he refused to sign a pledge that he would “fully support” the eventual Democratic nominee.
And to the Federal Communications Commission we award a Lifetime Jefferson Muzzle. The FCC or its members have been considered for a Muzzle in almost each of the 17 years of the Muzzles, winning in 1993, 2005, 2006, and 2007. The standards of the FCC for determining what is “indecent” have been inconsistent at best, regardless of the political party in control of the Congress or the White House. Moreover, the manner in which the FCC has enforced its provisions has had a profound chilling effect on broadcasters.
You can’t say that!
Roll call for the 2008 Muzzle Awards,
this year starring The Cavalier Daily and a host of other would-be censors
by : Cathy Harding
Via Charlottesville News & Arts
When it came to freedom of speech, Thomas Jefferson’s view boils down to this: Use it, without limits, or lose it. Eighteen years ago, a local newspaperman named Tom Worrell established the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and since then, from its office east of town, the nonprofit has been honoring—if that’s the right word—those who engage in “especially egregious or ridiculous” acts of censorship.
Heaven help them: People like UVA student Grant Woolard, whose comic in The Cavalier Daily caused a ruckus last year, thought they were living in a country that put free speech above everything.
This year’s crop has some of the old, some of the new, and a rare Lifetime Achievement award. A Nebraska judge who wouldn’t permit the use of the word “rape” in a sexual assault trial is a strangely reminiscent winner. Seventeen years ago, when the Muzzles were inaugurated, the TJ Center included a San Diego judge who had a long list of banned words in a courtroom trial, among them “gorilla.” But increasingly, threats to free expression include attempts to regulate Internet postings, and that’s where the “new” comes in. This year’s Muzzles offer two such cases, one involving a high schooler and the other a college student. As Center Founding Director Robert M. O’Neil notes, “Facebook and MySpace have predictably pushed the boundaries of campus-based communication.” Still, insofar as the Communications Decency Act of 1996 exempted Internet service providers from liability for material that their users may post, digital speech remains largely free-wheeling. Try telling that to wannabe censors, though. And try understanding what’s going on at the Federal Communications Commission, an agency that has offended so often it gets a category all its own.
Also on this year’s list for the first time: a Muzzle directed at UVA’s campus newspaper. This must have been especially bitter for the board that ultimately votes on the Muzzle recipients. About half of them are UVA alumni, says O’Neil, who himself feels the pain of the award. For five years, O’Neil was the president of that university—the one founded by Mr. Jefferson himself.
The 2007 Managing Board of The Cavalier Daily and CBS Radio and MSNBC
You might think that if free speech has staunch defenders anywhere, it’d be at the university established by the Teej himself. But no! The Thomas Jefferson Center had to look no further than its backyard in granting a Muzzle to the 2007 Managing Board of The Cavalier Daily, the campus newspaper that, last September, fired Grant Woolard after his “Ethiopian Food Fight” cartoon caused a ruckus. The single-panel comic depicted loin-clothed, skinny black men throwing furniture, shoes and other nonedibles at each other. Prior to publication, it was vetted by at least two of five members of the CD’s Managing Board. That was on a Tuesday. By Sunday, Woolard was out of a job.
American comic fight: The Cavalier Daily gave in to outside pressure and gave Grant Woolard, the creator of the above comic, the boot.
Along the way, a couple hundred students protested the food fight cartoon’s “racist” connotations, demanding both that The Cav Daily apologize and that Woolard be fired. The paper said “sorry” and following his suspension, Woolard did the same thing on Facebook and later in the paper. Nevertheless, by the end of the weekend, the Managing Board informed Woolard that the CD’s proper functioning would be impaired by his continued presence. He left, but the two managers who first green-lighted the cartoon kept their jobs.
The mob mentality has no place in journalism, and for succumbing to an increasing volume of outrage, the CD’s Managing Board of 2007 earned this Muzzle. “The Cavalier Daily’s regret about the incidents rose in proportion to how many people expressed criticism, not in proportion to how they actually assessed the merits of that criticism,” reads the Muzzle citation. Speaking to C-VILLE, Woolard put his reaction to the Muzzle succinctly: “I was delighted to hear that.”
Think of it this way: A newspaper should not function according to popular demand. “A democratic society needs a free press willing to stand up to public criticism,” says the TJ Center.
Woolard says it may not have been merely volume that influenced the Managing Board. “When they feel physically threatened, that’s when they take action,” he says. “Had it been just an Internet thing, I don’t think they would have felt as threatened. But there were some things said, and some people construed them as death threats. I think it’s the fear of violent backlash” that influenced the Board to fire him.
Two more controversial comics by Grant Woolard.
From the looks of things, the 2008 Managing Board could be cruising for a Muzzle, too (this year’s editor in chief includes a member of last year’s Managing Board). Last month, two cartoons by Kellen Eilerts and Eric Kilanski were removed from the CD website after some Christians and a ponderously conservative campus blogger complained about the cartoons’ supposedly blasphemous content. “I hope they’re not in the running for 2008,” says Robert O’Neil, who directs the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and who preceded John Casteen as the president of the University of Virginia. Following the most recent complaints, The Cav Daily’s Managing Board promised to review its censorship policy. Not much has been heard since, and Eilerts and Kilanski’s cartoons remain offline.
Troubling questions linger from these incidents at the University that was meant to be one of Jefferson’s proudest achievements: How can we teach the finer points of irony to UVA students; when will The Cav Daily find some controversial andfunny cartoonists; and, what kind of newspaper has an official censorship policy?
While Woolard may still feel some bitterness about his CD experience, as a postscript, let us affirm that there’s no such thing as bad publicity: After graduation in May, Woolard will be headed to New York City, where he’ll be interning in the graphics department of the notoriously politically incorrect and way funny Onion newspaper.
If only we could ascribe this kind of Mulligan management to youthful inexperience. But the TJ Center illustrates, with this shared Muzzle, that even multi-million-dollar media corporations can exercise a “do over” mentality when the outcry gets loud enough. We speak, of course, of CBS Radio and MSNBC’s firing of Don Imus, the “shock jock” godfather who, last April, called the mostly Black Rutgers women’s basketball team a bunch of “nappy-headed hos.”Smart move? Nope. Unexpected? No, again.
Lewis Mills High School Principal Karissa Niehoff and School District Superintendent Paula Schwartz
Oh, these kids and their Internet access! Connecticut high school junior Avery Doninger undertook some high-tech note passing and as a consequence, school administrators refused to allow her to run for elected office. Then, when she won through write-in voting, they refused to let her assume her position. Seems they really didn’t like it that in a livejournal.com posting she made on her own time and from a nonschool computer she referred to school officials as “douchebags in central office.”
Hello? Anybody at Lewis Mill High School ever hear teenagers talk? “Douchebag” is the least of it.
Anyway, Avery was mad about the planning for an annual music festival at her school. She went online and, besides the name-calling, encouraged others to call and e-mail the office to get Jamfest, as it was called, reinstated.
Avery didn’t hear anything from school administrators about her blog until it was time to file paperwork for her nomination for senior class secretary. At that point, the principal, Karissa Niehoff, informed Avery that she must: apologize to Paula Schwartz, the superintendent who was named in her blog post; show the post to her mother; and recuse herself from running for re-election as class secretary. Two out of three ain’t bad and Avery met the first two conditions. Nonetheless, Niehoff cited Avery’s disobedience and her vulgar language online and wouldn’t allow her name to be put on the student ballot.
Avery won, anyway (was she party to an Internet support campaign? We may never know…). When the school still wouldn’t let her take her office, Avery’s mom sued. The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression filed a friend of the court brief on Avery’s behalf, by the way.
As any parent can attest, trying to control kids’ expression on the Internet is...difficult, to say the minimum. And schools have a tough job. Besides, who wants to be called a douchebag on a widely disseminated public forum? But, Avery used neither school time nor resources to complain in her blog, rendering it none of Lewis Mills High School’s business. As her mother remarked, “I don’t like what Avery wrote [but] she had the right to do it and it was up to me, not the school, to determine whether or not there had been a consequence.”
Free speech center releases dubious ‘muzzle’ awards
Via Charlottesville Daily Progress
By Brian McNeill
Published: April 8, 2008
The University of Virginia’s student-run newspaper is among 14 recipients of the Jefferson Muzzles — a dubious honor bestowed to entities that are deemed to have acted counter to the principles of free speech.
Sponsored by the Charlottesville-based Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, this year’s crop of the Jefferson Muzzles include broadcasters CBS Radio and MSNBC, the Texas State Democratic Party, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller.
The 2008 recipients will be announced today. One of the “winners,” the Federal Communications Commission, will receive a “Lifetime Muzzle” for decades of what the Jefferson Center considers to be inconsistent regulation of “indecency” on the nation’s airwaves, which has led to a “profound chilling effect” on broadcasters.
For example, more than 150 TV stations declined to air the World War II film “Saving Private Ryan” out of fear that the FCC would levy heavy fines for the movie’s violent imagery and battlefield swear words. Though the FCC did not hit any stations with fines in that case, it did condemn an “NYPD Blue” episode about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that featured swear words.
A call to the FCC for comment was not returned.
In the Muzzles’ 17-year history, there has been only one other “Lifetime Muzzle” recipient: Rudy Giuliani in 1999, for what the center called at the time an ongoing pattern of stifling of speech and the press as mayor of New York City.
This year’s sole local recipient was the 2007 managing board of UVa’s student newspaper, the Cavalier Daily. The students were selected because Cav Daily editors forced the resignation of cartoonist Grant Woolard after his comic strip “Quirksmith” sparked a sit-in protest of 200 students outside the paper’s newsroom last fall. Woolard’s strip, titled “Ethiopian Food Fight,” depicted nearly naked and emaciated African men fighting each other with sticks, pillows, furniture and other items.
“They forced a cartoonist out of his position essentially because people were offended,” said Robert O’Neil, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center and a former UVa president. “I hate to fault student editors and I hate to fault a student newspaper. But they reviewed the cartoon. They published the cartoon. And then when there’s an outrage, the sacrificial party is the cartoonist.”
Herb Ladley, a former UVa student who was the Cav Daily’s editor in chief during the brouhaha, wrote in an e-mail that he believes it is a cheap shot for the Thomas Jefferson Center to take aim at a newspaper operated entirely by hardworking students.
“It shows the utter frivolity of an organization that claims to speak for Thomas Jefferson that they would go after a college newspaper and a group of students who work hard every single day to do something productive,” he said. “It is further disconcerting that they would focus on speech, in this case a cartoon, that had no intrinsic value. The Cavalier Daily promotes freedom of expression every day, as a sounding board for issues of importance of students. That’s free speech in practice, and if the Thomas Jefferson Center were serious, they would recognize its value.”
O’Neil likened the Cavalier Daily case to the firing of radio host Don Imus by CBS Radio and MSNBC after Imus made derogatory and racially insensitive comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. The broadcasters knew Imus had a tendency to be offensive, O’Neil said, but when offended people complained, they threw him under the bus. In both the Imus and Cavalier Daily cases, O’Neil said, organizations that benefit each day from the privileges included in the First Amendment did not live up to its ideals.
The Jefferson Muzzles, O’Neil said, are intended to both entertain and enlighten people about the need for free speech protections. O’Neil said he also hopes they encourage potential censors across the country to think twice before muzzling speech.
“At the very least, we hope that they stop the people named from doing the same thing again,” he said. “School administrators and others in responsible positions are probably at least vaguely aware of this criticism and hopefully they’ll be discouraged from doing similar things.”